Interactive Agencies And Passive Mentalities

My new column on Talent Zoo won’t be on the home page until Thursday, but you can check it out now.
I take a closer look at the BBDO/Big Spaceship/HBO/Cannes credit kerfuffle, as was discussed here.

We all know the MO of lead agencies—and by “lead agencies” I mean the brand agencies, traditional agencies, “big dumb agencies,” whatever you want to call them. They want control. Over ideas, money, credit, over everything. They’ll control it all until they die.
So it’s time for interactive agencies to step up. And open up. Or step back.
How? Start hiring idea people. Hire strategic thinkers. Look at brands from a more complete perspective. And offer more services to clients.
It’s gotten to the point where interactive shops hire people who’ve spent much of their careers doing online work. Which is doable given that marketing on the Internet has been around for 14 years or so. Those people are in demand.
But there’s a host of people who aren’t given a second glance, and they could potentially be the most valuable people to an interactive agency with dreams of growth and glory. The idea people aren’t always still thinking in strictly old media—TV, print, etc. They’re more open to new media than you might think, and they’re out there experimenting with everything from blogs to web videos to social media apps in their spare time.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for Dan published the best of his columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. Now the eggs are in the scramble. That’s exactly what I’ve been talking about and I’ll definitely check out TravelZoo for that article. I’ve personally worked for a dozen or so digital agencies so I’m not coming from left field with this stuff. Too many digital shops are more than happy to play the back row, collect very generous design and production fees and hire the greenest flash hotshots out of college. They get by on one or two “idea” people, usually a founder or ECD. That person barely has time to think never the less sit around in hour long concept meetings. Idea people hurt their bottom lines. It’s easier to have code masters and young web designers. Some of these shops will probably have to sell their independence to holding companies to do what you suggest. And that creates a entirely different set of issues.

  2. “Digital’ and “traditional’ agencies will revamp as necessary and just meet in the middle. Not a big deal.

  3. Doug,
    Have you ever worked at an agency with traditional and digital divisions? Divisions is the perfect descriptor. There will be no meeting in the middle. The only thing that might shift the imbalance is when a client decides to lead with digital. And even then, the traditionalists will fight the suggestion with all their might—and minimally force themselves into the mix as the “conceptual arbiters” for the brand.
    I will agree that many digital agencies are light in the conceptual department. But given that the allegedly conceptual traditionalists display total cluelessness in the digital space, being light is still better than dealing with the traditionalists.

  4. Mark Trueblood says:

    Big agencies continue to “silo” and futz around with interactive, and interactive specialists aren’t always effective in creating storytelling, brand-building creative. A constant source of hand-wringing, for very good reason.
    Meanwhile, creatives like myself and others i know at small agencies work on traditional, digital, promotions, strategy, research, media, new product development, and more, sometimes all before lunch.
    Not saying we’re equally good at everything, of course. There’s a wicked learning curve out there, and we still need specialists in each endeavor.
    But in my opinion, our job is to be creative on the behalf of our clients. So we owe it to ourselves, our clients, and this all-powerful force we call creativity to follow wherever the path leads us.
    Silos be damned.

  5. Mark Trueblood,
    You’re forgetting the structure behind silos, at least in the big agencies. The divisions are operating under different—and oftentimes separate—P&Ls. The salaries between the divisions vary greatly too (i.e., digital salaries are closer to direct marketing versus advertising). What this boils down to is every division must make its quarterly numbers. So people are not working with the best interests of the clients in mind, especially if it means potentially losing revenue to another division. Also, to say, “interactive specialists aren’t always effective in creating storytelling, brand-building creative” is bullshit. But mostly because in these times, it’s becoming painfully clear that the traditional agency counterparts are doing a lousy job of storytelling as well (note the rise of CGM). Another underlying issue involves comparing digital and traditional advertising through the same lens. The two are extraordinarily different disciplines/mediums/functions.

  6. @Digitalent: You hit the nail on the head and then ran right past it (a mixed metaphor, but you get the picture)
    You said: The salaries between the divisions vary greatly too (i.e., digital salaries are closer to direct marketing versus advertising).
    That’s the alpha and the omega of all this.
    Once digital salaries are at the same level as above-the-line salaries, the perception that “if they were any good, they’d be making TV commercials” will disappear and agencies will operate the way Mark Trueblood’s do.

  7. Mark Trueblood says:

    Not sure if salary=respect. Ad professionals who leave good shops for fat checks at bad shops are generally looked down on…
    I’ve heard arrogance is the sign of a small mind, and i think that pretty much explains most traditional agencies’ attitude towards interactive.
    As for interactive agencies’ creativity, i’m totally not dissing their skills. I see great stuff all the time from interactive shops. And for sure, traditionals blow at creative quite a bit. But i don’t know if interactive agencies have claimed the “creative helm” from the traditional world…
    Peace y’all

  8. Salary=Power, or at least inflated ego, in big agencies. If a digital CD is making less than an advertising ACD, the perception is that the ACD trumps the CD. Don’t agree with it, but that’s the way of the world. Again, I’m talking about big agencies. In the smaller shops where the staff really is multifunctional and integrated, it might be a different story.
    Incidentally, danny g, I’ve been commenting without reading your TalentZoo column. After reading it, I still say the big issues have to do with politics and money-based salary structures. Digital talent can’t “step up” while the advertising talent has his BDA foot on the digital talent’s neck.

  9. Alan,
    It’s unlikely the digital salaries will rise to meet the advertising counterparts. Unfortunately, the digital folks have already sold themselves at direct marketing prices. No client is going to give them a raise at this point. However, the salaries could inevitably meet because I predict advertising salaries will continue to fall. The majority of advertising folks at the current low- to mid-levels will never realize the financial rewards of earlier generations.

  10. @Digitalent–
    You make a good point. Politics and money have a great influence at big agencies. That’s why I’d encourage interactive agencies (the niche agencies, or the independent agencies) to broaden their offerings. They can easily steal some business from bloated big agencies.

  11. Our industry has a funny way of evolving. If a niche or independent digital agency becomes successful, you can bet a big advertising shop will seek to purchase it. If you’re purchased, you tend to lose the autonomy that made you successful. Suddenly your list of potential clients is reduced to avoid conflicts with the new mothership. Plus, you suddenly find yourself servicing shared accounts, where you not only deal with clients that don’t understand digital, but unskilled advertising “partners” too.
    It’s tough asking niche and independent digital agencies to broaden their offerings. In these times, all businesses tend to be staffed for the work in the stable. That is, if you’re a digital agency, you don’t exactly have the resources to service traditional advertising projects too. Yes, it’s imperative that digital shops start building more strategic and conceptual strengths. But again, it’s tough to staff if the clients aren’t paying for it. Hell, that’s one reason why most big agencies don’t try to build digital divisions from scratch. It’s easier to bring in a whole company with existing resources (and clients). In short, digital agencies are more inclined to build by finding more clients seeking the specific services they can currently offer. Plus, the truth is, digital agencies are still defining and redefining the digital space. That’s where the more natural “expansion” is likely to occur.