The View From the Kids' Table

Agency Partners Should Truly Be, You Know, Partners

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Nancy Kramer Nancy Kramer
We've all heard the talk. Digital dollars will reign supreme in the slowing economy. If you're a traditional agency, chances are you're either trying to "go digital" or you're being asked to collaborate with the brand's digital agency. As a digital marketing agency that has specialized solely in this space for nearly eight years, we love hearing the news. But at the end of the day, we know it's not all about what we do -- we're all in this together. Not every agency should be digital, just as not every agency should engage in pure advertising. Both require deep expertise and knowledge of ever-changing channels.

My colleague Mark Hillman and I were talking the other day about how traditional ad agencies and digital agencies work together, and it's an issue that's been weighing on my mind ever since. Recently, we've had some really great experiences -- and, OK, some not so great experiences -- partnering with a variety of the traditional advertising agencies on a variety of clients.

Full disclosure here -- we grew up as a "below the line" marketing communications company with Apple as our first client (I know, I know -- how lucky is that). We were routinely briefed about new products alongside agency greats Chiat/Day or BBDO, depending on which one had the business at the time. We grew up believing that business is conducted collaboratively. All parties had one common interest: that of our client. That philosophical approach not only became part of our company DNA, but one of our core values.

Fast forward 20-plus years, and we've evolved into a full-service digital agency. As campaigns are increasingly integrated across channels, we find ourselves partnering with traditional ad agencies more and more. But something seems out of whack. In all honestly, we still sometimes find ourselves sitting at the kids' table along with other partners, scrambling to catch up to what the traditional agency is doing. We are often shunned; shut out of conversations. Never truly briefed. And this phenomenon isn't just experienced at indie agencies; our friends at fellow digital agencies often experience the same behavior in their own network. What is that? Have we somehow lost focus on the very thing we should be focused on -- the best interest of the client? It's hardly the makings of a collaborative atmosphere.

We're talking about a cultural shift here. Some traditional agencies just don't get digital, some just don't care, and others are trying to get better. It's hard for them to believe that a pure player is capable of creating the big idea. But it happens all the time. And in the end it doesn't matter whose idea it was -- it matters when we hit the target. It all comes back to what's best for our client. We're starting to see some true signs of life. It's required an aggressive approach on our part; we've passionately expressed our desire to be involved. Digital is not an afterthought -- it should be woven throughout the campaign from the start.

Marketing is no longer about pushing products and messages at the consumer. We're in a service industry, an age of pull marketing. This requires seamless integration across channels, from traditional advertising avenues to the web. The utopian concept of a one stop shop is not only hard to believe, it's just impossible. The best solution for our clients is when experts from all sides come to the table -- willingly, excitedly -- to collaborate.

The best experiences happen when the brands get involved -- getting all agencies and partners at the table together, allowing each agency to provide their expertise on all ideas -- making ideas bigger, holistic and game-changing for the brand. A more inclusive approach creates buy-in and gives idea ownership to the team, not just a single agency partner. In the end, all agencies are equally vested, on the same page at the start, more organized and better able to execute -- and we're building relationships at the same time.

Authenticity rules in our industry; the wisdom of crowds prevails. The same is true in business. In a perfect world, we as agencies would get it all figured out. But this will never happen unless the brands make it happen. And that requires an active, daily commitment. In the end, the brands will have to demand that we all work together -- before anything gets the green light -- to ensure true collaboration. We all need to check our egos at the door. Every agency should have its seat at the grown ups' table and let the best idea for the client shine.
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