Home > Uncategorized > 10 things to do for digital agencies

10 things to do for digital agencies

Short url for this post: http://tr.im/ubf2

I got a bit of heat from my last post, ‘the end of the road for online agencies?’. So I thought if it’s easy to criticize, it is more difficult to come up with solutions. So here it is, 10 things digital agencies could do to kick advertising agencies arses. If they had one. I know a lot of digital agencies do parts of it, but, to my knowledge, they could do a lot more.

Ideas come from great talent, and talent wants two things: creative environment and creative opportunities. I’d even argue that comes before money.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, there are obviously more. And this is just my personal opinion based on my experience with both worlds.

1.    Get serious about sharing

Sharing new stuff, sharing old stuff, sharing ideas, sharing new work, opportunities, technology… shouldn’t be left to the odd group email.
It should be someone’s responsibility to collect and share the good stuff.
Creative, technologist and planners should sit down and share opinions on a regular basis.
As a technology company, a system to collect and share cool things should be put into place.
The Barbarian group shares briefs with the all agency. What new ways can we think to make sharing a natural and inspired part of the life of agency rather than just a nice to have?

At glue, we used to sit down every week with the creative and talk about new stuff, share ideas, explore new opportunities. It was great and I missed it when I left to BBH. This is definitely more likely to happen in digital agencies. Make the most of it.

2.    Put technology out of the technology department

A lot of the coolest digital ideas have come out of the technology department. We need to embrace technology as part of what we do, and try to monitor and spread new technological opportunities to the whole agency.

Too many times creative technologists (everyone seems to have a different funky name for them) are ostracized from the creative process and only involved when ideas have been fully formed (which they end up having to kill most time on on feasibility grounds).

I hear AKQA’s FIAT grand prix idea came from technologists who found the data and just thought it’d be cool to do something with it. And then got helped by planners and creatives to make it what it is now.

AKQA is a technology led company, but how often do you let technologists play with idea and data?

Read: creative technologists in brand advertising.

3.    Invest in your future talents

If you can’t afford the big names, you might need to play it like Arsene and invest in young talent. Training new talent is a key in long term growth and one of the only way I can think for digital agencies to compete with the big agencies and network.
Bringing fresh new blood is vital in creative industries and this should be especially true in a fast moving industry like digital.

Investigate ways to train your people, put a graduate programme together. Let’s form the next generation of digital workers.
I know some digital agencies have design partnerships, basically with Hyper Island, but it should be extended to other departments and should be made more serious and official.
BBH and Ogilvy graduate programme attract hundreds of applicants every year for 3-4 positions. But once you make it, you are then being trained properly:

What makes the Ogilvy Fellowship Scheme unique to London’s communications industry? Well, we think Einstein once said (maybe): “6 weeks of initial training + 3 different companies/3 years = The best training in the business”.


Or for something a little more funky:

The WK 12 program is an intensive, in-house “school” that puts a diverse group through 13 months of hard learnin’ about the ad business.  They come out the other end having worked on some of the most creative and demanding advertising accounts in the world, handled by one of the most forward-thinking and innovative agencies known.  As put by the WK 12 business director, Elena Cartasegna, “We refer to WK 12 as an exeriment disguised as a school disguised as an agency.”  Whatever.  You mix it all up and you get learning, new energy and ideas, a combination that’s bound to produce something of value.


And another WK initiative I really like

Platform is a future creative talent platform, which will hire, teach and work with a diverse mix of people, from around the world. We will recruit talent from the arts, sciences and technology backgrounds who will work together to solve business problems through creative solutions. You will learn by doing which means being involved in everything from building prototypes, enabling and assisting in research development to curating your very own event space and programme.


4.    Mix things up

I have said before that the mistake most advertising agencies make is to look at each other’s work for inspiration. I’m afraid digital is guilty of the same thinking. Digital agencies are self-obsessed about digital and often only look into digital for inspiration.

It’s one thing to be up-to-date with a medium, it’s another to be blinded by digital obsession.

The best ideas are fueled by digital but are not made for digital.

All virals are black swan, and tweaking something already popular online won’t get you very far. The key is to create these new things. And it sometimes requires working with people outside of the industry.

Imagine having a pool of comedians, professional comedy writers, philosophers, scientists, journalists, artists, etc. you could tap into depending on your brief? Imagine you can mix them up with your super digital skills?

