With the speed technology is changing the way we do business, the emergence of specialist digital creative agencies is no surprise. But what is a digital agency and why should you choose to work for one vs a full service or integrated agency? I caught up with Paul Harrison from AtomicMedia to find out.
We are seeing a rise in digital specialist agencies what are the main differences between a digital agency vs an integrated agency?
In theory, being a digital specialist means you can focus on a certain set of services, recruit experts rather than generalists and focus your staff training.
For a client the benefits are clear; a higher level of expertise and potentially a cost saving by using a smaller agency. And to a certain extent this is true. A mid-sized, full-service agency with a handful of digital specialists can't always compete with a smaller, agile, niche specialist. This is less of a problem for the larger, integrated agencies who can be great at digital mainly through sheer size or shared expertise across the group, albeit that does come at a cost.
For me though, the comparison should be between integrated, full-service and niche digital agencies... the latter, for example, being those agencies that would rather focus on one or two areas, and become genuine experts, so ecommerce, digital marketing, app, UX and so on, possibly even pinning their colours to a certain platform like Umbraco, Wordpress or Shopify.
For clients, throwing a specialist niche agency into their agency mix might feel like a project management headache... but if I was having my house re-wired, I'd rather hire an expert electrician than let the builder have a bash.
The market changes so fast, what are agencies doing to stay on top of the developments?
All agencies will tell you that they have extensive training programmes for their staff, and that they encourage their team to attend industry events regularly. But, in reality, all a business can do is offer the finances and the time, the rest has to come down to the individual and their own motivation.
Luckily, digital agencies are generally filled with digital enthusiasts, and the more technical the agency the more the lines are blurred between work and hobby. When this is the case, the agencies in question don't have to force things, but simply put processes in place that encourage the sharing of knowledge and experience.
At AtomicMedia, we have a bi-weekly "Show & Tell" session where we shine a spotlight on new technology, innovation, trends and customers behaviour insights. For us this works well and negates the need for a more visible 'labs' project that invariably is as much about self-promotion as it is real sharing of innovation.
If you were to create the perfect client – agency relationship what would it look like?
I'm not sure there's ever a perfect relationship between client and agency. One party is paying the bill. But where I've seen it work well is when both parties can invest time and effort to learn each other's businesses, build relationships, earn trust and enjoy success together.
Clearly nobody goes on a first date looking for a life partner but given that everyone wins when a client/agency can build a strong relationship, it must be a consideration.
And this leads to one of my major issues - pitching. Now, I love the challenge of getting under the skin of a client's business and presenting well-thought through ideas and recommendations. But why does this need to be beauty pageant? I've been lucky enough to work at some fantastic agencies during my career, all of which have had incredibly skilled teams. But the selection of an agency comes down to a single response to a brief, often with no opportunity to talk through it in any depth. That's madness. For me, a client should be able to shortlist agencies based on their credentials... then it's down to chemistry. You know they can deliver what you need, so put the focus on people and process.
I go back to my house project - who'd pick an Architect based on the coolest design? Nobody. You pick a team based on what work they've done, what other customers say and whether you're happy having these guys in your life. Yes, price is also a factor, so fess up on that too.
So, my perfect client-agency relationship? One that starts on the right foot, with transparency from day one and a genuine desire to build a lasting relationship, bumps and all.
What are the benefits of working for a digital agency?
For years, digital was an add-on. Everything was done in a silo and clients would often deliver a project, sit back and simply say 'done digital'. I love that digital is now a key consideration for all projects and is growing faster than ever.
We have an ambition to be one of the leading mobile-first digital agencies, not just in the UK, but globally, and that means employing the best people we can who have the passion, drive and ambition to get there. Having the necessary skills is a given. We're looking for inquisitive minds. Challengers. The people who say, 'don't see why not'? rather than 'not sure'.
If you are interested in working for a specialist digital agency, get in touch. I can help match your skills set and personality to the agency that is right for you!