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Agencies Seek the Right Mix

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At any good agency, in five years there will be little distinction between digital creative executives and their traditional counterparts. At some agencies that is already changing, but not quickly enough to keep pace with technology and consumer behavior. Too often, traditional creatives view the role of digital execs as a back-end resource focused on executing others' ideas. And those in digital have not necessarily thought of their work in big conceptual terms or exerted enough influence over the creative process or with clients. Complicating things further, each group has its own language, tools and approach to problem solving. Although the need to create a common creative culture seems obvious, the means of doing so are more subtle.

"Forcing traditional and digital to sit on the same floor doesn't make for integration. The best way to forge closer working ties is to force integration on a conceptual and executional level," says Robert Rasmussen, executive creative director on Nike at R/GA, who joined the digital shop last summer after working at JWT and Wieden + Kennedy. "There can't be sides or titles. Creative directors should not be one or the other. They must be blended. It will happen whether most of us like it or not."

The division is symptomatic of the digital tumult reshaping marketing communications and reflective of a generation gap in industry skills, with many traditional execs unwilling to reach beyond their comfort zones. But the transition under way is also complicated by organizational legacy issues and profit centers tied to traditional agency functions.

Making the shift has been easier at Crispin Porter + Bogusky and other shops that came of age in the era of media fragmentation. Crispin, which first made its name in traditional awards categories, is now doing the same in the digital space, having been named Digital Agency of the Year at Cannes in 2006 and 2007. Crispin co-chairman and CCO Alex Bogusky says that a little over five years ago, his agency approached digital like many others, originating concepts that were outsourced to digital shops for execution. But as the agency became more excited about digital, it wanted to bring those resources in-house in order to use them in the front end of the creative process. It was around that time that Bogusky met Jeff Benjamin, then at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, and made him Crispin's first interactive creative director in 2003. "[Jeff] came over and said, 'Everything you guys do is interactive,'" Bogusky recalls. 'All I have to do is migrate that thinking to the Web.'"

Benjamin started his department with five staffers. After the recently announced acquisition of Texturemedia, the agency will have 150 digital staffers -- about equal to its number of traditional creatives. At Crispin, the digital agency of record for Burger King, Volkswagen and American Express Open, Bogusky, who believes technology is integral to the process, is moving programmers into creative groups. Everyone is given the same media-agnostic brief at the same time. "I don't know that we know where big ideas come from, but they're a little more likely to come out of digital. Virtual reality is much more malleable than reality reality," Bogusky says. "You have the chance to have more impact."

At JWT, Ty Montague inherited the siloed operations typical of global networks when he joined the agency in late 2004 from Wieden. As the New York agency's co-president and CCO, Montague has made integration a top priority. "It used to be a caste system where traditional creatives came up with the 'big idea' and then turned it over to digital," he says. "We' re creating a system where the traditional creatives cannot overrule the digital people. Justin Crawford has as big a stick as any of the other ecds and they just have to fight it out. Digital people and traditional creatives are truly peers. I'm the tie breaker."

Crawford, who joined JWT two years ago from interactive shop RDA International, testifies to the change. "We're not feeling the resistance issue. At first we did, but we've come a long way from that. It's been a huge learning process," he says.

JetBlue's 2006 "Story Booth" underscores that progress. The multi-platform campaign, which invited consumers to share their stories, combined Web ads and user-generated content with TV and radio spots.

JWT's WPP sibling Ogilvy & Mather has benefited from its direct marketing heritage, says Chris Wall, vice chairman, creative at Ogilvy, New York. Ogilvy Interactive was set up 25 years ago, working with early platforms like an interactive TV pilot and CD-ROMs. He says the agency's 14-year relationship with IBM also helped foster collaboration between digital and traditional creatives, many of whom are on the same floor. IBM was one of the first advertisers to run a banner on Hot Wired, and the company's 1997 e-business campaign was integrated across TV, Web, outdoor, print and direct.

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