Too many times digital creative teams are being asked to be a jack of all trade, but it’s pretty hard to be excellent in many different disciplines. So go get the right experts, and yes, that means outside of our digital circle and comfort zone.

Your ideas will only be more likely to be Fresh and get that ‘viral’ spice we are all looking for.

5.    Foster the creativity of your people

Sid lee collective, Sid Lee’s creative incubator, develops, catalyses, promotes and finances various projects that push the notion of Commercial CreativityTM to its limits, and, we hope, beyond.

They offer bursaries and support to our artisans to make their ideas happen.

Why not have similar projects in-house, developing new applications, websites and technology from our own people, and using it as portfolio of creativity and technology?

Advertising agencies have also started creating their own brands and products:


Bartle Bogle Hegarty is launching two new brands, created in-house by the agency’s brand invention company Zag. Pick Me, a vegetable ready-meal, has launched in Tesco and a personal alarm system called Ila Dusk will debut in Marks & Spencer.

Anomaly IP

We believe in the power and values of ideas. Consequently, we develop, invest, incubate and curate new ideas, products and properties.

Again, what is stopping us from spotting gaps in the digital landscape and developing our own digital brands when we have the knowledge and skills in house?

6.    Be a freaking pioneer

As digital agencies, it should be in the DNA of most agencies to constantly innovate and pioneer new technology, new ways of working, new models of communication. Digital agencies should be writing the rules of the game. But I feel they have been resting on their laurels and the most provoking digital thinking now seems to come from advertising agencies.

BBH Labs is getting quite a lot of buzz on the digital scene, yet none of their writers has actually spent any time working in digital agencies. Credits to them as the quality of their input is remarkable.

Just saw the CPB group (beta) new website and it’s pretty cool.

Most of the blogs I read from digital peeps or digital agencies blogs tend to focus on ‘cool stuff’ and new technology, with little insight and thinking. They somehow reinforce the feeling that one should go to a digital agency to get some funky viral or cool new Iphone app, but is not where great digital thinking will be taking place.

7.   Regroup

Form a collective to represent and promote digital creativity. The IAB is doing a fine job at promoting industry standards for digital. But are we waiting on the IPA and other APG, AAAA and other awards shows  to represent the interest of the industry at large? Do we need to wait for Campaign to invite a bunch of digital gurus to talk about the future of this industry, once a year?

Should we not be fighting for our own rights? Promoting what we think is digital creativity? Making digital a respectable and viable career choice for students?

8.    Social media

Again, I’m surprised to see how quiet most digital agencies have been on the subject. No one seems to have made any efforts to go out there and have a point of view about it. It seems that most have just thought they can integrate it within their services by adding the goold old Facebook and twitter bit at the end of a strategy.

So it left the space opened for specialists. Made by Many is the only one I can think of, and guess what… they are thriving. They have you to thank for that. (Update, forgot Awesome We are social. Mistake now corrected.)

Let’s recognize that social media is a beast on its own and should be treated with such regards. Maybe put someone in charge and launch a social media service department? Demonstrate that creativity can exist in social media? That it can deliver results?

9.    Put the fun back into advertising

I’m sorry but most digital agencies seem so conventional and a little…. boring! Don’t get me wrong. I think you get a better quality of ‘life’ (work?) in digital agencies. More respect, somehow decent hours, maybe you might even be allowed to play music in the office. But somehow, it doesn’t seem to cut it. I think we all love a bit of craziness, parties, ambiance. It doesn’t have to cost the earth, but I think more can be done to make digital agencies much better working environment than their advertising agencies counter part.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, most of us have chosen that career because it was supposed to be fun! (ah the good old days…)

I can only think of Sid Lee as an example of an agency that has put fun at the heart of its vision. And god, I had the best 2 years of my life working there. You could be assured something was happening every couple of week or so, from a bbq on the terrace to DJs coming to the agency (unannounced) to the annual party that would always get the whole industry begging for tickets. It all came down from the one man, JFB, who is a famous for being a bit of a party monster. He has never been afraid to just do what they wanted. I sometimes feel most digital agencies could do with a bit more balls. Every agency can throw a party. It takes a lot more to create a culture. And this is exactly what attracts talent. I can think of BBH, Fallon, Mother, WK cultures. I can’t think of the culture of any of the top 10 digital agencies.

