Media Planning Group last week scooped the £20m Nationwide account, with its digital provision “key” to the decision, according to the building society’s head of brand marketing Peter Gandolfi.
Where just a couple of years ago clients seemed increasingly likely to call a separate pitch, now they seem as certain to want all their provision housed in one agency, particularly those with middle-sized bud-gets and a UK focus.
The big digital independents such as i-Level and Profero continue to win business, particularly global, or from brands which spend heavily in the medium. But for Nationwide, which spends heavily on above-the-line brand advertising, to cite digital as an increasing and growing part of its marketing is indicative of how the “traditional” agencies are getting back in the game, according to commentators.
For MPG managing partner Marc Mendoza, the reasons are simple. He says: “We realised a long time ago that to do well as an agency, you need all the component parts to be in the right direction, rather than push-me-pull-you units.
“Consumers do not tend to think about advertising in terms of ‘digital’ and ‘non-digital’. Consumers don’t differentiate between touchpoints, it’s only us [the industry] that does.”
But some agencies are doing better than others, and – often despite protestations to the contrary – are still hooked on the easy fix that above-the-line planning and buying gives them, despite the higher margins of digital commissions.
As AAR head of media Paul Phillips says: “If you consider how an agency is remunerated, digital media is more labour intensive. TV, radio, cinema, posters and print, by comparison, are significantly less time consuming to plan and buy, because there is not the opportunity to change things once the work has appeared. Things can be changed as frequently as necessary with digital media.”
Three of a kind
One commentator says digital media planners and buyers can be split into three types – the big networks, some of whom are getting it “right”, such as Aegis’s Carat and Vizeum, and others who, for reasons such as lack of staff retention or investment are struggling, suggesting Initiative, PHD and Starcom are among those with “work to do”.
A second set are the digital evangelists – here he points to “first-mover advantage”, enjoyed by the likes of i-Level, Profero and even MPG’s Media Contacts and Arena BLM arm BLM Quantum, which invested heavily early on, and are now reaping the rewards.
He says Walker Media is also doing well, albeit after recruiting an entire market “at great expense”, after winning the Barclays integrated media brief. A third group of smaller agencies have lacked either the money or the foresight to invest.
Taking business back
“The bigger agencies – the all-rounders – are starting to take back business that some of the specialist shops had been taking, although i-Level has experienced something of a mini resurgence in the last few weeks with new business wins,” says another. They add that, although the established digital shops can expect to remain successful, start-ups would be hard-pressed to win business against the resurgent all-rounders.
A further commentator adds that media agencies, who are finally “getting” digital, must turn their attentions to search, where once again specialist shops are setting the agenda. Many will get bought up, or its talent snapped up, as media agencies once again attempt to integrate specialist skills in house.
As Phillips suggests: “A tremendous challenge for full-service media agencies is to get all elements of their service to clients delivered to an equally high standard. Their breadth of offering is now across a wide spectrum, including media planning and buying, sponsorship, econometrics, search and product placement to name but a few. To excel at all of it is a challenge.”
If digital is indeed “cracked”, other areas remain untapped with yet more rounds of catch-up ahead.