Digital Essays: Time to think beyond digital

While digital may be a shining light in the recession, pure-play agencies will have to define themselves by something more.

Lunch was fun. Upbeat.

As soon as the Campaign editor, Claire Beale, opened up the debate at the roundtable lunch, any potential gloom-mongering was quickly dispelled.

The recession is "the best thing that ever happened," Syzygy's Gareth Phillips immediately pronounced.

Woah! As a few of us choked on our starter at the man's gumption, Phillips went on to explain, with customary wit and intelligence, exactly what he meant (a reduction in inflated salaries, a chance for digital to prove its worth etc).

Others warmed to his theme and, suddenly, it didn't seem such a shocking thing to say. Digital was in a great place to take advantage of the economic downturn. The mood was optimistic, one of seizing the day and all that.

Frankly, it's great to hear such enthusiasm. And it's true that the combination of rapid technological advancement and a global financial meltdown is pushing digital up the foodchain.

But it's not true that "digital" agencies per se will necessarily be the ones to benefit. In fact, it's a situation that will lump more pressure on pure-play digital shops as agencies of all sizes and specialisms increasingly make digital the bedrock of all they do.

As one luncher said: "When the big, traditional agencies get rid of their 'heads of digital', then we're stuffed." Or words to that effect.

The fact is, those big network agencies will make that change. And they'll now make it more quickly than if there wasn't this credit crunch crisis. With varying speed, they will encroach on the territory that digital agencies once claimed as their own. They'll gobble some of those agencies up.

This is where the real challenge lies. Agencies that now describe themselves as digital will be forced to define themselves by other measures; creativity, for example, or being part of a global network perhaps.

So, yes, a good time for digital.

But while the less digi-savvy agencies spend time "getting" what marketing in the digital age entails, this is also the time for agencies that already have digital at their heart to look at what else makes them tick.

- Suzanne Bidlake, associate editor (reports), Campaign