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Are Some “Digital” Agencies Fooling Their Clients?

When I first started in this business individual agencies were experts in only a few areas – direct marketing, billboard, broadcast, retail, etc. Only the largest of agencies claimed to perform brilliantly in all areas. It’s for this reason you saw many clients start to contract agencies for specific specialties. Forcing agencies to work together wasn’t acceptable, of course. Who would be responsible for campaign outcomes? If they were good, it didn’t matter. If they weren’t so good…

This caused a transition from integrated agency with several areas of expertise (of course it was the areas which most likely leveraged each other) to the latest digital agency (with all the extensions). In an amazing feat, nearly overnight, every traditional agency became a digital agency.  Well, it really wasn’t that difficult. After all, they only needed to change a couple words on their web site which hadn’t been updated in four years, and the intern knew how to do that, as well as ‘do’ their social media. - I'm an Internet expert who barely understands the Internet

There’s good news for clients though – you can tell the genuine article. Here are a few easy steps to knowing you’re in good hands:
  1. Proof of performance – We are all championing the benefit of digital is measurement so evaluate your agency and their talent pool. Look at the agency themselves, as well as their client campaign performance. Check out or for the easiest and quickest way to see if they’ve earned the digital moniker.
  2. Take away the surfboard – It’s easy to ride the wave of digital and social – talk the talk and most clients are more than happy to think they’ve got the right agency. If your growth depends on it, make sure you test them. Dude, rip out the fancy surfboard and gnarly waves and take the time to ask for an education – see if they can really provide the ‘how-to’ part. What digital tools do they use? How do they integrate various platforms?
  3. No Goal, No Budget, No GO! – Marketers must be setting performance goals. This relates the goal to the investment for anticipated gains. Your agency better be able to offer their expert opinion regarding anticipated results based on investments. If not, they haven’t done this before.
  4. Risk for Reward – In golf this is a term you often hear at water holes that turn around a corner. The more you bite off from the tee box to get closer to the hole, the more water you need to go over. Risk more and get rewarded more. Revenue sharing has become a very common practice for digital houses. If you want ‘x’ coupons redeemed and the agency says you will achieve that – then why not incentivize them? Have a lower fee to entry and less risk. Worst case scenario, you pay more than you had to, but you got the guarantee of performance.
  5. Leverage Your Assets – An agency’s job is to get results. Granted, ideally they can do this without making you work too hard, but they still need you. If they say they don’t – run. You have assets they need – access to internal people, activities, input, vision, etc. Especially in the social media world, agencies need real-time access and feedback for a variety of situations. They need you to succeed.
The digital realm has renewed the agency model. The truth, digital is not easy and it is not free. It takes hardcore expertise in an ever-expanding number of platforms and environments that are constantly changing. As an agency who has dominated this market for 14 years, we know clients excel when they embrace digital – if they have, as Coke would say, The Real Thing.
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