(H)i-Level, Low-Level, its been a good debate, over too soon IMO

Marco Bertozzi 05:05:10
We all know things change, look back at all the agencies that have come and gone over the last 15 years. Some died, some morphed, some have held steady but in some shape or form change has been the one constant in this fluid advertising world. That said it somehow seems too early for the demise of i-Level. They reached an amazing high, perhaps too high and too difficult to sustain. I wish all the employees the best of luck in the future, I hope it pans out for them, I am sure there will be no shortage of takers.

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Back to the agency, they were the success story, the guys who fought off all the networks to win pretty much every major single digital account going. The likes of Ed Ling, Chris and Faith were key to their success, anyone out there who has worked in digital media in a big agency has pitched against them a million times, they were not a thorn in your side, rather a stake in your side. i-Level were good, but anyone who dealt with them found them to believe in their own hype a little too much. Some characters in particular driving that sentiment and that saw a fair few good people pass through the gates and out the other side when they found the boys club a little hard to deal with.

The real issues came when the digital specialist was no longer dish of the day. i-Level constantly niggled at network agencies for their approach, moaned about their lack of specialism, PR’d every time they made a cup of tea, they isolated themselves when I feel they should have been more inclusive. They became more and more digital when the rest of the world was becoming integrated, including their clients. Perhaps on some issues they were right but one thing the mainstream agencies are good at is adapting albeit slowly sometimes. The big four groups were slow off the mark in digital but soon steam rollered their way into major and experienced players but I think then realised the importance of being more integrated quicker than i-Level.

Mainstream agencies went on the counter, making clients realise that having digital spend isolated from an overall marketing strategy was madness. i-Level on the other hand did not see any benefit in taking on some off line skills thus forcing the hand of many clients. An interesting comparison can be drawn with agencies like Glue, Dare and others in the creative fields who at the same time started to pitch for the full creative accounts rather than be isolated into just digital. Perhaps with a more broad approach i-Level may have held onto some of those key accounts.

Overall it is never pleasant when companies hit hard times, there is always a human cost, I am sure a selection of people have done very well out of i-Level but many will be out of a job. I think there should have been room for an i-Level in our marketplace but perhaps a slightly differently focused management team would have achieved different results. I wish all those left good luck and you never know perhaps the name will live on. I think it has been one of the best debates of the last few years, the endless i-Level PR machine vs the main agencies, I think those who have been around from the start will miss it.

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