Digital agencies have a PR problem. It’s not because there are dime a dozen of us. It is because we have focussed on ‘outputs’ that hardly matter and then labelled it as ‘outcomes’.
Why are we doing such a miserable job at showcasing the results we deliver?
Being in the business of digital has never been boring. The pursuit to know and do new things everyday is matched only by our thirst to constantly evolve. World over, client agency relationships are under pressure (as they’ve always been). Many say that in the current economy, with a pandemic as a cherry on top, the agency-on-record title is dead and clients will be agency hopping soon in a bid to stretch their marketing moolah. Some say advertising is dead and we are all in the content business now. In all this hullah-bullah, (digital) agencies are forgetting to show their real value to clients.
Since 1786, when William Taylor opened the first advertising agency in London, three things have played a GIGANTIC role in making and breaking great agency-client relationships.
INSIGHTS. RESULTS. TRANSPARENCY.challenging agency-client relationships since 1786
Of course, there is a forth one called ‘profit’ but it is technically an outcome of the relationship.
Most digital marketing agencies in the UAE have it all wrong! They either focus on impressions, design or on rankings, not on revenue for client or the results that matter to that specific campaign (e.g.: white paper downloads, app installs, university registrations whatever). Client brief might be to attract prospective travellers to UAE from Indian subcontinent during DSF, and the agency report will highlight millions of impressions they’ve got on some random kid’s app popular only in UAE.
Awards are given to campaigns that have vanity metrics that masquerade as results. Engagement, rankings and traffic are important, but if those visitors don’t convert into actual dirhams and sales, then it doesn’t matter to client’s ROI. Must say, the big consulting guys like Accenture, who got into our business, are doing much better job at talking results. I call it the traditional digital agency model and it is time to reimagine this model.
In my 15 years working at agencies of all sizes and appetites, I’ve noticed that smaller agencies have better knowledge and flexibility towards client requirements. Strangely, a committed account manager in small agency can inspire a smaller team to do great things better than a committed account manager with a team of super stars and their AD/Director/CFO/CEO/. In a way, for decades now, this weird reality has paved way for frustrated mid-level guys to start agencies and ‘hit the block’ (borrowed from Minecraft). They are adventurous and loyal.
Bigger The Agency, Bigger The Flexibility Issue
One reason for this gap is the way things are structured inside most agencies. In large agencies, ‘departments’ hardly interact with each other and are seen as profit centres. E.g.: A programmatic trading desk is supposed to make profits that justify its existence. They have well-paid, great people filled with vast amounts of intelligence and consulting skills, but they tend to work as employees with line-item duties. I’ve seen poster boy agencies, headed by authors of best selling books on storytelling, approach results as an afterthought on slide 26 in their agency pitch proposal.
Client side of thing
About 10 years ago, when digital came into the picture, marketing managers at the brand side were not prepared. They didn’t have a digital background and most marketers learned it on the job. They learned what was fed to them by industry experts and agencies during that period. And then they slowly evolved as they were great learners. Agencies and clients were understanding digital on the go, and ‘social’, being more relatable and easiest, took a chunk of their attention and budgets. The strength of Facebook pages were marketed as success. Results meant vanity metrics that made everyone look good.
Things changed with more and more digitally first marketers joining the client side. Words like ‘engagement’ and ‘reach’ started to slowly replace ‘fans’ and ‘impressions’. Good marketers in UAE started talking first, second and third party data instead of mobile/email databases from the open market, while some great ones were talking DMP (Data Management Platform) or CDP (Customer Data Platform). Then BOOM! came the pandemic. Budgets got cut and results became very very very important. For the guy at client side looking at P/L, those agency relationships were low hanging grapes unless the agency could show a connection between spend and revenue.
Clients need a strategic digital partner to help them navigate through a real digital transformation, not just a tactical execution partner.
AFTER THE PANDEMIC, WE NEED A DIGITAL AGENCY THAT TALKS RESULTS INSTEAD OF MILLION IMPRESSIONS.EVERY SELF RESPECTING CLIENT IN DEC 2020
As I said, being in digital has never been boring. We’re in this exciting new era where transparency will start appearing in pitches. A conversation which many traditional digital agencies have avoided so far because it was the profit. Let’s talk more ways for compensation based on results that we deliver.
IF YOUR DIGITAL AGENCY IN UAE IS SHYING AWAY FROM TALKING TRANSPARENCY, YOU MIGHT BE STUCK WITH A TRADITIONAL DIGITAL AGENCY.
In the world of digital marketing, while we grow at the speed of bytes and GBs, there is no final approach, only a constantly evolving one.