Every Little Helps

I shop at Tesco’s for 90% of my groceries. I get my TV, phone and broadband from Sky. I use Money Supermarket to get my car insurance. I use my iPhone to entertain me from games to music to web browsing.

I do all this not just because it’s convenient, but in doing so I can save both time and money.

I’m sure I’m not alone. This is the way of the nation and probably most of the western world. Large organisations have adapted to and built around what the consumer needs. Sure, there is opposition. What about the independent traders, the experts, the local farmer? Most people agree there is a need to support these people but circumstances dictate how we live and really, why make life harder than it needs to be?

Of course I’m using this comparison to illustrate how integrated agencies operate and flourish in today’s financially tough, time-restrictive climate.

But, like the opposition to supermarkets and shopping malls, integrated is seen as a naughty word. Is a marketer seen to be lazy, weak or soft by going to one agency that can fulfil all their needs? Or are they busy, budget-conscious and focused?

The debate surrounding using either a specialist digital agency versus an integrated one has raged for many years and probably won’t go away anytime soon. What we have seen over the years is trends pointing first one way and then the other.

In the early days of the Internet there weren’t many specialist digital agencies so there wasn’t any choice, digital campaigns were done by advertising agencies or repro houses (remember them?).

Once there were enough people with Internet experience small, independent, digital agencies were born and the shift towards using these specialists for digital work was complete.

More recently there seems to be a shift back to the integrated agencies who can offer digital not only as a bolt on, but as a segmented, stand alone offering within the business. This is of course nothing new but there is a growing feeling in the industry that this is the way things are going and may be the way things stay.

The big question is why?

In the beginning digital only agencies were small niche businesses focussing on one thing, website design and build. This is long before you had to put any effort into online marketing to rank highly in Google.

The move from niche to mainstream happened quite quickly as the Internet took off and more businesses wanted a web presence. Good digital agencies then offered ancillary services including online marketing (Search Engine Optimisation and Pay per Click), email marketing and online advertising.

It has been this move from niche to mainstream that led the traditional advertising and marketing agencies to look at these businesses as a threat to their share of client revenue, especially with the increases we have seen in spend on digital activity over the past 10 years.

It makes perfect sense to use specialists where only a specialist can give the required results. However as a marketer it also makes more sense to keep your budget, timescales and more importantly your brand consistency in one place.

This is true not only of integrated campaigns, but also for individual projects too. I think it is safe to say that the majority of major brands now have their own website, be it good or bad, so are generally looking for campaign work rather than a complete digital overhaul or new build without any precedent.

What has been happening in recent years is that specialist digital practitioners, who have worked in pure digital agencies, are helping traditional advertising agencies embrace the digital ‘revolution’ by adding a digital capability to their offering. This allows clients to keep their campaigns in one place rather than having separate agencies for on and off-line projects.

Don’t get me wrong; there is a time and a place for everything and specialist agencies are no different. I do think those that will flourish at least in the short term are the niche agencies that offer services like Social Media and Search Marketing.

Both of these can be handled by integrated agencies that have the people and capabilities and will probably be swallowed up in the same way as traditional design and build has.

Having said all of this, some will be nodding in agreement; some will say that integrated agencies have been offering digital capabilities for a long time. This is very true and whilst some have always had their own specialists, a lot of them used to outsource the digital parts of campaigns to the niche digital agencies. Some of them still do.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that and is one of the other ways in which specialists will survive, by going back to being the niche design and build agencies that they started out as.

Integration can be seen as shorthand for choice, convenience and collaboration. It is the binding together of resources, knowledge and skill. It also brings consistency. With brands fighting it out across multiple channels, brand consistency is paramount.  In the current climate, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that if you can’t offer an integrated, collaborative solution then you are in danger of not having the ability to fully deliver the whole package.

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