Changing Media Gives Rise to the Digital Czar

NEW YORK If these jobs could be found in the classifieds, the ad might read: Seasoned digital expert needed ASAP; Web exp a must, proficiency in mobile, video gaming, finding next YouTube helpful. Responsibilities include crafting agency strategy for digital future.

Both holding companies and individual agencies are tapping high-level strategists to serve as digital czars in hopes of catching up to the obviously changing media landscape. If agencies didn’t get the message that they needed to step up from the Forrester Research report released last month, which said half of clients feel their agencies aren’t suited to help them with digital media challenges, they did when word came that the Wieden + Kennedy-Nike marriage is on the rocks because the shop lacked sufficient digital expertise.

“Every client is going to have the same kind of situation happen within two years,” said Bob Greenberg, CEO of R/GA. “[Agencies] have to indicate to their clients, to their staff or for real that they’re making an investment into digital.”

In all cases, the shops insist bringing in a high-level strategist is not a sign of digital weakness, but a move to coordinate efforts, both on behalf of clients and internally, with the goal of placing digital at the core of their culture.

“The challenge for agencies like this is their size,” said Jean-Philippe Maheu, Ogilvy North America’s newly named chief digital officer. “How quickly can you innovate? How quickly can you develop a new engagement model?”

The need for senior digital leadership led Publicis Groupe to tap David Kenny to craft a digital strategy for the agency holding company after it acquired Digitas in December, and MDC Partners to hire Brandon Berger, an up-and-coming digital strategist from Ogilvy.

Kenny is meeting with Publicis agencies to craft a plan in the next month that will serve as a blueprint for the company. Berger and MDC declined to explain his role, but sources said it would entail examining whether MDC shops needed partnerships and additional expertise to bring digital programs to clients.

Even shops with a digital bent are bringing on high-level help. At Goodby, which embraced digital initiatives two years ago, former Tribal DDB Canada chief Mike Parker joined to put digital into a broader strategic framework.

“We didn’t have somebody who could sit at the table at a senior level to talk digital strategy,” said Derek Robson, managing partner at Goodby. “What we were looking for was somebody who could sit opposite a CMO or CEO.”

At Wieden, Renny Gleeson arrived from Carat Fusion in December as director of digital strategy. He has spent the last three months taking stock of the agency’s digital profile. Wieden has ruled out building deep tech capabilities in favor of a partnership network of specialist providers, per sources. Gleeson claims a major overhaul is not part of his job description.

“My role is to institute a digital culture, not just digital capabilities,” Gleeson said.

Unlike Gleeson, both Maheu and Parker arrive at agencies with substantial digital experience. Ogilvy has a large interactive practice through OgilvyInteractive and Neo@Ogilvy, in addition to the Digital Innovations Group. Goodby, meanwhile, now boasts that half of its output is nontraditional.

“They’ve resisted the direction of setting up a different digital division,” said Parker. “That seems like the future to me.” –with Joan Voight