Note to agencies: We are not alone

For the last few years our agency’s worldwide mandate has been to “put digital at the core” of everything we do. This means exactly what you think it means. Instead of putting digital in a “bucket” or “silo,” and treating it as one of many marketing services, Euro RSCG revolves the company’s universe around it. And within that scheme, we (the employees) have been strongly encouraged to “get social” or get out of town! These directives are elemental to the agency’s primary purpose of “getting us and our clients to the future first.”

A couple weeks back, JWT named its Worldwide Digital Director, David Eastman, North American CEO. Worldwide CEO, Bob Jeffries indicated that this sent a strong message (to clients and competitors) about what direction the agency was going, and that JWT was serious about putting digital at the center of business operations.

As I write this, Ogilvy & Mather Chicago rehired digital ECD, David Hernandez from Tribal DDB. He’ll “provide digital creative leadership across all agency disciplines,” said Joe Sciarrotta, Chief Creative Officer of the agency.

And so it goes, by hook or by crook, ad agencies everywhere are finding ways to make digital their big story: on our creds, in our case studies, in general. Whether this is done via purchase or through internal machinations or both it is getting done. Some of us are doing it faster and better than others. But it’s a crowded field. And the race is far from over.

My point is not to ridicule this any of this. I wholeheartedly support it. What I find interesting is Ad Land’s belief that this is a media centric phenomenon, that the migration of marketing to digital platforms is somehow unique to our industry.

Everyone is putting digital front and center. Be it media, education, insurance, institution, government, finance, retail, CPG, the dry cleaners up the street. One is hard pressed to find any operation that isn’t doing business online, let alone marketing it that way. Some die trying (Pets.com). Some flourish (Amazon). Most are somewhere in between.

One has already heard the call that consumers are taking over the message. Ad Land’s first reaction was just that: a reaction. Born of fear. That somehow we –the creators and drivers of all consumerism- woke up one day and discovered a new landscape, and one where we weren’t needed anymore. That fear drove us to buy, hire and promote digital expertise with breathless abandon. To play catch up if you will.

But is the fear real? No more than it is for any other business. The only difference is somehow we deemed it our mission to re-take that landscape. Or perish. Perhaps we doth protest too much. By overly stating how important digital is to our operations, we demonstrate fear of being left behind.

I’ve said it before: We are all pioneers. The landscape is free country and has been since Al Gore invented it. We need only apply our vast skills (ideation, creation, brand management and so on) in the same direction as everyone else.

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Web pioneers bring a shovel…

At our last agency director’s meeting a question was put to senior management: What are we doing to improve (as an agency) with regard to social media? In reply, one of us remarked on thought leadership we were sharing, providing examples of various programs being implemented across the network. Another brought up a fantastic new “platform” idea currently in development for a client. And there was the new ACD we hired who specializes in social media. He starts in January. We of course mentioned him.

But, to be honest, none of us really answered the question. Just what are we doing to improve with regard to social media? The closest anyone got to a legitimate reply was our President, Jamie King. He said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Quite frankly, since we are all pioneers in social media we are learning as we go.”

Oh, Pioneers! That’s what we are. What a wonderful way to couch our agency’s naiveté. Lest you think I’m pointing out a soft spot in our integrated approach, I’d ask you to reflect on your own agency’s acumen in the social media space. Because the “we” Jamie was referring to is not just my agency. “We” is your agency, too. “We” is you. For we are all pioneers and we are all learning as we go.

Think about it. The experts and gurus of the Internet got their first computers 20 years ago (give or take), many much later. The inventors of Facebook, Craigslist, You Tube, Amazon and just about every dot com are not only still alive, they are still working. They are still pioneers, still learning as they go.

In my opinion, they (and we) are only writing the third chapter of Earth’s digital history. First came science: the hardware and the codes. Then came the land grab -with everybody rushing to own a domain. Remember AOL and Pets.com? Like it was yesterday.

Chapter three is the “social” phase: where blogging replaces journalism and social networks TV; where millions upon millions watch “virals” of kittens playing with themselves; where frantic 50 year-olds pay cocky 25 year-olds umpteen dollars to design pages on Facebook…

In other words, there is not a protocol on how to do social media because there is barely a precedent. We learn as we go.

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-Special thanks to George Parker (Adscam/the Horror!) for finding the hilarious photo pictured above.

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