EdBlog: Evolutionary Score

Digital + Brains = 360i Agency of the Year 

In the 10 years I’ve been involved with the annual selection of OMMA’s Agency of the Year Awards, I’ve watched the nature of digital agencies evolve, and these awards along with them. In the early days, digital agencies were defined by the media they influenced — online display advertising, Web sites, search, and increasingly social and mobile platforms.

So it’s probably appropriate that this year’s Agency of the Year — Dentsu’s 360i — began life as one kind of agency, a search shop, and has morphed into what many would consider one of the best examples of a social shop. If that’s all you think after reading this year’s recognition, then we failed to explain what’s really going on here. And to borrow a phrase from 360i chief Bryan Wiener, that is to be “always on, always evolving.” You have to be, because — whether you are a digital agency or just a trade publisher that chronicles them — the nature of digital media keeps evolving.

We saw that last year, when we recognized Publicis’ Digitas as agency of the year, for its brilliant adaptation of content marketing and its evolution of the theme with its “Brand Live” newsroom approach. A year later, any digital agency worth its digits is utilizing real-time newsroom approaches to telling its clients’ brand stories. And few exemplify that better than 360i. Sure we all know how it kicked 2013 off, defining real-time messaging with its tweet campaign for Oreos when the Super Bowl went dark, but that campaign and the thousands of other less heralded real-time ones 360i mounted throughout 2013, all have their roots in Wiener’s “always on, always evolving” mantra. That’s not to literally be always on in terms of workflow and manpower. Only machines can do that. It is, he explains, more about the way you think, and the type of organization your create to think that way. And if you’re doing that right, it can mean doing things that are inherently non-digital — whether it is bartering your way across country with nothing but a wad of bacon, or getting people to scream to guarantee a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream truck visits their neighborhood. It’s not about the media you execute on, adds 360i’s Sarah Hofstetter, it’s the way you think about how you use them. It is, she says, “about being a digitally-centered agency.”

When 360i began doing digital, that meant understanding search engine algorithms and keywords better than anyone. Now that social is the medium of resonance, it means tracking and anticipating the conversation and knowing when to insinuate the right message at the right time on behalf of the right client. But as important as those media are, they are secondary tactics to the strategic way of thinking that brings them to life.

Whether that is social, mobile, search, design, or the next new digital gismo, it’s all comes back to some basic understanding of people and why they relate to and connect with brands, and what brands can do with media to enhance those relationships. We in other words, we didn’t pick 360i as our agency of the year for what they did digitally. We picked them for what they did non-digitally: how they used their brains.

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