What an agency was capable of producing has been a fairly accurate guide to how they would be described. High barriers to entry for each medium with requirements for individual expertise, knowledge and experience ensured that silos stood firm and the line between digital and traditional creative agencies was fairly well defined.
Now that the forces of digital production, digital delivery and digital consumption are all in alignment, ideas more easily flow between and across each medium.
Neil Christie described the impact of this alignment on Wieden & Kennedy's Welcome to Optimism blog, where he shared its experiences of increasingly being recognised as a leading digital agency, and the lengths it has gone to to change the make-up and outlook of the team to achieve this goal.
The ability to recognise an opportunity for creative to make a difference and amplify an effect is more important than the ability to master arcane technology on the one hand or create a heart-wrenching 60-second film on the other.
This further move away from just producing "stuff" towards optimising the continuous activity of a brand recognises that the modern creative agency will be measured less by what it makes and more about the relationships it manages. Which begs the question: isn't that what media agencies are supposed to be for?
The past 20 years have been a huge success for the stand-alone media agency; freed from the constraints of the full-service set-up, it has grown and developed unrivalled buying power and influence. For a while, it looked like media would be as fragmented as creative with separate shops for onand offline media; however, that distinction seems to have been swept aside fairly effectively already.
Scale and breadth has been essential when marketing's imperative is to sell more stuff, to more people, more often. But how useful is raw power when billions of impressions can be generated for free if creative, digital and social get their act together - Old Spice being just the latest example?
Naked and others have tried to chart a middle ground with varying degrees of success, but the crossover between media and creative this time may be more profound. We may not see the widespread return the of the full-service agency but expect to see an increasing debate as to who is driving the strategy when creative agencies are making less and thinking more about where people are and how to reach them.
The jostling for position between creative agencies has been fun to watch; the tussle with media agencies should be even more entertaining.
Mark Cridge is the global managing director of Isobar