For agencies, should digital be stand-alone or brought into the core? There was an interesting article on WSJ today by Suzanne Vranica. It reported that earlier this month Jean-Marie Dru, the chairman of TBWA Worldwide (Ominicom), flew from his office in New York to Halifax, Nova Scotia, for lunch. His mission was to seal a top-secret deal to lure Colleen DeCourcy, the top digital executive at WPP Group's JWT, to take the reins as the chief digital officer for TBWA. Colleen and I worked together at Organic way back and she only only gets it but also intelligently creative. I've always wondered what the heck was she doing at JWT? It must be like teaching an elephant to dance or teaching a lion to swim. Colleen has now decided to join TBWA. The story gives you a sense how desperate the big agencies are since they are so behind. I spoke with some of my friends who just left Ogilvy a couple of weeks ago and they were saddened that even agencies like Ogilvy couldn't pull it off. Lot of buzz words flying around but no one has any idea of how to make things happen. Well other than another tag line. Who wants tag lines today anyway.
It was the final touch on a wooing process that began on the deck of the Majestic Hotel during the advertising festival in Cannes in June. Ms. DeCourcy's appointment was announced last Friday and Mr. Dru's willingness to travel to Halifax, where Ms. DeCourcy was on vacation, demonstrates the lengths to which advertising agencies go nowadays to beef up their digital operations. So far, traditional agencies are far lagging behind independent digital firms in the competition for digital business -- one of the fastest-growing sectors of the ad market. One major factor is the shortage of digital talent at the older agencies and the overall pool is small.
Big clients like Visa were not impressed with TBWA's digital capabilities and so will continue to use AKQA versus TBWA's digital arm. Agencies have two (actually more) issues. The first issue is calling it "Digital arm" which signifies a big problem. I think we are less than 30 months away when over 60% of all ads will be purely digital. The second issue is hiring a world-class creative person who does not solve the problems. It's not just a cool idea for a digital billboard or a viral video. It takes strategy. It's whole new way to think about building brands beyond "communications". It is about "customer engagement". See my previous post on the ad agencies' new game.