NEW MEDIA: AGENCY ANIMALS - The explosion of dotcom brands brought with it a rise in new-media specialists, each with their unique market offering. Juliet Blackburn breaks down the digital shops into five typical groups

New media, digital media, screen media, interactive digital media

and connected media - the digital landscape takes careful navigating.

And the main question for clients keen to make an informed agency

choice: what work do the different types of agencies do, and how are

things maturing?



Basically, whatever clients want from an agency can be found. Agencies

are either gearing themselves around what clients are now demanding, or

clients are choosing a specialist to deliver what they need (or think

they need). So large or small, specialist or generalist, integrated,

technical, creative or strategic, there's something for everyone.



The number and different types of agencies is still pretty vast -

despite redundancies and some closures. The dotcom shake up is forcing

agencies to rethink their positioning and proposition as evidenced by

recent mergers, acquisitions or consolidations. They are becoming more

focused and looking carefully at what clients are now needing. They're

growing up, and so too are clients. Let's not forget that this is still

a young industry going through all the growing pains any other

developing industry has been through - it's just all happening at a much

faster rate. It's the agencies with a strong proposition, customer-led

approach, results focus and managed growth that will survive. And at the

end of the day, it's a question of clients defining what they want and

finding the best partner with whom to do it.



In the past three months I have met with more than 70 agencies. And I

still have more to meet. They almost all claim to be 'unique', and with

different slants, combination of services, proprietary tools and ways of

conducting business, I guess they can claim that. However, they do fall

into general categories which typify the market and help clients

understand more about the choices out there. Below are the five types, a

snapshot of the kind of work each undertakes, what they tend to be good

at and their core strengths.



MEDIA SPECIALISTS



The planning and buying of online, interactive or digital advertising

campaigns.



Probably the easiest of the lot to define and identify. Given that

'location, location, location' is the key to any campaign's success,

knowing what is out there, how a site is performing, who they are

targeting, where to be on the site and the types of opportunities

available beyond the simple banner is crucial. Media specialists will

ask if a campaign's objective is to raise awareness, drive sales or

build customer dialogue and relationships, which they can deliver

through tenancy deals, sponsorship or partnerships with sites. Besides

placement, their forte is knowing if a client should be developing

banners, buttons, microsites, pop-ups, packages, e-mails, sponsorships,

hyperlinks or partnerships. Having strong relationships with the media

owners or sales houses is also imperative for solid negotiation on the

buying front and for creating new forms of communications across

different platforms.



Some agencies such as Beyond Interactive or Profero also have in-house

creative capabilities which can help in understanding the totality of

the campaign's success and the speed with which changes or new ideas can

be implemented. Others partner with agencies in their group - Outrider

with Incline, for instance - but the majority work with their preferred

or clients' creative agencies.



On the whole these agencies provide strategic consultancy (looking at

the market, the business and consumer research) and strategy development

(brand, communications and media). They plan campaigns using a variety

of sophisticated planning tools and place ads, and track, optimise and

evaluate.



No longer can campaigns simply run and clients merely look at the

click-through rates. Clear, measurable objectives and return on

investment are the order of the day.



With the online advertising market still increasing its value (Forrester

Research predicts the sector to be worth pounds 3.8 billion by 2005),

these agencies will continue to work hard with the media houses to

achieve that growth. They are focused on their area and pretty dedicated

to their cause.



ADVERTISING SPECIALISTS



Creators of digital or interactive advertising campaigns.



In reality this area covers two main types of agencies: traditional

advertising and online marketing. They're from different backgrounds.

The ad agencies are now developing interactive ads for both online and

digital interactive TV, while the creative digital agencies specialise

in developing online campaigns consisting of video/rich media banners,

interstitials, microsites, games, fly-bys and so on.



The first group understands about communication, consumers and brands.

They are realising their value in working with specialists to deliver

the brand promise. Online is still the predominant medium, but with

digital interactive TV never far away, they are also having to develop

their understanding of its impact on their own and their clients'

business. Some are bringing the expertise in-house, while others prefer

to partner with different specialists as clients look more and more to

their incumbent agencies to help deliver their online campaigns.



At the end of 1996, BMP DDB and Lowe-Howard Spink were the first of the

traditional advertising agencies to set up dedicated interactive units.

BMP now has Tribal DDB while Lowe has Leonardo. Like Saatchi Vision and

Grey Interactive, they offer full-service interactive marketing

solutions.



Only a few agencies have fairly developed digital offerings, others have

small teams of technical experts - largely there to get digital

ingrained into the company's way of thinking to take above-the-line

campaigns further via the web or on TV. They still recognise their areas

of strength and therefore work closely with web specialists for

delivery.



The second group, the online marketing agencies, are focused on

delivering just that - online or interactive advertising and marketing

campaigns. These agencies, such as Dare Digital, Incline or Magnetic

North, work directly with clients as well as with consultancies, media

and ad agencies, which opens up their client reach. They understand

about the technology and its capabilities and balance this with good

creative skills to inject power into messages and creative cutting-edge

campaigns. A year from now it will be interesting to see how many of

these typically independent agencies are still so.



DESIGN GURUS



Brand builders for the digital world.



