Media: Double Standards - 'Big old school creative agencies don'tget digital'

Two digital strategy makers talk about why online ad revenues have increased and which digital disciplines have been blighted by a talent shortage.

PATRICK GRIFFITH - planning director, Agency Republic

- There has been a great deal of talk about 2007 being the year that FMCG clients will finally come online. Will they, and why?

I think so. Leaders such as Unilever are committed. Online is more creative than ever, and the media imperative of targeting a highly engaged audience is very attractive. But I don't think online advertising will lead the charge. Online display for FMCGs is still not a great creative platform. Consumers now find their own way to the communications they want, so FMCGs should avoid ambushing them with display ads.

- Will search continue to hold its dominance over the share of digital adspend?

Search will continue to grow as the most efficiently commercial digital channel, but its grip on adspend figures will wane. Search is a poor communications tool. It only serves the interest people already have in a brand - it does not create that interest itself. For search to work, advertisers need to inspire consumers to seek their brands. In 2007, media consumption will demand that advertisers create brand inspiration online, too.

- Which digital discipline has been worst affected by the dearth of good talent (some say planning and account managers, others say it's the experienced creatives)?

Planning. For most digital agencies it's a new discipline, so there is little depth to the talent pool. Most media agencies don't employ digital strategists at all. Instead, strategy is part of the planner/buyer function. But these people are paid for how much they spend, not how imaginatively they spend it. The result is that clients get a very transactional viewpoint. Digital media strategy is a major gap.

- Why are online ad revenues in the UK growing much faster than any other market around the world (based on figures recently reported by Adam Smith at Group M)? What makes the UK unique in this respect?

This one's an analyst's dream. A recent surge in broadband connections is driving higher levels of consumer engagement. This has benefited both response and brand spenders. Meanwhile, e-commerce, which has always been a bedrock of online spend, is currently very buoyant on the back of the UK's high credit-card penetration, consumer affluence and poor transport.

- What is your all-time favourite online campaign and why?

AKQA's Nike Run London "routefinder". Simple and useful. And CPB's VW GTI work. Gorgeous and expensive.

- How easy is it to buy outside of big-name sites such as Yahoo! and MSN, rather than seeking out more niche sites which could deliver a targeted media buy?

Site selection is dictated by the campaign and its aims, it's as simple as that. As with national press, the main digital media owners have huge audiences and a breadth of content. This means they take a good share of spend, but never get preferential treatment in the planning process.

- How did you come to work on the digital side of the media industry?

Completely by accident. I stumbled blindly into a start-up called i-level as a short-term job and stayed there for five years. Initially, it was all about becoming a dotcom millionaire, but sadly, that faded. Thankfully, the lure of money has been replaced by the nobler rewards of doing interesting work with great people.

- Who is best placed to deliver digital solutions: the in-house digital division of a media agency or a specialist?

Clients should ignore the agency question and buy on the quality of the team. Are they strategic and creative? Do they show experience and passion? Are they celebrated and supported by their agency management?

- What's your favourite piece of kit or gadget?

I'm impressed with my Eco-balls. You use them instead of detergent for cleaning your clothes. They dealt with my muddy football kit without complaint.

STEF BARDEGA - director of digital strategy, MediaCom

- There has been a great deal of talk about 2007 being the year that FMCG clients will finally come online. Will they, and why?

Online's biggest success is as a customer acquisition medium. Where FMCG advertisers have tested digital, they've over-relied on complex/expensive digital destination sites with an acquisition focus. It's time to consider the medium as part of the overall communications mix, and as a flexible and effective way to reach consumers and to deliver overall brand objectives. This year will be one of best practice development for FMCGs.

- Will search continue to hold its dominance over the share of digital adspend?

For the foreseeable future, yes. However, the volume of searches is intrinsically linked to the number of people online, which is beginning to flatten out. As click price is dictated by auction, prices will be pushed up to the point where it delivers increasingly less ROI. We are starting to see this in the more advanced online categories such as finance. Brands operating in this space will need to reduce their reliance on search to future-proof their business.

- Which digital discipline has been worst affected by the dearth of good talent (some say planning and account managers, others say it's the experienced creatives)?

I think it has affected disciplines across the industry, but particularly creative. The big old school creative agencies don't get digital. They still want to make 30-second TV ads, and have yet to embrace what we at MediaCom term "The Age of Dialogue" (where creative work has to spark a dialogue with and between consumers, and not just simply entertain them).

- Why are online ad revenues in the UK growing much faster than any other market around the world (based on figures recently reported by Adam Smith at Group M)? What makes the UK unique in this respect?

Ad dollars tend to follow the consumer. In the UK, we have a strong set of conducive factors including macro economics, internet/broadband penetration, online tenure, and the weather.

- What is your all-time favourite online campaign and why?

The work we did for the Metropolitan Police knife crime reduction campaign represents the future of advertising. Cross-media content delivery and promotion. If it doesn't win any awards, I'll eat my hat!

- How easy is it to buy outside of big-name sites such as Yahoo! and MSN, rather than seeking out more niche sites which could deliver a targeted media buy?

We bought from well over 200 different buying points last year. We do what is right for the client. In "The Age of Dialogue", it's not simply about buying volume cheaply, but about creating a piece of communication with the consumer on whichever platform/publisher is relevant and most cost effective.

- How did you come to work on the digital side of the media industry?

Professionally, I have always been driven by consumer insight and a desire to understand what consumers are doing. Seven years ago, it became clear to me that consumers were going digital, so I did, too.

- Who is best placed to deliver digital solutions: the in-house digital division of a media agency or a specialist?

MediaCom has a team of integrated specialists. Our clients get all the benefits of specialist digital skills combined with integrated strategic solutions, planning and (where relevant) buying all under one roof.

- What's your favourite piece of kit or gadget?

The digital media centre I am building at home.

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