Integrated agencies are set up in a way that leaves digital in a silo. That can’t continue if the agency intends to be truly ‘integrated’, says Dan Marsh

Anybody born after 2007 will only know a life increasingly lived through screens, where streaming and social media are ubiquitous. The rest of us have either embraced the change or gradually softened our resistance to accept this modern way of life.

Yet, so many integrated agencies seem stuck in an old-fashioned way of incorporating digital into their own models. It’s all too often still treated as a specialism to tap into for the right brief or client.  

Old habits die hard - the traditional agency model

So why are integrated agencies so often set up in a way which isolates digital teams, deferring their strategic or creative input to the last minute? Often, it’s down to a legacy agency model, rooted in more traditional comms channels and creative approach.

This model incorporated digital as a ‘bolt-on’ discipline rather than the fundamental principle of communication it’s become and risks leaving a gaping hole in developing a truly integrated strategy. 

Savvier agencies have adapted their models, upskilling strategists to become more digitally rounded or made digital specialists an essential part of the integrated response. This means that things like search presence, online reputation and social chatter are considered as key inputs, and not an afterthought.

Guiding clients to the right martech

It’s easy to use the lightning pace of tech as an excuse. Sure, retaining naturally inquisitive talent with a finger on the pulse of emerging tech is important, but while some clients can be drawn to the latest shiny new thing, their agency’s role is to guide them to an answer right for them, their brand, their budget and their objectives. 

We are living in a ‘post-digital’ era. A business’ online presence is a vital part of its identity. But it doesn’t mean pitching an Alexa skill or VR experience as a solution to every brief (for ‘innovation’) unless it adds value. Just as it’s always been. 

Ask yourself, will this benefit the audience or strengthen effectiveness? A common sense-check is often all that’s needed.

3 questions to level the playing field

Digital has fast become a pre-requisite, not a ‘specialism’. Every agency that considers themselves integrated should ask some simple questions the next time a big brief kick-off begins:

  1. Is there adequate digital input in the room?
  2. How do we make sure the role of digital is agreed from day one?
  3. Will the creative idea translate to a Facebook post as well as it does to a press ad?  

This may all sound a little evangelical. Rest assured though, it’s not about being ‘digital first’ but more ‘digital too’ – having an equal voice alongside any other discipline in the agency, for the benefit of great, properly integrated work.

A great LinkedIn article from Tom Arnold recently suggested: “When you don’t have a strategy, you get a montage”. The same is true of digital strategy. Avoid a montage, and make digital a natural part of what you do. Your clients will thank you for it.

This article originally appeared in B2B Marketing Magazine. To read it, click here.

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