Patrick Rona
Aug 16, 2012

OPINION: Set aside the 'digital' versus 'traditional' debate

It's high time the industry stops talking in terms of 'digital' versus 'traditional' and starts thinking about the role of digital generalists versus digital specialists, writes Patrick Rona, president of Tribal DDB Asia Pacific and chief digital officer of DDB Group Asia Pacific.

OPINION: Set aside the 'digital' versus 'traditional' debate

Having been in the ‘digital agency’ game for a long time now, and having lived through at least a few bubble inflations and bursts, I’ve seen our industry continue to grow (and sometimes retract), mature and evolve. 

And I think it’s long overdue that we get rid of the title ‘digital agency’. In a world where virtually everything is, or can be, digital, and where nearly all communications strategies should have a significant digital element at or near the core, why are we still talking about ‘digital’ agencies versus ‘traditional’ agencies? Or ‘digital’ agencies versus ‘advertising’ agencies? 

Now is the time we need to talk about digital in terms of generalists and specialists. 

The reality is that the best ‘advertising’ agencies have had to become brilliant digital generalists, consistently demonstrating the ability to come up with and execute big ideas with fantastic digital components. Just look at the most recent rankings of top digital agencies—many of the agencies included would have been labelled as traditional agencies a few years ago. Flicking through the recent winners in the Cyber category at Cannes Lions, you see that Grey, Crispen Porter + Bogusky, JWT, Ogilvy and DDB all had strong showings. (And I bet nearly all of us wish we could take some responsibility for R/GA’s work on Nike.)

The fact is, whether our clients are specifically asking for it or not, the traditional agencies have to continue upping our general digital game. Digital isn’t going away—it will not only become the way in which consumers prefer to engage with brands, but the essential glue in our integrated communications solutions.

At the same time, the need for digital specialists is greater than ever. At one end of the spectrum, many clients need—whether they know it or not—a partner that sits at the nexus, the innovative edge, where technology meets creativity. R/GA’s work over the last few years with Nike, from Nike+ to the Fuel Band, or (if you'll permit me a couple of self-links) Tribal DDB’s work with StarHub in Singapore or Philips in Europe, demonstrates the extraordinary benefit of innovatively fusing creativity and technology. Not only do unique consumer experiences emerge, but also whole new business models. 

Clients also need ‘heavy lifters’ like Sapient or Accenture to manage and build complex, business-critical e-commerce and web-based solutions. And mobile specialists like MIA who know how to navigate the complex ecosystem of network operators, handset manufacturers and consumer behaviour, which varies from market to market. And don't forget high-end production specialists like North Kingdom, Unit 9 or Stink, who consistently develop some of the most extraordinary digital experiences. 

We need social specialists like We Are Social, Socialite and (again, if you'll allow it) Tribal DDB’s RADAR to identify and action insights gleaned from digital communities and social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Weibo and Ren Ren. And finally, while we’re on the topic of ‘social’, we need companies like Communispace who are developing exciting new methodologies to build and tap into social communities, which will transform the consumer research market. 

So, as we look at the digital agency market, let’s stop talking about digital agencies, and start talking about the specific skills and areas of expertise our clients need to succeed in today’s highly complex world.

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