I’m Tradigital

Agencies are ramping up on digitally-enabled talent. Again.

Frankly, I see articles on this topic all the time. And the central point is always the same–if you have both a traditional and digital background, you’re golden. Yet, that’s precisely my background and I am not in high demand. I have had one headhunter call in the last year. One.

That I’m not presently looking for a job doesn’t matter. Given the extraordinary demand for my skill set, “the job” should be looking for me.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Steffan postaer says:

    I’m feeling you, brother!

  2. Non-tradigitalist says:

    Well, it depends on how one is actually defining the job.
    These days, folks might claim they are seeking “tradigitalists,” but they’re
    really not. No one wants to admit it, but there is a gaping void between
    traditional advertising and digital that has yet to be bridged. Sorry, but the
    overwhelming majority of people with traditional advertising backgrounds are
    not qualified to weigh in on digital — at least not on the level that it is
    being practiced today. On the flip side, the overwhelming majority of people
    with digital backgrounds are not qualified to do the type of “creative” work
    that people are hoping for. That is, even the allegedly great digital shops
    like, say, Droga5 have yet to produce a decent digital branding idea (e.g., the
    Athenos work that Droga5 produced proves the point, as it is lame shit).

    you’re also hampered by your writer background. On the digital side, art
    directors — or more specifically, glorified graphic designers — rule the field.
    On top of all of this, consider who is making the hiring decisions. Digital
    agency leaders seeking “tradigitalists” won’t approve you unless you clearly
    show a ton of produced digital work — supplemented by a ton of award-winning
    traditional advertising. Traditional advertising agency leaders won’t hire you
    unless you clearly show a ton of traditional advertising — supplemented by a
    ton of award-winning digital. In short, each side wants people with the skills
    their agencies don’t currently have, but they want you to also be able to
    relate to them, if that makes sense.

    • I appreciate the thoughtful comment, but I have a tough time seeing my writer background as an impediment to being hired to lead another digital team. Ideas form the core of all advertising, whatever the media, and writers tend to be people with lots of ideas (some of them good). Of course, I understand what you’re saying and can see the truth in it, but what digital advertising needs most is people with ideas (not people who can write copy, write code and/or make things look good).

      • As a person with a writing background as well, I see the advantage of having that experience in your back pocket as opposed to the detriment. You must have ideas constantly, or you won’t have a job.

      • Non-tradigitalist says:

        Oh, I don’t disagree with what you’re saying at all. But the
        truth is, digital agencies are driven by design, technology and functionality
        versus ideas. Providing an iPad app with lots of bells and whistles is more
        impressive to clients than the quality of the content in said iPad app. On the
        flip side, traditional ad agencies are already full of idea people. They need
        the technical geeks to bring their concepts to digital life. Either way, it’s
        tougher for a writer to position himself/herself as the answer versus a graphic
        designer. Go check out agencies like Tribal DDB, Digitas, Razorfish, R/GA,
        Droga5, etc. You’ll find writers are woefully outnumbered by designers—and
        disrespected too. Again, what you’re saying is theoretically sound – although
        it does sound more traditional versus digital. But it does not gibe with the
        current realities of digital.

        • Non-tradigitalist says:

          wanted to elaborate on my earlier comment. I wrote: “But the truth is, digital
          agencies are driven by design, technology and functionality versus ideas.” I
          should have qualified it with, “…versus ideas – as ideas are defined by
          traditional ad agencies.” In digital agencies, much of what is done works off
          of a different definition of ideas, as the work is usually doing a different
          kind of selling versus traditional advertising. This continues to be a huge
          difference between traditional ad agencies and digital agencies. Be careful to
          avoid judging digital agencies by traditional ad agency standards. Most digital
          agencies are not seeking the “ideas” that traditional ad people bring. This is
          one reason why you see very few traditional ad people migrating to digital
          agencies – they simply do not have the skills to succeed in a digital agency.
          Digital agency people, on the other hand, can move to traditional ad agencies –
          but usually when those agencies are simply building a digital division (i.e.,
          you’ll find very few digital agency people taking traditional advertising jobs
          where they create traditional advertising). Going back to my first comment,
          despite anything anyone says to the contrary, digital and traditional
          advertising remain somewhat separate disciplines in most agencies.