Fun doesn’t have to cost money. There are so many creative ways to have cheap fun. It only requires a bit of effort from management. And that can make a huge difference.

Have a look at Work club’s blog. Seems like a pretty cool place to work for?

10.    PR the hell out of it

(WK London extraordinaire Kevin Chesters and Nic Owen in action)

Now if you read any of the above thinking, we have been doing it for years! Well, you shouldn’t keep it to yourself, and share it to the world! And treat it seriously for the love of god. These are all important points that require attention, money and resources. They should not be given to the intern, but come from top management. Neil Christie, the MD, writes the WK blog (or used to). What does it say about the agency? If he can do it, why can’t MDs and CDs of digital agencies? Come on Cridgy, you can do better than that. 😉

Again, don’t underestimate the power of blogs. I have always thought WK were a cool agency before working there, solely on the basis of their blog (sad but true).

But there are dozens of other more interesting ways to PR, properly, all of the above. So get started.

Enjoy. Tweet this: http://tr.im/ubf2

  1. dan
    July 23, 2009 at 7:28 am

    Such a good post that I can’t think of anything sarcastic to say.
    That wasn’t me be sarcastic.
    Neither was that.

    • Digicynic
      July 23, 2009 at 10:58 am

      Thank you Dan. I wont be sarcastic either then. Wow, it feels weird.

  2. Wal
    July 23, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    I had the same feeling about W+K, before I knew their work when I just came to London I saw their blog and always thought it’s the coolest place to work at.

    A good example for point 3. is Dare with Dare School where they get people from universities in for a year and train them, nice.

  3. Digicynic
    July 23, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Hi Wal,

    Yes the blog its a great agency.

    I checked the Dare School, sounds good on principles. But when you go on the website, you can apply for 2008, the blog hasn’t been updated since feb 2008 and one of the 3 links is broken.
    I don’t know, it doesn’t seem they take it seriously. Which was my point.
    But I’ve been wrong before.

    Didn’t you go to the D&AD creative course last year?

  4. July 24, 2009 at 9:25 am

    Made by Many seems like an incredibly smart consultancy. Nixon McInnes is also another example of some serious smartness. We Are Social also seem good. And erm… Agency 2 seem to specialise but I haven’t seen anything groundbreaking, oooh and then there’s Dachis Corporation where David Armano works.

    Really good post, but I think there’s something to be said about concentrating on design principles as opposed to advertising, thinking about lots of small ideas instead of big ideas, and thinking about trying to change their clients businesses from within rather than just surface change such as outbound communications.

    • Digicynic
      July 24, 2009 at 10:41 am

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for your comment, good stuff. Will check the other agencies.

      The points you mention are absolutely valid and have been mentioned by many, in particular the excelletn Paul Isakson, and are, (hopefully!) on the agenda of many digital agencies. I just think they are failing on the basics, which was the point of this post.

  5. yelli
    July 26, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Nice post.

    Your final point is a very good one as it made me realise that we do most of those things (at Profero} and maybe we do not shout about them enough (no time like the present to get that right). For example we actually have put significant investment into Social Media (point 8) and have formed a collective called the Hive which runs across our global business and incorporates people from all departments (www.thehiveblog.com). In terms of point 6 you may be interested in the venture we have launched in Shanghai called the Factory (http://www.factoryshanghai.com/).

    Finally in terms of point 3, Creative Social actually founded a one week course with Hyper Island to invest in future talent early (http://www.creativesocialblog.com/?p=1464) and I believe that only two UK agencies actually sent their people there last year. It feels like there is a real shortsightedness from the UK advertising industry in investing in talent which is a real shame

  6. July 26, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    hey, why you don’t have either a “share this” or “tweet this” plugin in your blog? I’m sorry mate, don’t want to be too geeky, but you talk about social media and sharing, then you make spreading this post a painful experience…

    I’ll keep retweeting and sharing, because I agree your ten things are precious, but pls help us!


    • Digicynic
      July 26, 2009 at 3:33 pm

      Ha! fair point. Although I do not work for a digital agency, so it should only be half a slap.
      But I should sort it out, you are definitely right.
      Thanks for the wake up call!

    • Digicynic
      July 26, 2009 at 4:15 pm

      ok, so after an hour wasted in googling and trying up dozens of stuff, it doesn’t seem to be possible to change it on the (free) version of WordPress. WordPress is crap. Or I have the technical skills of a 6 years old. Not sure.

