Digital Calls for Teamwork

NEW YORK The move to digital media is proving startlingly complex for marketers and agencies, pushing the need for increased coordination and collaboration among the many parts of the marketing ecosystem.

That was the conclusion voiced at the opening sessions of the MIXX Conference, which the Interactive Advertising Bureau is holding here as part of Advertising Week.

In an opening keynote, American Express chief marketing officer John Hayes said the many facets of digital marketing is forcing his company to insist on collaboration with and between its agencies.

“The conventional marketing-agency model is over,” he told attendees.

American Express has moved from treating online as a place for customer service only to a key part of what were once offline brand campaigns like an interactive game with Andy Roddick playing Pong that was part of its U.S. Open sponsorship last year and a user-generated contest tied to the Tribeca Film Festival. It took its celebrity-fueled marketing a step further with the Web this year by running a contest for the public to submit ideas for improving the world. AmEx awarded $2 million to the winner.

“The notion of the expert is being turned on its head,” he noted. (The American Express contest did come under some fire for the participation of a Procter & Gamble employee whose job is running that company’s safe drinking water programs. A few other contestants felt the P&G employee had an unfair advantage because of his well-heeled, powerful employer.)

For agencies, the shifting landscape presents the challenge of reorienting their operations to better serve clients like American Express. Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Publicis Groupe’s Denuo, said no one model would win the day.

David Verklin, CEO of Carat Americas, which recently merged its interactive and offline agencies, said it is clear to him that creating a unified agency is critical to giving clients the best advice on what channels to use to reach consumers.

“When you have two separate agencies, it’s not integration, it’s synchronization,” he said.

Meanwhile, Carla Hendra, co-CEO of Ogilvy North America, said re-integrating agencies isn’t necessarily the best way to go. Ogilvy has a single profit-and-loss statement, yet a division like Ogilvy Interactive often works for its own clients while sometimes collaborating as part of an integrated offering.

“Everything we’re doing is messy,” she said. “Nothing fits into neat little boxes like they used to.”

This is the way it will continue to be in the near future, Tobaccowala agreed, not least because, “people are analog and they’re going to fight over power and money.”