CAMPAIGN REPORT ON NEW MEDIA: New media, new agencies - To survive the digital revolution, agencies need to change the way they operate and the work they undertake, Nick Brien says

The advertising industry has been sluggish in comparison with other businesses and communications sectors in its steps forward to recognise and realise the range of opportunities that the digital revolution presents.

The advertising industry has been sluggish in comparison with other

businesses and communications sectors in its steps forward to recognise

and realise the range of opportunities that the digital revolution


Some agencies have made limited investments in interactive companies or

dabbled with interactive television. Few have made significant steps to

ensure that their clients continue to lead in the rapidly establishing

digital consumer market. The agencies that will thrive are the ones that

are able to build the new skill-sets required to embrace the changing

landscape and breadth of the consumer brand relationship.

Technology talks

The survivors of the digital revolution will significantly change the

way they work as well as the type and range of work they do. Bill Gates’

new book argues that the mantra of the next decade will be speed.

Velocity in the advertising world will require a fundamental rethink of

the creative development process linked to better-designed computer

networks and systems.

For example, new technology needs to be employed to handle ads that

feature ever-changing price and value offers. Such systems that

currently exist in a scattered fashion around the advertising industry

will become even more important as campaigns require more

personalisation and dynamism.

Agency computer networks will also have to be much more advanced.

Effective global campaign management depends on reliable systems, and a

new technology-focused client group demands them. If your agency’s

systems are inferior to your client’s, it’s a clear signal that you’re

not leading the way into the future of brand communication.

Attracting talent with technology

Using technology effectively will also ensure that agencies retain the

best people. Telecommuting is a concept that has a mixed history of

success in advertising, primarily because the cultures of agencies still

rely on the old adage ’first in - last out’ as proof of a committed


Leo Burnett’s media company, Starcom USA, recently introduced a policy

that allows individuals to telecommute two days a week. This added level

of working flexibility represents the way forward in the industry and

forces us to redefine our beliefs about ’hard workers’.

Another way to attract and retain top employees is the ability to

leverage the virtual networks of talent. Network technology needs to be

employed to ensure that this extended staff is pulled from the best and

brightest talent pool around the globe.

Broadening beyond advertising

Not only will this digital revolution change the way agencies work - it

will also broaden the type of work we take on. We have already seen this

extension as advertising agencies embrace development of websites,

online sponsorships and online media campaigns. Now this work is

extending into the interactive television arena as clients gear up for

the launch of interactive services on British Interactive Broadcasting’s

Open as well as from cable players such as NTL and Cable & Wireless.

The biggest mistake agencies could make is to adapt print and TV

executions to digital media. It’s just not that simple. Embracing

digital requires the development of new skill-sets combining traditional

marketing with a deeper understanding of consumers and the new medium,

as well as visionary creative teams who can make ideas come alive.

The consumer data chain is becoming more important and dynamic in


Direct marketing provides the initial framework to start thinking about

an interactive brand/consumer connection. But the interactive

relationship via digital technology is much more complex. The continual

rise of internet penetration and now digital television has placed the

consumer in control, highlighting a shift in strategy from product

focused to consumer focused marketing.

Threat or opportunity?

I believe that the most daunting challenge to our industry will come

from interactive television. While still in its infancy, interactive

television seems to be knocking down the walls that hold the 30-second

television advertising model together.

If we as advertisers and agencies do not make the most of the changes

that digital technology presents, others will. Challengers will emerge

and redefine the constructs of marketing and communications. Others will

become the masters of the consumer brand dialogue. Some agencies will

commit to and lead this charge, others will simply wait and see. In so

doing, they will fail to recognise that the definitions of creativity

and ideas in marketing terms have been redefined by the zeroes and ones

of digital.

Opportunity or threat - you decide.

This article is based on a speech made to the Online Consumer Conference

at Earls Court, 26 May.