According to a new study conducted by RSW/US, which highlights survey responses from companies that include AT&T, Baxter, Volkswagen, Moen, and others, only 18 percent of these managers believe that their traditional full-service firms are digital savvy. Even more striking, this percentage is down not up from one year ago.
At the same time, 67 percent of marketers do not think digital firms can survive as digital "only" experts. Marketers believe that such firms will have to deliver more full-service offerings in order to remain relevant. The study findings suggest that marketers are not satisfied with working with large teams of specialists. They want to limit their outsourcing to one or two shops.
"Digital isn't enough and full service isn't full service without it," said one Fortune 500 executive we spoke with about the study. "Right now, marketers are being asked to work and meet with ten or twenty different specialty shops, ranging from public relations and social media to specialty marketers and advertising agencies. It's too expensive and time consuming."
The RSW/US study suggests that marketers are also tired of "the whole social media ownership 'fight' occurring over the past couple of years – with PR, social firms, and full-service firms, all vying for 'ownership' of the social space." Of all possible "owners," marketers see full-service firms as the best choice but only if they are willing to strategically manage the process rather than creating banners and buying online space.
"I’ve seen plenty of digital firms with great, hot creative — but they lack the accoutrements necessary to make it a complete experience," writes the study's author. "The more sophisticated marketers get in the digital space, the more they will demand smarter planning, better buys, more actionable analytics, and more strategic integration with other media in the mix."
There is a sense of urgency among marketers to see the change happen sooner than later. Only 55 percent say they would consider using their primary agency again if they were to put their account up for review. This compares to 68 percent in 2008. Worse, almost 20 percent said they would not rehire their current agency.
Top most common tips from marketers to agencies.
• Help clients understand how the finite budget fits into sales.
• Show clients better creative, and not just for the sake of creativity.
• Demonstrate that the agency understands the client and market.
• Be relevant by keeping pace with market trends instead of selling cookie cutter ideas.
• Stop sending junior people in to head important projects that require senior people.
• Present good quality ideas rather than a quantity of ideas for the client to pick from.
• Prove that the creative solutions will somehow fit with the company's strategy.
• Know the customers and have a better sense of what they might respond to.
• Try influencing the campaigns more and directing them less. Condescension is not welcome.
• Focus on the development of strategic campaigns instead of generic gimmicks and ideas.
Overwhelmingly, the most common concern that marketers have is that most agencies, they say, do not have a grasp of the company, company products, market segments, or customers. Interestingly enough, this understanding underscored almost every successful agency during the golden era of advertising.
Although not included in the study, the abandonment of strategic principles coincides with the emphasis on design, beginning in the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, design is the most common characterization marketers give their agencies after full service, which accounts for about half of all firms. And, even inside full-service firms, design is dominant.
Unfortunately, most designers are promoted for creative prowess and not necessarily for their strategic skill sets. Still, marketers seem to sense that full-service agencies are more capable at developing these skills than digital "only" firms.
The full study from RSW/US is available for download and the organization recently added commentary in regard to the future of digital firms. RSW/US is a professional business development organization with the heart of an agency. It is located in Ohio.