CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/DIGITAL CONSULTANCIES - Adland takes plunge with e-commerce ventures/Muscling in on the digital market can pay dividends, Gordon MacMillan reports

As the dust settles on the UK’s first real eChristmas and a frenzied period of dotcom activity, J. Walter Thompson is the first advertising agency in 2000 to launch a digital consultancy.

As the dust settles on the UK’s first real eChristmas and a

frenzied period of dotcom activity, J. Walter Thompson is the first

advertising agency in 2000 to launch a digital consultancy.



There can no longer be any doubt over just how important the digital

world will be to the future of blue-chip companies. More to the point,

there can no longer be any doubt that it is crucial for their

brands.



While JWT has delayed launching a digital unit until now, it is in no

way a newcomer to the digital business, either in terms of clients,

which include the likes of NTL and handbag.com, or in terms of previous

partnerships.



For the past couple of years, JWT has been working with one of London’s

leading digital consultancies, Deepend. Joint ventures are all very

well, but as the growth of the digital economy continues unabated, the

agency saw the need to step up a gear and launch something of its own.

It all comes down to the bottom line and this venture is sure to add to

it.



JWT is still debating a choice of name but it has already hired the

former HHCL & Partners interactive director, Tim Hayward. He will be

partnered with a senior JWT director whose identity is still under

wraps. The two will put together a 15-strong team.



While JWT is experienced in the sector, it still has some catching up to

do. But Stephen Carter, the agency’s chief executive, remains

unperturbed.



He says the time is right and points out that the market has just

started to go strategic.



’We’ve watched the market carefully and over the past couple of years we

have become one of the most wired agencies in London. We have a number

of clients whose businesses live or die by the power and the potential

of technology. The market wasn’t right before. It is going more

strategic and as an advertising agency that is where our skills lie,’ he

says.



Nick Hurrell, the chief executive of M&C Saatchi, which launched eMC

Saatchi, agrees: ’As advertising agencies, we know the brand and

consumer best. Those are the two ends of the relationship.’



It is the move towards a strategic approach that has given the impetus

for a change in both the nature and the volume of the business that

digital consultancies are doing.



Two years ago it was all about building websites and those sites were,

for many clients, just an optional extra. Not so anymore, now it is

about fundamental change.



Marcus Vinton, the Ogilvy Group interactive creative director, says:

’The reality is that digital commerce can change a client’s bottom line

and can grow the business. The most sophisticated clients are starting

to understand that e-commerce has to be an integrated part of strategic

planning.’



With JWT’s hat now firmly in the ring, there is a marked split among the

top ten agencies between those that have chosen to act and those that

have decided otherwise.



Some have taken the view that it is essential to be able to offer

clients advice on where their brands need to go in terms of digital

development.



This has resulted in the establishment of digital agency brands such as

BMP Interaction, Saatchi & Saatchi Vision, Ogilvy Interactive, Publicis

Technology, eMC Saatchi and now the JWT offering.



These are joined by a number of notable examples from the top 20

agencies, including Leo Burnett, WCRS and Lowe Lintas & Partners. In

media too, MindShare, CIA and Carat have all launched digital

consultancies.



But that is really as far as it goes. As Jason Goodman, managing

director of BMP Interaction, puts it: ’Most advertising agencies in

London still don’t get it and they might never get it.’



It is easy to argue this case when you look at the likes of Abbott Mead

Vickers BBDO, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, TBWA GGT Simons Palmer

and McCann-Erickson. These agencies have largely left the internet to

the specialists and decided to concentrate on advertising.



Ben Langdon, the chairman and chief executive of the McCann-Erickson UK

Group, says: ’Advertising agencies should not constantly try to be jacks

of all trades. The McCann-Erickson World Group was established to create

a series of international networks, all of which are specialists in

their field. As such, we work closely with Zentropy Partners, a global

internet services company.’



A number of other agencies have decided to take the one-man-and-his-dog

approach. In this instance, an agency usually hires one digital

specialist and then waits to see how they get on. Usually they don’t.

Hayward played the one-man role at HHCL for three consecutive years.



Although there are marked differences in style and scope between those

that have set up digital shops, there is a basic agreement on the need

for investment.



According to Carter, it comes down to a matter of survival. ’If we did

not go into this area ourselves, I would constantly be picking up the

phone to digital consultancies. This keeps us at the centre. It is not

about dabbling in this area, it is about who gets to advise clients on

their brands.’



TOP TEN ADVERTISING AGENCIES AND THEIR DIGITAL OFFERINGS

RK  AGENCY         DIGITAL      STAFF  FORMED  CLIENTS

                   UNIT

1   Abbott Mead    n/a            n/a     n/a  n/a

    Vickers BBDO

2   BMP DDB        BMP             39    1996  Compaq, Barclaycard,

                   Interaction                 Sports.com

3   Saatchi &      Saatchi &       20    1996  Hewlett-Packard, Procter

    Saatchi        Saatchi                     & Gamble, Pet Pyjamas

                   Vision

4   J. Walter      n/s            n/s    2000  n/s

    Thompson

5   Publicis       Publicis        20    1989  BT, Asda, Merrill Lynch

                   Technology

6   M&C Saatchi    eMCSaatchi      10    1999  n/s

7   RKCR/Y&R       n/a            n/a     n/a  n/a

8   Ogilvy &       Ogilvy          40    1985  IBM, Unilever,

    Mather         Interactive                 Van den Bergh Foods

9   McCann-        n/a            n/a     n/a  n/a

    Erickson

10  TBWA GGT       n/a            n/a     n/a  n/a

    Simons Palmer



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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).