Hard work being a technology company at the moment

I would not want to be in this space at the moment. It is fiercely competitive and every man and his dog has a new angle on targeting, tracking, bidding and the like. Digital has always been like that, a constant stream of questions from clients, planners and other agencies along the line of – ‘you heard of x company, apparently amazing, can you have a look at it for me?’ Being on the inside of a technology company must feel like that at the moment, especially big ones like Google and Microsoft.

The energy at the moment is focused on biddable media whether that be ad exchanges, search of Facebook API and therefore companies have come along like Marin and Kenshoo to challenge the elite. They are new and shiny and fast and they produce product roadmaps about 6 months ahead of the slightly larger more sluggish rivals.

Teams in Doubleclick now are constantly being asked about what can be integrated into their systems like DART search, it’s a fair question because the market is moving so quickly the agencies are having to adapt rapidly and therefore they need their suppliers to do the same. Deep integrations that are hard to move is not a good enough reason to stay with a supplier. It’s not however as simple as doing the usual Google bashing or Atlas bashing, I have some sympathy for them. When they change one thing it has to deliver against all their other systems and make sure that nothing falls over. With great volumes and large customer bases comes a big responsibility to not mess up. Some start up with 5 clients can afford to mess about a bit and change things as it pleases with little or no impact, Google can’t do that.

I would like to see what happened if an agency said to one of these new companies – OK I will move all our spend to you, we want 24.7 customer service, technical support, migration in weeks, nothing to go wrong, we want to check all your contracts and privacy set ups and all the rest. Simply, they would not cope. So on that basis I think we have to understand that there are many pretenders to the crown but they could not all make it and its easy to bash the big boys.

Nevertheless it must be hard work right now and I don’t envy them. Sometimes things just do not work, today we saw the end of Google Wave. Of course we did, it was a nightmare. A small part of me does think though that those resources could be redirected into services that meet the real needs of customers rather than so many experiments. How is Buzz doing?

Outside of that particular field there are so many companies selling data, targeting and tracking. They all want a piece of our client’s websites, they all want a test, it is a minefield out there and sorting the wheat from the chaf for agency digital planners is extremely hard and often hard for the companies to differentiate themselves. I have not seen so many new companies selling their wares since 2000, they wont all make it and as agencies we need to somehow back the right horses..

(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.

Integrated, digital at the centre, agencies have changed, how do media owners respond?

Just before the recession kicked off every article was about digital, within the agency world it was the key battle ground, who had more of it, was it integrated, who was pretending etc etc. The recession seemed to put pay to that for a while, everyone concentrating on survival. What the recession will have done in many agencies is allow them to make a lot of change very quickly, people are a lot more receptive to structural change when their jobs are at risk. The end result of that will be that agencies have perhaps now taken a bigger step forward in a shorter period of time than at any previous period of the past.

Most agency groups now have pulled together or bought up a vast array of digital properties and now the task is to link them all together and make them something that clients can genuinely buy into, thats the biggest task of all and there are definitely some struggles out there.

Likewise the media owners are having to adjust at the same pace, they have also battled with separate sales teams, on and offline, agency relationship managers, sponsorships and many other properties but to make them work the teams have to work together and present a coherent face to the marketplace.  Guardian teams have been well known to be struggling in this regard and have done for some time and perhaps this is now being reflected in the IPA Media Owner survey. The Telegraph made a very high profile office move and merged teams far more quickly and effectively and they seem to be benefitting from that move.  The thing that stands out for me at the more successful media properties is that they all have two common themes; the right people in the key jobs and a desire to completely reinvent. AOL was down on its knees but therefore had little to lose and have completely re-engineered themselves and came to market with clarity and ambition. Telegraph was a similar story in terms of their ambition to completely evolve.

There is a lesson in that and some agencies could also look at those examples and shake things up, there are many agencies that have the same people, in the same roles and in the same format. Look to the brave and reinvent your offer and be brave enough to change. Change is addictive, tough to start with but once you do it, you can make a real difference.