A harder type to define. As you can imagine, the majority of design-led

new-media agencies come from a design-for-print heritage. However, they

have developed in different ways. First, there are the traditional

corporate design companies that are extending their services into the

digital area. Realising that brands do not automatically translate from

print into the digital world, they look to enable brand identities and

guidelines to work across the different platforms.



Second, there are those which have transformed their businesses from

print to new-media services. Like the ad agencies, these gurus

understand about brands but have also developed equally strong technical

capabilities to match their design skills. They think on- and offline.

Clients therefore are increasingly asking their design agencies to help

them online by reviewing and redesigning their websites to ensure

integration and a true representation of the brand personality. These

guys understand about colour and form and how differently they work on

the various platforms.



For example, SAS is now 60 per cent multimedia-focused with the balance

remaining in its original offering of corporate/brand identity and

print. Attik, on the other hand, is planning to keep its new-media

percentage at about 30 per cent. At 25 per cent, Design House plans to

increase its percentage of new-media work. Importantly, achieving the

right balance of old and new world work will maintain the financial

stability of these companies.



Most design-based agencies will drive to achieve the balance of

creativity and technology, by bringing creatives and programmers

together. When choosing a design-led, new-media agency, ensure that they

either have strong technology teams who understand about brand

translation across other platforms or creative teams who understand the

technology.



While they may vary in terms of the breadth of their offerings, the

design gurus are certainly the ones to watch at the new-media awards

ceremonies.



FULL-SERVICE OPERATIONS



There is no single definition: full-service digital agency; full-service

online commerce; interactive marketing; end-to-end e-business solutions

provider; consultancy and implementors of digital solutions, etc.



Defining this area is difficult as there are several definitions

depending on what kind of agency you're talking about. The most common

definition centres on those web agencies which design and deliver

interactive solutions across all platforms and online marketing.



With strong technical understanding, they seek to keep ahead of the tech

game offering solutions for web, mobile, digital TV, animation, video

production, broadband, etc. More than just a web agency, they deliver

consultancy, strategy, creative and technical or e-commerce services.

Some (such as Zentropy) add marketing to the list, while others (such as

Tribal DDB) also offer online media planning and buying. Some provide it

all under one roof, others have formed joint ventures or alliances under

groups to offer all or singular services (such as Outrider).



However, there are different degrees to which agencies deliver the

above. The extremes are the more complex e-commerce builders and system

integrators and the smaller agencies delivering simpler e-commerce

solutions. Both have their place - it just depends on the clients' needs

and budgets.



A point to note: the agencies here are typically working with budgets

ranging from pounds 50,000 to pounds 500,000. Above that and clients

will tend to look at the bigger e-business consultants.



Smaller agencies tend to work with clients starting out on the web or

with more limited budgets. Such agencies are working with smaller

blue-chip companies or brands to produce information and transactional

sites. Meanwhile the bigger agencies will look at the business, brand,

digital or e-CRM strategies and opportunities, undertake research and

planning, develop creative, content and applications. On the e-commerce

front they will deliver site strategy, interface design and

architecture, system design and database integration.



E-BUSINESS CONSULTANTS



Build or transform significant parts of enterprise businesses.



They do more than just build e-commerce sites. They build business, but

online. They are more consultants than agencies. They bridge the gap

between management consultancies and systems integrators. Clients are

investing big time with these guys in terms of money and relationship

building - consultancies handle IT expenditures of pounds 500,000 to

pounds 5 million.



Largely derived from the US, the scope of work includes basic strategy

and a deep understanding of the customer experience, business processes

and transactions. These players are going beyond the communications

experience to generate significant revenue and technology. They custom

develop package and legacy system integration and are used to dealing

with high numbers of users.



However, with a challenging economic environment, many of the bigger

agencies are being forced to reinvent their businesses. As many clients

continue to hold back their IT expenditure, so the e-business builders

have had to make redundancies, reduce their prices and seek smaller

projects.



The difference between the e-business consultants and the full-service

agencies mentioned is really about scale and having a deeper

understanding of technology. Full-service agencies may either take 'off

the shelf' package technologies which can be deployed relatively easily

(such as BroadVision or Cold Fusion) or develop their own, albeit

smaller scale, proprietary software. Consultants, on the other hand, are

the hard core guys. The Scients, Sapients, iXLs and Proxicoms of this

world devour big complex projects requiring the integration of multiple

packages and legacy systems. And when clients are spending millions of

pounds, then return on investment will always be on their mind.



OTHERS



Not the nicest of headings, but there's a need to mention some of the

other agency groups such as the integrated interactive agencies. With a

foundation in either direct or relationship marketing or sales

promotion, they take the communications requirement and provide

solutions across the appropriate communications channels, including

digital. Some have dedicated teams in-house, others are integrating

digital into the team's thinking. Evans Hunt Scott was the first

mainstream communications agency to recognise the importance of

combining offline and online skills to be able to offer fully integrated

communications and so merged with Real Time Studios to create

ehsrealtime. Finally, there are the specialists, focusing their efforts

on digital interactive TV or wireless platforms, whose services will no

doubt be called on far more often in the near future.



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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).