Digital Essays: Casting aside digital doubts

In a sector that should be having a ball, digital agencies have surprisingly divided opinions about what the future will bring.

Digital agencies, one would have thought, are in the right place at the right time. For it is a digital world we now inhabit. Yet there's a sense among them of a community under threat and unable to capitalise on its vantage point.

A lack of qualified staff; constant poaching from other disciplines (and among brothers); clients not "getting" digital; conventional agencies stealing their clothes, and concern that they might need to don the garb of more integrated agencies themselves. Even industry awards schemes mitigate against them and their collaborative approach. Where the hell do they go from here?

On the one hand, online ad agencies consider themselves in the vanguard; on the other, they bear the attitude of the misunderstood underdog.

So it was that at Campaign's inaugural Digital Roundtable Lunch, the essayists in the following pages sank their teeth into meaty issues and a heated discussion that threw up as many disparities in opinion as it did common ground.

Not that it was all gloom. An anecdote from the Digitas London president, Norm Johnston, rocked the room with laughter: his receptionist had been offered a £50,000 salary to join a traditional above-the-line agency keen to buy some digital credentials.

But it was clear that few among this affable bunch - drawn from pureplay digital agencies, direct marketing and traditional advertising offshoots, plus an online ad network (Utarget Networks) - knew each other, despite the relatively narrow niche within which they all operate.

So, for all the connectivity of the digital world - and jokes about arranging to meet in the online environment of Second Life - it appears there's little networking going on these days. And as they thrashed out topics of pressing common concern around the lunch table, some sort of imperative for greater cohesion emerged.

Campaign is keen to play its part as a forum for discussion and as a platform for the digital industry to push forward its collective agenda. The Digital Essays and roundtable lunch are just that: a chance for those at the cutting-edge to paint a picture of the world as they see it - and of how it might be - and hang it in the gallery of mainstream advertising. As well as providing scope for a good old get-together.

The 16 think-pieces in this collection include beefs (about recruitment, measurability and clients), soapbox favourites (digital as a channel, not a discipline) and visions for the future (new technologies and the shape of agencies).

Clearly, this is a sector that should be having the time of its life. With just a little more communication, both internally and externally, it could really start to enjoy the party.