Prakash Patel, CEO of Prezence Digital, thinks the current digital agency model needs to be consigned to history. Here he gives his views on what needs to change and why


one thing that can be said for certain about the digital industry ­ be it advertising models, or the next big development in technology ­ this is an industry that is constantly in flux.
However, for an industry so noted for its mutability, one of its backbones, the structure of the agencies, has remained rigid.
The structure of `digital agencies’, as they were once called has been incredibly insular. You’d have your strategists, creatives, tech-heads, and assorted account managers, working on the same project, but critically not actually working together on the whole or the big picture. Rather, roles were segmented and project managers would oversee and bring the varying experts in on deadline.


Right now smart agencies are reading customer demand and adopting a more cerebral and integrated approach when it comes to the planning and implementing of their digital conversations with consumers and stakeholders.
In short, as I see it, the continuing growth of the digital industry as it pertains to being relevant to the world of commerce, not only calls for, but also demands a change in operating models and agency structures.
The days of the office `geek’ or `anorak’ tapping away at his, or her, keyboard secreted away in the corner of the office with nobody taking real mind of them are long gone. Increasingly we’re seeing a unified combination of skills between traditional strategists, creatives, business deliver executives and those once lonely `geeks’.
We are also seeing the rise of a new player in the agency game, `technologists’. These technologists and creative designers are the incubators of ideas and innovation, driven by strategists and managed by the business delivery teams to meet today’s consumer and client needs. It is this precise combination of skills that takes digital engagement from the `nice to have’ mindset of company directors to the `my bottom line demands it’ stance.

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Technologists are, however, not only a sign of the changing structure of agencies but are also being a catalyst for change, in the way brands and customers interact. I remember the early 90s, in how data analysts were treated by ad agencies (as a similar scenario), where they too were classified as the `anoraks’ in the corner (or supplier) who did something’s with data so they could send out their pretty pictures in DM. It wasn’t sexy enough for them then. Only once the agency noted its importance and power within the agency and client relationship, did they realise that they too needed these anoraks, but in-house working for them. But to make it more `agency-like’, they renamed them `Data Planners’ ­ the new planners of the ad world and whole new divisions were created.
Brian Perkins, who up until last year was Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Johnson & Johnson, in an article for Ad Age titled Agencies and clients must stop talking change, start making it, made a forceful point.
“Yes, traditional agencies have developed digital capabilities, but most still have sister companies that really do digital. No-one disputes the role digital will play in everything we do, but it sure would be nice if clients could benefit from integrated ideas though unified agencies.”


The importance of `digital’ is clear to everyone, but the current industry model for delivering on that is at best opaque. When one considers that, according to a 2011 survey in the USA carried out by RSW/US: “Only 44% of marketers are truly happy with their primary agency,” it’s clear that change is needed.



That `geek’ in the corner with all the digital know-how, is still in many agencies the least likely to meet with the client. Yet, here’s the basic and blunt fact of the matter. A client will only respect an agency when it’s clear to them that you, as the agency, know more than they do. That’s why having this new breed of client facing `technologists’ is so key to future credible relations and trust between client and agency, and ultimately, to the bottom-line of both.
Bringing the right talent ­ strategists, creatives and our lonely geek ­ under one roof is the correct fi rst step.
Within Prezence Digital, we’ve found knocking down the traditional work silos invaluable to not only meet client expectations but also critically in being able to anticipate what our client’s businesses truly need to meet their professional digital objectives. In my role as CEO of Prezence Digital alongside Tim Bishop as chief technology officer, we now simply cannot imagine a work process that doesn’t involve a marriage of creative, strategic and technical capability.

In that same article, Brian Perkins closes with the following line, “The consumer has moved on. For those of us in the health-care field, the doctor and the patient have also moved on. When will our agencies help us catch up?”

There’s only one possible answer to that, and that is now.
So, if you’re the client, tell your agency you want to meet `the geek’ at the next status meeting, but more importantly, if you’re the agency, bring the geek in from that corner of theirs, they’re the key to your future.
This is not to say that the `geek in corner’ has to simply undergo a rebranding exercise in the eyes of client. The dominant digital agency, not just of the future, but of the now understands the drivers of digital, the importance of clear and concise communication at every level and the technical know-how that translates business objectives into achievable customer engagement.<

– This article first appeared in Advantage April 2012 issue.




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