Forrester: Web Shops Not Ready to Lead

LA QUINTA, CALIF. Digital agencies are improving their skills to help clients strategically, but still fall short in their ability to lead broader marketing and brand strategy, according to a new report by Forrester Research.

That inability means Web agencies in the near term will continue to be relegated to the role of implementer, while a client’s traditional shop takes the lead, said Brian Haven, a Forrester analyst.

“The interactive agencies are in a position where all their staff is focused on executing on digital,” he said. “They need people who understand that broader relationship between online and offline media.”

Forrester included the assessment in a report that evaluated the capabilities of top digital marketing agencies. It ranked Microsoft’s Avenue A/Razorfish and WPP Group’s OgilvyInteractive as the leading digital marketing shops, followed by independent Sapient.

Most of the agencies evaluated have deep expertise in “traditional” interactive media like display advertising, e-mail and search, Haven said, but there is a wider gap in new areas, particularly social media. The challenge for digital shops is not just executing campaigns with consumer-generated components or on Facebook and MySpace but figuring out what interactions in those channels means for clients, he said.

“The question is what are they going to bring to the table about what effect social media has,” Haven said. “It’s not going to be an impression or click through.”

For a shop like Avenue A/Razorfish, its expertise in digital channels comes at a price, the report concludes: it doesn’t have the expertise to lead brand strategy across channels. “The interactive agency doesn’t have those chops yet,” Haven said.

Avenue A/Razorfish got kudos from Forrester for its analytics focus and experience with social media. OgilvyInteractive was lauded for its cross-channel integration abilities.

Forrester singled out Avenue A/Razorfish and OgilvyInteractive for their capabilities in emerging media and audience research. Sapient was recognized for its strength linking back-end systems to marketing measurement.

Digitas ranked below those three shops as a “leader,” followed by WPP Group’s VML. Forrester identified Omnicom Group-backed Critical Mass and independent imc2 below the others. The research firm called out their inexperience in social media.

Forrester’s evaluation did not include several large, well-known digital agencies, including Interpublic Group’s R/GA and Omnicom’s, Organic and Tribal DDB.