  7. July 26, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Hey Jerome – Awesome post (and thanks for remembering us!)


  8. July 27, 2009 at 6:50 am

    Funny, I actually think that the majority of your 10 point plan applies more seriously to more traditional ATL agencies than pure-play digital agencies. Most digi-agencies that I know are pretty damn good at sharing, getting technology out of the tech dept, mixing things up, being pioneers etc etc

    • Digicynic
      July 27, 2009 at 8:55 am

      Hi Amelia, you are absolutely right. I could have done another post on how to do digital for ATL agencies, but it would have quickly turned into a book :-p
      Digital agencies are a lot more advanced than their ATL counter parts in many of these 10 points. But I think they could do a lot more. I still think most agencies do not a/ do it professionally and seriously, b/ capitalize and formalize c/ make a big fuzz out of it to legitimize it. (lot of things in ‘ize’ here)
      Most ATL agencies won’t have a culture of sharing for example, but digital agencies don’t make the most out of it either. They rely on a couple of individuals to do it, rather than formalizing it its process and integration to turn it into a killer weapon. Most digital agencies have some sort of a grad programme, but don’t look after it. That’s all I was trying to point to. The need to grow up and do the basics properly.
      Enough of my Monday morning non-sense.
      Hope you are keeping well. Jerome.

  9. July 27, 2009 at 8:44 am

    One thing I have seen digital agencies do which add to their culture is experiment in their own time. I love what the guys at poke have done. They had a stand at the V&A last week. They were apart of design week, they have twitterbake and a number of the guys internally working on their own projects. I have seen this in a lot of digital agencies. People just playing around and seeing what they can come up with.
    I have seen a lot of great cultures in the digital shops I have spoken to. But the interesting part is formalising that culture without loosing it as they try to push up the food chain

    • Digicynic
      July 27, 2009 at 9:50 am

      Hi Mike,

      I love Poke. Great digital agencies, and probably one that does most of the above points. It could be interesting for example, not just to let their guys working on internal projects, but to make it part of the process. Everyone knows that Google engineers are supposed to spend 20% of their time on what they want. Tons of great apps and projects have then come up as a result of that. It is part of their DNA and one of the reason it attracts so much talent.
      When I mean PR the hell out of it, it’s exactly what I’m talking about. They are doing all these great things, yet a relatively small number of people seem to know about it.
      Not just we don’t mind you doing a project here, but we want you to, we encourage you, and we support you.
      You’ve got to love twitterbake.
      Thanks for your comment, Jerome.

  10. gregg Harper
    July 27, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Digital. It’s a media. Like a poster. Remember those? You know posters on the way to work…. millions pass them everyday….

  11. nickfell
    July 27, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    This is a great read. Kudos for following your last post with some practical advice.

    On point 3, I think that the industry as a whole (digital or otherwise) can always be doing a better job of promoting itself to young talent…

    After all, ours is an industry built on talent, and talent alone.

    What’s fascinating nowadays is that many of the best and brightest are making waves from an extremely young age…especially online where there are few barriers preventing them from unleashing their entrepreneurial spirit and, above all, experimenting…

    People like Mark Zuckerberg, Bud Caddell, Noah Brier etc…

    You kindly mention our efforts at Ogilvy to attract fresh new blood…We’ve tried to do this primarily by being generous…with time and info about us, the industry and applying…

    However, we know that there’s always more to be done.

    W+K’s Platform is really interesting…

    • Digicynic
      July 28, 2009 at 7:59 am

      Hi Nick,

      Great comment. Agree with point 3. It’s not just a digital problem.

      I’ve always been impressed with Ogivly graduate programmes. I hear many of the people who graduate stay in the agency for years. That’s loyalty for you.
      And yes, young people are getting successful even younger, thanks to learning tech skills at a very young age. If you are creative and you know how to program, you are in business!
      W+K platform launched yesterday by the way.

      Stay tuned, Jerome

  1. July 26, 2009 at 11:15 am
  2. July 27, 2009 at 9:05 am
  3. July 28, 2009 at 8:29 am
  4. July 28, 2009 at 10:09 am
  5. July 28, 2009 at 9:19 pm
  6. August 1, 2009 at 11:06 pm
  7. September 6, 2009 at 11:49 pm
  8. July 5, 2010 at 1:01 pm

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