When COI announced last week it that had decided on its roster of digital agencies, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Following a protracted year-long review, the government body declared to the digital world that it had whittled down a longlist of 270 agencies to a roster of 115.
Seeing as many agencies had felt the previous two rosters of 45 digital agencies were already too big, to say that some felt let down would be an understatement.
One agency source says: "Having COI as a client used to be a rarity, but the field has now become so vast, agencies have lost faith. It has almost become difficult to take COI seriously as a client. It always used to be that you could never turn down a COI brief or your name would be tarred, but the new roster is meaningless."
COI has long been known as a digital pioneer. So why has it put together such a vast roster?
In its defence, COI says the array of the projects it handles and digital technology it uses necessitates such an extensive list. Jamie Galloway, COI's director of digital media, is confident the new roster will continue to deliver the best online work for government. He says: "We now have a wider range of agencies, some delivering highly specialised services, and have strengthened our usability and accessibility offering, as these areas are critical to delivering effective communications."
The new combined roster will be split into four categories: digital strategy; digital solutions design, development and delivery; specialist digital media solutions and services; and user experience evaluation and analytics services.
But with most leading digital agencies offering a similarly wide range of services, the decision to appoint so many small agencies looks questionable.
However, Galloway says: "The smaller agencies are on the roster not as back-up, but based on the merit of the work they've created and their skills. Some larger agencies may offer specialist services in-house, but from these smaller agencies we can access specific services in isolation."
Finally, in the digital marketplace, an increasing number of clients have began to appoint retained digital agencies, increasing their digital spend and show signs of taking the medium seriously. COI's digital roster is worth only an estimated £9 million. This equates to approximately £90,000 per roster agency. So, with every brief up for pitch, will agencies still prioritise COI?
Another agency source explains: "With the Royal Navy and Child Protection Agency as exceptions, COI doesn't tend to offer repeat business. For us, this means high pitch costs with very little return, and no scope to develop long-term relationships. It's not motivating to be on this kind of roster."
While COI may have been trying to spread the work and keep everyone happy, its decision seems to have had the opposite effect.