Ad Exec Says Traditional Agencies Will Never Understand Digital Marketing

Penning a scathing takedown of traditional advertising agencies and their inability to effectively understand and create digital marketing, Portal A Co-Founder and Executive Producer Nate Houghteling argues that mainstream ad agencies simply don't have what it takes to create what brands need in today's digital world. 

Nate paints a picture of the status quo as he sees it, writing: "With brands moving more of their overall spend to digital every year, traditional agencies have tried their best to keep up with the times. The big four holding companies that dominate the mainstream advertising world -- IPG, Omnicom, WPP and Publicis -- have trimmed the fat, shuffled teams and hired chief innovation officers by the dozen, but these cosmetic changes have not altered the fundamental threat that all large agencies face in an era of rapid technological change and audience fragmentation."

His biggest argument is that agencies still live in an antiquated world where interruptive advertising is the norm. Clearly, that's not the world we live in anymore and is what will make every inbound marketer very happy, Houghteling writes: "Brands want to build audiences and communities online, and the best way to do it is with stuff that people will actually seek out, talk about and share."

Oh, and he also accuses traditional agencies of being fat with bureaucracies filled with too many stakeholders who accomplish nothing but slow down the ever-speedier process of today's marketing.

This argument, of course, has been made for years. I think as defined, traditional agencies will never rise to the occasion of truly becoming serviceable providers of digital marketing services. But that's why things change. That's why things become extinct. And that's why new and better organizations rise from the ashes. Although it's often the very same "traditional” types who re-tool themselves into successful digital offerings. They have to. After all, what's the alternative? Close up shop? 

Sure, some shops do pack it in -- but in many cases, shops rise to the challenge and make the necessary changes to stay afloat. And yeah, sometimes that just means a large holding company like Publicis scooping up a shop like Sapient or an even smaller, more nimble digital player. 

Other times, it means entrepreneurial types exiting their current shop to launch a shop that will better serve a brand's changing needs. But that's nothing new. People have been leaving shops and starting their own agencies forever. 

The biggest thing holding back the ad industry is its conservatism and it's "we've always done it that way mentality." For all the forward-thinking agencies like to profess that they, for the most part, are not harbingers of change. Thankfully, a few are -- and it's those few who will make the necessary changes to survive



2 comments about "Ad Exec Says Traditional Agencies Will Never Understand Digital Marketing".
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  1. Paul Benjou from The Center for Media Management Strategies, April 12, 2015 at 9:49 p.m.

    This jibber jabber makes little sense. Traditional agencies are evolving to acquire the chops necessary to compete in the digital space. I would argue that digital agencies don't have the grounded experience in traditional advertising to hone their digital skills. If only. 

  2. Mark Sneider from RSW/US, April 13, 2015 at 8:59 a.m.

    Wow....this guy needs to get around a bit and see what the real world looks like.

    While there are certainly plenty of full service firms that are still living in the stone ages, there are just as many digital firms playing in the digital space as if it was 1999.  No analytics, no recognition for the need to integrate, among other shortcomings. 

    We represent a good number of full service firms that get it and play in the space very effectively.

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