Paul Holmes 05 Jan 2011 // 8:16AM GMT
I have been quite vocal over the past year or so in predicting that standalone digital agencies are merely a transitional form—a temporary solution attracting only because many marketers remain surprisingly naïve about social media. Briefly, I think digital specialists are benefiting from the fact that many marketers still believe the only place they can find social media expertise is in dedicated firms, and that sooner or later sophisticated clients are going to realize that social media work best when integrated into a multichannel approach that only a broad-based agency can deliver. To survive, therefore, digital agencies will need to learn mainstream PR and marketing—and learn it faster than mainstream firms can learn digital. But this research, from respected industry analyst Jeremiah Owyang, gives me pause. According to Owyang, companies are migrating from big agencies to specialist boutiques, and spending more with the boutiques. “Once corporations realize that social business is not about short term campaigns, they give $ to boutique agencies. The data from the buyers indicates there’s a significant jump in spending on boutique social media firms when the buyer is advanced and sophisticated in social business.” (Emphasis mine.) This brought to mind a conversation I had with the CEO of a major global agency just before Christmas. The CEO in question was convinced that his firm was a leader in the social media space. And it certainly has done some good work. But when I ask clients and agency leaders which firms are doing the best work in the digital realm, the firm has never—and I mean never—been mentioned in response. The agency in question is either not as good as it thinks it is, or not getting its story out. Owyang mentions of couple of traditional agencies—Edelman and Ogilvy—that have built strong social media capabilities. Those are the same names I hear when I talk to people about this stuff. The others will have to step up their game, or my prediction that big agencies are likely to emerge triumphant in the battle for social media dominance is going to be wrong. I don’t mind—it would be nice to see a new, disruptive force make life interesting for the big guys. But for the global, publicly-owned agencies, the stakes are a lot higher.