Why new media needs to return to specialisation

One-stop e-shops are no longer a viable way to service clients. A chain of specialist agencies is the way forward, argues Gordon Black

The interactive agencies sector is undergoing a radical shift, with job losses becoming a more frequent occurance and so-called strategic alliances collapsing under the pressure of competition.

In the Nineties, clients were seduced into believing that it would be more cost effective – and easier to manage projects – if a range of complementary services could be accessed through one point of contact.

New media jumped on the bandwagon, offering end-to-end business solutions as the panacea to all clients’ ills. When clients walked through the door, whatever they wanted, “one stop shop” could supply it, no matter whether the agency was best placed to do so.

Specialisation became a dirty word and this is where a lot of mistakes were made. Too many agencies have been serving up the same undifferentiated end-to-end proposition for too long.

At Black ID, we have always stuck to what we do best – customer-focused design. We try not to go into areas where we lack expertise. When a client needs serious back-end support we point them in another direction.

Within new media in the past few years, the smart money has moved toward strategic partnerships. These loose alliances between businesses providing related specialist services recognise that clients are taking about a much more hands-on approach to new media.

But the concern remains that although strategic partnerships seem great to start with (a new business stream can be tapped into with minimal effort), ultimately both client and agency are at the mercy of the unpredictable nature of these relationships.

And when a strategic alliance ends, it’s like a child whose parents divorce: who do the clients go with if they still need both services? Or what if your strategic partner starts flirting with another agency or client? Where do your loyalties lie? Agencies must decide whether they are offering an alliance or merely a dalliance.

I believe the future lies in small chains of strategic ties that go beyond partnership or alliance. This has to be through equity deals where each company in the loop will focus on doing what they do best.

The difference is they will have mutual interests in their tied partners – such as shares or an exchange of directors – so that the relationship will be genuine, long-term and substantive.

Gordon Black is managing director of Black ID

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