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How agencies can bridge their digital divide

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Richard Mullins, director at Acceleration
Many South African advertising agencies are still struggling to bridge their own digital divide: a gap between their online skills and offerings and the changing needs of the market.

All too many agencies still see the digital channel as separate, and often, less important than the traditional marketing channels they have built their businesses on. And many agencies still don’t recognise how vast and complex the world of digital marketing has become.

Against this backdrop, agencies will need to rethink their approach to their market as well as the role that digital production and media have to play in their businesses. They can no longer treat digital as an afterthought, but need to put it front and centre in their campaigns.

For some, the change will be uncomfortable, but we believe that it is necessary. Perhaps one of the most important ways that agencies need to change is by understanding that they cannot possibly offer all digital things to all people, and do everything equally well.

A world of complexity

Consider the many marketing disciplines that now fall under the very broad umbrella of ‘digital marketing’: there’s the Web, search engine marketing, search engine optimisation, analytics and tracking, customer relationship management, email marketing, social media, online advertising, mobile and so much more.

Many of these fields are complex and highly technical disciplines in their own right. What’s more, many of these areas change at a pace that makes it hard for those that are not specialists to keep up.

Just consider, for example, the challenges of managing and interpreting the massive amounts of data that digital marketing efforts produce. Or think about the many subtleties in something as seemingly simple as email marketing, from ensuring that emails get delivered through ISPs and spam filters, to deploying them with the right messaging and creative.

It is nearly impossible for any agency to have a skills base that can cover all of these fields with services that can compare to those offered by specialists. That’s especially true in a market where ad agencies’ margins remain under pressure, anency’s are short staffed and, online skills are in significant demand.

Instead, agencies should be deciding carefully where their core competencies lie and looking to best-of-breed partners to cover the gaps. The trick is to know what you can do, and then to do it well.

Traditional ad agencies have an important role to play as the creative and strategic brains that understand how various marketing elements fit together with each other and with their clients’ overall marketing strategies.

Where something isn’t core to their business – ad trafficking or data management, for example, it makes sense for agencies to outsource it to a partner that specialises in the field. Instead of being distracted by areas that don’t fall within their competence, they can concentrate things that really are central to their business, like strategies, client service and campaigns.

Richard Mullins, director at Acceleration

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