Brands Consider Digital Shops to Lead Creative


Are digital shops starting to leapfrog traditional agencies?

In the past two weeks, AKQA and R/GA, two of the industry’s top digital shops, have won lead agency assignments from brands. Design software company Autodesk tabbed AKQA for digital and traditional work, and Ameri-prise Financial hired R/GA as its lead agency.

Such assignments are still the exception to the rule. Most clients aren’t ready yet to trust digital shops with their brand strategy, according to many agency executives. Yet the general expectation is that this will slowly change, particularly as digital initiatives become core not only as marketing channels, but also as internal drivers of innovation.

“We’re all waiting for this big moment when a bunch of interactive agencies take over from the traditional guys,” said Sean Corcoran, an analyst with Forrester Research. “It’s not happening that way; it’s a slow evolution.”

Ameriprise, for instance, was won over in a review that included traditional shops like Hal Riney by R/GA’s plan to create a brand platform that moved beyond only communications. While its digital approach helped it stand out, said Kim Sharan, Ameriprise’s CMO, the shop will also handle TV, print and other traditional duties. “We didn’t see any skill gap,” she said. “They really brought a fresh perspective.” Autodesk rep Pam Pollace said AKQA’s roots in digital gave it a “different perspective. A large part of what we do is digital. That’s really where we’d like to have that expertise and perspective.”

Some digital agencies are retooling to get in position to lead assignments. That means playing up their integrated marketing capabilities and sometimes soft-pedaling their history as interactive specialists. Omnicom Group shop Organic, for instance, is crafting a new agency positioning that emphasizes its ability to build relationships, rather than its Web site building heritage.

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