The Digital Agency vs. Traditional Agency Debate

I promised myself I would never write this post. I promised I would never question the many advertising/digital veterans out there who have a far more valuable judgment on the subject – but what the hell; everything these days is just a well-argued opinion.

So the saga continues – Traditional agencies vs. digital agencies – will one ever rein supreme? Without this post being 6 miles long: My personal opinion – I doubt it.

More and more so called ‘Traditional agencies’ are frantically trying to catch up with digital. And some have been very successful. Agencies are merging, acquiring and integrating digital into their core offerings – And so they should. No one doubts the power and influence of digital marketing. It’s the future don’t you know.

But the value traditional agencies bring shouldn’t be wiped aside by the digital wave. Their creative and strategic skills are still valuable – and by adding digital expertise to that mixture should make a force to be reckoned with. Notice I said ‘should’.

I know I should be fighting the digital agency corner here, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what an agency call themselves. Traditional agency…digital agency…Ad agency…none of that really matters. If they can come up with an angle, deliver a successful solution through the most appropriate channel (on time and on budget) and most significantly engage their target audience. Will the client care what they call themselves? – I doubt it.

The digital vs. Traditional debate

The digital vs. Traditional debate


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8 Responses to “The Digital Agency vs. Traditional Agency Debate”

  1. markgorman Says:

    Ah. The voice of reason. You must be on the tablets Mike.

  2. Colin Gilchrist Says:

    This is a really interesting discussion and one that is quite scary to those on the traditional side of the table – we’ve recently bolstered our team by investing in additional creative rather than additional digital.

    We are taking the view that having been known as purely digital it’s where the world is going so let’s almost take it for granted and introduce some outstanding creative work into our clients customers world.

    Oh and we’ve changed our name in the process (bye bye digital reference)…
    (Please note this is not an advert for who we are).

  3. Phil Adams Says:

    Something I’ve learnt as a father, and I think it’s equally true of the agency world (having worked in ad agencies for 19 years and a digital agency for 2), is that everything is a phase.

    At the moment in the agency world opinion appears to be trending in the direction of an integrated, full service model. And it’s in the interest of “traditional” ad agencies to promote this view as they frantically tool-up for digital marketing.

    But clients buy people. And it’s difficult to recruit and retain people of uniformly high quality across several disciplines under one roof. So, whilst clients are instinctively attracted to the idea of a one-stop-shop solution, there will always be this nagging voice in the back of their heads whispering things like “jack of all trades” when it comes to integrated shops.

    The onus on digital agencies is to justify this nagging doubt by a) delivering a level of unquestionable, leading edge competence that clients will doubt they can get from a re-engineered ad agency (Barbarian Group for example exude this kind of “special forces” competence. After a visit to their site – – how would a client feel about buying top drawer digital input from a one-stop-shop?) And b) they need to be excellent collaborators – seamlessly and modestly working with other disciplines – thereby never giving clients cause to even think about a single-source solution.

    I remember, in the early part of my career, the descriptor “2nd wave” being applied to agencies such as BBH (where I did some time incidentally), and then “3rd wave” to the likes of HHCL. Have we had the 2nd wave for digital agencies yet? It will only take a couple of high profile start-ups, perhaps people leaving some of these one-stop-shops, to have the trade press heralding the dawn of a digital agency renaissance. As I say, everything is a phase.

  4. neilpotter Says:

    @Phil Adams —> Wow Phil – You’ve got an excellent insight into the industry there – and I could’nt agree more with your comments.

    I have read recent posts by people hailing the end to our much loved digital agencies (specialists) and the growth of such ‘super agencies’ (one-stop-shop scenarios) – But as the original post suggests – I really am tired of people pigeon-holing what we are all doing in essence – creating great digital work.

    @Colin Gilchrist —> I like your thinking. Lets just hope your potential clients are already in that ‘Taking Digital for Granted’ mind-set. Unfortunatley, from my experience, many aren’t….yet.

    @Mark Gorman —> Mike? It’s Neil BTW 🙂

  5. digitalagency Says:

    Neil: re Mark Gorman ‘mike’ reference. I suspect Mark was addressing it to my tweet pointing to your blog.

    He’s an old pal, a fine blogger himself and a top connected adman in Scotland.

  6. neilpotter Says:

    Ah I see Mike – In which case we’ll let him off! Thanks again for your tweet pointing!

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