Clients generally distrust their traditional agencies when it comes to digital, but they're still wary of handing over the keys to overall brand strategy to the Web specialists, according to a new survey of marketers.
Forrester Research conducted a "state of interactive agencies" survey of about 100 global interactive marketers. It found just 23 percent believed their "traditional brand agency" is capable of planning and managing interactive marketing activities. About 46 percent did not believe them capable, with the rest neutral on the question.
While that held good news for digital agencies, particularly as digital becomes a much larger part of marketing, Forrester found few clients are willing to give them responsibility for the brand's direction. Just 22 percent agreed that their interactive agency is "ready to lead my brand." Another 33 percent said their digital shops aren't ready, with the rest neutral.
That sets up what Forrester calls "the great race" as traditional shops scramble to add digital know-how and digital shops seek to move up the ladder to become brand stewards, rather than Web site and banner ad specialists.
"We see digital becoming the backbone of marketing and technology becoming so vital that everyone needs digital capabilities," said Sean Corcoran, an analyst at Forrester. "Everyone is coming from a different strength. Everyone is trying to add the other's capabilities."
Forrester found that clients, in an ideal world, would like to work with a single agency. Over 60 percent said they would like one digital shop. Yet the complexity of distinct marketing specialties often makes this impractical. Even within digital, only one in five rely on a single provider, the survey found. Nearly 60 percent have two or more. Forrester expects that will fragment even more thanks to emerging media like mobile and social. The multiple-agency approach means higher administrative costs and more coordination.
"We're all waiting for this big moment when a bunch of interactive agencies take over from the traditional guys," said Corcoran. "It's not happening that way, it's a slow evolution. You'll see some interactive guys take over and some traditional agencies hold the fort."
The risk for digital shops is getting caught in the middle. Some like R/GA and others are making the move to become a lead agency for clients. R/GA last week won lead agency duties for Ameriprise , for example. But others, Forrester concludes, will need to carve out a specific digital specialty rather than sit in the middle, between a lead strategic role and specialist position.
"There's no perfect black-and-white situation," Corcoran said. "It's a very gray world. The whole industry is in flux."
See also: "Forrester Rates Digital Shops"