Breaking Up May Be Hard to Do, But Is It Very Much Worth Doing
As the digital marketing revolution continues, many marketing organizations struggle to define the optimal structure for their teams. To say the least, traditional agency relationships have fragmented. Even within digital marketing, more than a few large companies have dedicated partners or independent groups responsible for different channels or activities – one team specializing in social media, another handling content management for the Web site, and another developing microsites for special promotions or events.
Given the rapid and profound evolution of 21st-century marketing, it’s impossible to say that there is one best approach, or a specific optimal number of agencies. The best-of-breed model gives marketers another advantage: access to deep domain expertise in complex and emerging channels, though on the other hand it may also increase the time and effort necessary to manage and coordinate their programs.
Related to these drivers is a trend we have seen gather momentum in Europe, and now gaining traction in North America and other regions – the separation of creative and production processes in digital marketing. Creative is the part of marketing and advertising where branding concepts and key messages are developed and finalized. We define digital production as the transformation of creative ideas and raw assets (images, text and interactive apps) into an array of digital media – web sites, banner ads, rich media applications, HTML emails, mobile and social media applications – so that the right messages are delivered via the right channel at the right time to the right users. (For the record, here is our full definition of digital production.)
As digital marketing emerged during the last 15 years, “creative” and “production” have generally been handled within the same teams, or even the same people. Creative directors would generate the “big ideas,” or concepts. Then graphic designers would take care of the html coding to produce Web sites, banner ads or email campaigns. At large agencies, there might have been dedicated coders, but they worked in close proximity with designers, as well as the copywriters and editors who provided headlines and text.
This approach worked well enough while digital marketing was still in its infancy, and considered a sideline from the real action of traditional advertising. But as digital has become the central focus for many marketers and entered into ever more complex and powerful technologies (think social media and mobile apps), the coupling of creative and production no longer makes sense. The old model is simply not scalable or flexible enough.
There are also financial reasons for the decoupling. For instance, marketers and their agency partners may not have a full-time need for robust development capabilities in emerging technologies (like Flash and html5, or new mobile operating systems). With technological complexity only increasing, it’s not feasible to maintain the latest skills in these advanced technologies. And it can be prohibitively expensive to purchase the next-generation tools and software that enable automated process management, for example.
Or take email newsletters: if companies only need to produce these once per quarter (with multiple targeted editions for regional audiences or customer subsets), maintaining dedicated resources to manage the production and distribution process probably isn’t the ideal allocation of scarce marketing capital. Staffing up for “peak activities” is not cost-efficient. Similarly, internal teams or “part-timers” are very unlikely to be able to handle distribution when companies are looking to target and place online ads across thousands of Web properties.
The point is, the “best-of-breed” partnership model is quite compelling when it comes to digital production, given the increasing complexity and resource requirements to effectively market in digital channels. Of course, much depends on the partner a marketer engages. The key is to have proven processes for interactions between creative and production teams, quality assurance, localizing campaigns and asset management. Strong technological platforms for automation and a wide range of expertise in different formats and media are other hallmarks.
A number of our clients and agency partners in Europe and North America have successfully managed this transition, with several calling on Deliver as their centralized digital production partner. But considering that TV and print production have long since been separated off from core creative processes, it is worth asking how digital is different. We will address that question in a future post.