Of the many changes that digital technology will bring to the advertising industry, one of the most interesting will be its effect on the relative standing of creative and media agencies.

Of the many changes that digital technology will bring to the

advertising industry, one of the most interesting will be its effect on

the relative standing of creative and media agencies.

Media planning and buying may have come a long way in the last five

years, but it still remains secondary in the eyes of most clients to

creative origination. It follows that the relationship with the creative

agency is still a higher priority than that with the media agency.

Digital could change all that - in a number of ways. Firstly, it will

accelerate the process that has already elevated media agencies from

their previous status as ’gorillas with calculators’. Media will

fragment - is fragmenting - at a frightening rate in the digital world.

Just look at the internet. Picking the right media channel from the

bewildering array of options available is becoming ever more difficult

and requires ever more valued and skilful input.

So skilful, in fact, that in the short term, at least, some media

agencies will prefer to use implementational specialists such as i-level

(Campaign, last week) for planning and buying on the internet. For the

moment, most traditional media agencies probably don’t have the in-house

expertise to get the best value for their clients on the net. Budgets

are still too small to guarantee the best attention of planner/buyers

with millions to worry about in press and TV.

However the implementation is done, there’s little doubt the real high

ground lies elsewhere. Digital won’t just complicate the media

landscape, it’ll change what you can do with media. Fragmentation may

rule out certain options - like quickly built mass coverage - but will

offer new ones, such as ultra-targeting. Put simply, the rules are

changing and clients need top-level strategic advice.

If the internet is a guide, clients will end up spending less on the

origination and production of a single, all-embracing brand message and

more on the distribution of a number of individually tailored messages

to the groups for whom they are intended.

So creative origination will continue to be important. But the media

strategy which both informs it and distributes it to the right people

will be even more crucial.

Beyond this service, there is a whole range of other opportunities to be

tapped. Clients won’t just communicate externally using digital, but

internally too. They’ll also do business digitally - and who better to

turn to for help than a business partner that has demonstrated an

understanding of this new world?

I’ve written in the past that ad agencies ought to be positioning

themselves to fulfil this need. But they aren’t doing so. It seems they

have been stymied by the inherent conservatism of the creative

departments around which their cultures are based. The traditional model

- of producing single, linear ads then moving on to the next one - does

not fit a world in which communication needs to be both diverse and


So it is the media agencies - for whom taking the strategic high ground

has long been a priority - which are best placed to fill the gap. Both

the opportunities - and the threats - are there. It only remains to see

who is alive to them.


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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).