The Dangers of Digital Org Idealism

When it comes to integrating digital marketing and media, we strive in our hearts for the ideal. I know I do. Agencies, brand-side marketing organizations, all of us, know there is neatening to be done to clean up legacy structures, break down silos, upgrade talent and retrain here and there. I talk about this often. We are optimists, who know intellectually how to get the help we need -- or help ourselves.

Companies such as operations consultancies have cropped up to help brand marketers do all the tough work and get operational for today's marketing realities. But many of these companies still spin in place. Agencies continue to reorganize, redefine and rehash foregone conclusions -- most of them, without ever quite getting there; they persist through the dysfunction and the damage of reorganization aspirations never quite fulfilled.

I found myself thinking about this again last week, when, in another panel session, I heard the operational platitudes about agencies cooperating with each other to agree that "all client business should be owned by a single agency," with that one agency servicing the full mix, for any given client. And then, organization and sound investment strategies would simply follow. This was presented as a no-brainer. What? Sign me up, right?



No matter the vision, I think it's essential not to oversimplify the path. There is no "one" agency model; that sphere of our industry is almost infinitely varied. We've got large holding companies continually reconstituting and acquiring. There are large traditional agencies looking to redefine themselves -- some wholly, and some via acquiring or partnering to deliver on digital. There are independents and boutiques of all ilk. On the client side, there are numerous structures -- some classic brand-marketing in orientation; others serviced by internal agencies or studios; others awash in managing engagement with armies of outside agencies to help execute in today's marketplace. And between agencies and marketers, there is no singular engagement model. We work together in countless different ways.

We've been talking about getting it right for a long time: rethinking, cleaning up, reorganizing and building out to play well, compete and thrive in the new marketplace, relating to today's consumer in entirely new ways, across new channels and platforms, often outside our comfort zones. As I listened to that bit of la-la-land last week on agencies all calling on exactly the same playbook sometime soon, I realized it's truly in the small or modest measures that we begin to achieve a more ideal way of operating. These measures add up eventually to fortitude. A conversation about this would include thoughts on how we:

-        Take a stand for our brand, agency or otherwise, and get clear on what we want it to be and to stand for.

-        Assure that we understand our competitive position.

-        Confirm (by sitting down with them) that we have management teams that understand how, by whom and to what degree of skill, work currently gets done by the professionals in our organizations, role by role. We should know what's strong -- and what's missing.

-        Do a bit of an obstacle analysis (kind of like optimizing your website for search engines).

-        Identify opportunities and remedies to alleviate obstacles and improve.

-        Get the help we need to help with the above if need be, and migrate our organizations to a better place.

-        Permeate a sane, progressive mindset in which gradual, necessary change is achievable. Rash change is almost as bad as rashly overstating the simplicity of organizational change.

We don't have to pretend that the "ideal" is right around the corner, that perfection is five minutes away, easy-peasy. It's OK to be a work in progress when it comes to the organization and operations required for marketing mastery. Gradually shaking off the baggage and methodically getting to a better place, even with a little baggage in tow, is infinitely doable. It's important to accept that we've been talking about this for some time --and talk is, well, just talk. If you have to carry a few suitcases for some distance, so what?

1 comment about "The Dangers of Digital Org Idealism".
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  1. Jim Courtright from Big Thinking By The Hour, March 28, 2011 at 10:42 p.m.

    I agree with your point of view. Should I, as a brand, hire an ad agency and their digital counterpart because they communicate with each other better? Heck most ad agencies I worked at the creatives didn't even take to the media department, and the account people didn't talk to anyone.

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