Do agencies ‘get’ Social Media and Digital Advertising? That’s a question asked often of traditional agencies. It is believed that traditional agencies still think television only (though there are several examples disproving it) and its creative team (including the planners & account handlers) haven’t got the hang of new media, especially Social Media and technology. There could be some truth in that. Agencies have set up divisions filling them with youngsters (who are expected to be more familiar with new media) and clients are increasingly dealing with specialist agencies to handle their social media campaigns. Increasingly, such social media agencies run independent campaigns for big brands, while the mainline agency continues to handle the ‘traditional’ bit – TV ads, outdoor etc.
Should we pause to ask if such social media agencies (especially its frontline, client-facing executives & content creators) understand advertising? And how brands, marketing and business works? Or are we getting carried away by their suggestions on hashtags, augmented reality and QR codes? My first-hand experience with such specialist agencies is limited; but I have heard some horror stories from clients. I tend to believe that most social media agencies don’t ‘get’ advertising. Or don’t have the huge advantage most traditional ad agencies do – experienced business leaders, an understanding of marketing & advertising and their role in brand building.
Poor handling of customer complaints, wrong choice of words, insensitive tweets, cookie-cutter approach to content (especially Facebook posts) are common complaints about social media agencies. To be fair, those creating content could very well be freshers with little or no experience & training on brands and the role of advertising & social media in brand building. And then there’s the issue of compensation. With the market rates for ‘digital activity’ (mainly Facebook page management) being so low, there’s hardly any margin for training & skill set improvement.
Ideally, there should be a single team that acts as a brand partner to the client advising him on communication strategy and creating all the brand content – be it TVC or a social media campaign. It can be done – just look at the work done by W+K, Droga5 or CPB for most of their clients. In my view, by splitting the content creation teams into two, the client is doing a disservice to the brand. The best of brand ideas which are media neutral happen by collaboration between expert teams. That collaborative process is taken away by splitting teams into TV and Digital. And often TV leads the way, while the digital team waits for the TV idea to be approved for adoption into social media. So the team carrying the social media baton has to second-guess the thinking behind the campaign, the overall brand strategy or just hear all of it from someone else – not be a part of the creation. The pressure to ‘value-add’ then manifests itself in QR codes and Augmented Reality (not that they are a bad thing) which are more of after thoughts. Ideally the brand agency should ideate, execute and monitor such work but their priorities are elsewhere – typically film production and media commission where the monies are better.
In any case the division between ‘advertising’ and ‘digital’ is artificial and self-created by the industry. There should not be such a division and one day, hopefully there will not be. But just as advertising agencies need to brush up their knowledge and experience of new media, their specialist counterparts too need to beef up skills of advertising & brand building.