Digital Titles at Ad Agencies: Going, Going, Gone?

Swedish Shop Honesty Strips Digital Roles to Make All Staffers Responsible

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Swedish shop Honesty headquarters
Swedish shop Honesty headquarters
For the past few years, just about every agency in adland has been sprinting toward "getting digital." That's entailed investing massive resources into learning, advising clients about the constantly evolving digital-media landscape, recruiting staff steeped in social media and mobile, and training staff without those chops.

But now one shop is trying to undo that whole mentality.

A shop in Stockholm, Sweden named Honesty today announced that it is getting rid of all the digital roles in a bid to ensure that everyone working there feels responsible for all creative output -- regardless of whether it appears on TV, in a magazine, on Facebook or a mobile phone.

Wrote the shop's CEO, Walter Naeslund:

Today we're upgrading Honesty 1.0 to version 2.0, and in doing so we remove all digital roles from the agency. It just doesn't make sense anymore to have separate staff to handle a separate area which is inherently impossible to separate from anything else. Instead, all roles at the agency will approach their work from a digital and mobile perspective.

Honesty 1.0 was all about combining technology and traditional advertising experience, and while that was unique and fresh at the time, it's really what everybody should be doing these days. Honesty 2.0 will instead handle the effects that the internet has had on communications by adopting a new way of working.

The most profound difference that the internet has had on the world of marketing is that it has made it much faster, and thus speed and agility will be the main focus of Honesty 2.0. To achieve speed we attack organizational overhead and inertia by putting all our efforts into integrating strategy, storytelling, design, advertising, PR and production under one roof, one strategic account director and one creative team. Our vision is to become Sweden's fastest and best-integrated agency. To our clients this will mean better results in shorter time and at better prices. To Honesty it will mean a lot of new learning, more creative control, better output and further improved profitability.

Asked to get a bit more specific, Mr. Naeslund told Ad Age that he is nixing the current titles of "digital director" and "digital producer". He said that to him, the move is symbolic of how work will be distributed in the agency.

Walter Naeslund
Walter Naeslund

"We are really getting rid of are excuses for the rest of the staff not to learn digital and mobile," he said. "After the announcement this morning the entire agency was suddenly on their feet devouring blogs, podcasts and whitepapers when they realized it was going to be their own responsibility and nobody else's to deliver on digital and mobile. It was a beautiful sight. We had a similar experience when we started producing film in-house and all creatives suddenly realized that no fancy production company was going to be around to polish their idea."

Of course, it's important to keep in mind Honesty's relative size. The agency has less than 50 people and its clients, which include Scandic Hotels, Lindstroms, Beijer, H&M and Fisherman's Friend, are largely regional.

Reproducing the same structure at a larger network agency, like say a JWT or BBDO, would likely be more difficult. Many of those agencies also have counterparts under their holding company structures that are focused on digital work solely such as Digitaria or Atmosphere Proximity. It assumes, too, that client-marketing structures are also far enough ahead of the curve to work in an integrated fashion and that they prefer a more-siloed approach to having their digital marketing execs liase with digital agency execs.

Still, Mr. Naeslund predicts that across adland, all shops will eventually follow in his footsteps.

"We are consultants hired to help our clients thrive in the world as it looks today, and this means that our agencies have to be in sync with that world," he said. "Digital or analogue is not an issue for ordinary people on their way to work anymore, and neither can it be for us. I think that many agencies will be surprised to see how their teams step up to the plate when digital suddenly becomes their own responsibility and not that of the digital producers and directors."

What do you think? Five years from now will most ad agencies have gotten rid of digital titles under the mission of making sure all staffers are responsible for digital work? Tell us what you think in the comments.

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