Digital direct: Integrated agencies will prove a serious threat to specialists

It's understandable that digital specialists are going to fight tooth and nail to try to use PR opportunities to argue the relevancy of their offering in an increasingly integrated media background. Such action is probably a necessary survival tactic as traditional agencies continue to invest heavily in their own search and other digital capabilities.

Unfortunately, the digital specialists are merely fiddling while Rome burns. The reality is that major brands such as O2 and The AA know it's commonsense to have a centralised structure that allows for a neutral approach to planning and delivery and that ensures maximum cross-media uplift.

So when a major brand foregoes the opportunity to work with a digital specialist in favour of an integrated agency, the losing specialist often refuses to face facts and blames 'economies of scale' regarding the buying function as if that can be the only reason for their loss. Sadly, it's an equivalent to "we came a close second" or "the other agency dropped their pants on remuneration" excuses after someone loses a pitch.

On the other side of the fence, traditional agencies have to live up to the 'all media' promise. The ones that began investing in digital years ago will be in the best position to deliver the neutral planning approach required by the major brands.

It's clear that many traditional agencies still have some catching up to do, but they're doing it fast. Digital specialists will no doubt be looking at selling up while they still have some real value, or concentrate on forming close strategic partnerships with larger agency networks. Either way, both are variations of being absorbed into the inevitability that is integrated planning and buying.

Kevin Murphy is joint managing director at Zed Media.

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