Are Marketers Finally Embracing Bigger Digital Picture?

We're Being Asked to Participate in Earliest Stages of Campaigns

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Andy   Gould
Andy Gould
Am I dreaming, or have things gotten a lot better recently for digital shops? Have our rants about digital's under-utilized role finally been heard? Is the world actually beginning to understand what it takes to produce an integrated campaign? Now that I've gotten ahead of myself, allow me to explain.

As a digital agency, we've often been victim to a particular approach taken by many clients in developing creative work. That approach generally looks something like this:

  1. Create big messaging/communication idea with brand agency
  2. Come up with digital "thought-starters" based on big messaging/communication idea
  3. Call in digital agency to bring above communication idea "to life" online
The reality is that this has never been a very productive way to work. It often puts us in the position of having to sell other, arguably smarter, digital ideas against the so-called thought-starters, and also puts us in an unfortunate position with regards to timing. Online advertising generally needs to break along with the rest of the campaign, which may have been in development for weeks or months before we get involved. Or a website must be launched ASAP because other advertising is going to drive traffic to it.

Our position has always been that for digital to deliver true value, its role needs to be identified as early as possible. If online creative is intended to do something beyond just acting as an additional reach vehicle, a comprehensive strategy should be constructed -- including search, social media, e-commerce, etc. -- that has time to influence and inform the overall program, including (gasp) the advertising itself.

So for years, we've been asking clients for earlier involvement in the "big ideas" portion of the process. And for years, we've been told, in one form or another, that they understand our position, that they're aware some of their processes don't take full advantage of what digital has to offer, and that they're working to change things.

And you know what? All of a sudden, things are changing. I'm noticing a real shift in terms of how clients are managing the process of working with multiple agencies. I can't pinpoint the magic moment when things finally clicked, but over the last six to eight months, across all our major clients, we have been invited to participate -- alongside brand agencies and sometimes with other specialist agencies -- in planning sessions to assist in coming up with the big idea. Beyond simply giving us more time to think, the best part of this approach is that it provides a forum to talk through how we can weave together shorter-term campaign messages and advertising with longer-term digital platforms when an idea is still in its infancy. It's a far better method for bringing agencies from different disciplines together, and I daresay it's leading to better work for all involved.

So why is this happening now? Some would say it was just a matter of time before digital got a seat at the big table. And I would agree with that to a point. But I believe it's also because clients are embracing the notion that digital is a lot more than a piece of the idea.

In many instances, digital has become the biggest piece of the idea, placed squarely at the center of everything a brand does, because it's the piece that gives consumers something to do. It's the piece that asks -- or even requires -- something of them. One implication of this is that, more than ever before, a lot of advertising now exists to promote the digital engagement idea -- driving you to a website or encouraging you to send a text, create something, make a comment, cast a vote, play a game, buy a product, etc.

But that's a post for another day.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear if anyone else out there is experiencing the same thing. Maybe a lot of what I'm talking about is specific to the clients I work with. But, hopefully, what we're seeing at our agency is part of a larger, sustained and long-overdue trend.

Andy Gould is senior VP-executive creative director of Biggs Gilmore, Kalamazoo, Mich. Follow Andy on Twitter: @AndyGould. Andy also contributes to Biggs Gilmore's blog, SlackerCEO.
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