          • I definitely understand your assessment, and again I appreciate the commentary. But here’s the problem as I see it–we now live in a digital first media environment. Digital is the first place we turn for information on a brand, a vacation, a place to eat, and so on. Traditionalists don’t have to like that fact, but they do need to recognize it and adjust. And by adjust, I don’t mean bring some geeks on board. I mean rethink how people receive media and rethink what people expect from media. Utility is king today. Persuasion still has a place at the King’s court, but without utility in the equation, persuasion’s power pretty much flies out the window.

          • Non-tradigitalist says:

            Well, we continue to agree on most points here. I think what
            makes “digital” such a difficult discussion point is that damn near every
            agency defines digital differently. For example, I might argue that how you
            discussed digital does not exactly fit how digital is handled by, say, Goodby
            or W+K. Both of these agencies are most interested in creating digital
            experiences that are closer to traditional branding ideas versus “where people
            turn for information.” You will likely not find these agencies working on
            websites or even informational sites. Like their traditional advertising, these
            agencies’ digital stuff is closer to entertainment than sales-focused
            advertising. Plus, from what I understand, these agencies even produce digital
            like traditional advertising, in that they come up with the basic big idea,
            then hire someone else to execute it. Now, what makes things more complicated
            is that the digital work from Goodby and W+K gets more attention and awards
            than the work of most digital agencies – although I might argue it is because
            the award shows are judging digital work via traditional advertising standards.
            Net comments: Traditionalists don’t necessarily have to “adjust” if they’re
            getting all the accolades. Plus, no one really decides what digital is or
            isn’t. Ultimately, the public decides what they want to visit/interact with.
            We’re all just generating content and hoping someone cares enough to stop by
            and engage.

          • Great discussion… hope I can throw in…

            There is certainly no complete package for defining Digital in the agency scenario.

            All agencies see it and engage in it very differently. But one thing is clear that they all talk the talk. But unfortunately very few actually walk the walk.

            I have been professionally responsible for getting traditional agencies “integrated” and walking the walk. I have built three digital agencies from business plan and integrated them into traditional agencies. The big issues I have found are in the actual “integration” part.

            If a traditional agency is successful in winning awards for it’s tv spots, then they certainly have a strength in creating / writing / ideating but where the ride runs out is when the clients become smarter, more digital savvy. Once that happens, I simply count the days to a creative presentation, when the creative gurus pull out their 30 second spot scripts and declare them the “big idea” and the client zones out and picks up his Blackberry to tell his/her secretary to put the call out for other more savvy agencies.

            Ideas are absolutely crucial to any successful campaign. Full stop. But… if as long as traditional creatives continue to fall back on old habits, they will slowly lose their relevancy and become the dinosaurs of the digital age. We all know EGOS are at work here too. “How many times have YOU been to Cannes?” I was asked once… EGO and defaults in creative process and thinking are holding back good talent and good ideas that transcend ANY medium or channel or touch-point. But getting the good talent, which is under most of our noses, to “get it” is a mountain that will be moved only by time itself.

          • Thanks Cam, I appreciate the thoughtful response. I particularly like this:

            as long as traditional creatives continue to fall back on old habits,
            they will slowly lose their relevancy and become the dinosaurs of the
            digital age

            And you’re dead on regarding the role that EGO plays in our lives and our businesses. EGO blinds you from what’s real. What I find more and more real is that people don’t want to be pitched, by anyone, no matter how clever or worthy the pitch is. There’s simply no room for another pitch in one’s day. It’s just something to get away from and fast.

            When you calculate the reality of “the street,” as I just did, and then look back over your shoulder at the colossal EGOs in your agency or client organization, it’s laughable at how our of touch and out of place it all is.