Home > Uncategorized > Please Don’t Tell Me You’re Digital

Please Don’t Tell Me You’re Digital

Regular, or rather, long-term readers of this blog will know my views on the word ‘digital’.

It’s a fine word. It means something very specific – it relates to a system of data technology that uses discrete (as opposed to continuous, or analogue) values. And that’s fine; use it for that.

Where I never believe you should see it used is as part of a Suit’s job title. As far as I’m concerned, and as I’ve made clear before, a Suit who describes him or herself as ‘digital’ is missing the point of a Suit’s existence; a Suit who wants to be ‘digital’, doesn’t really want to be a Suit.

My issue, of course, isn’t really with the word ‘digital’. I’d be just as frustrated with an account man who felt the need to describe themselves as ‘TV’, or ‘Press’. Except nobody would ever think of doing that. In fact, the idea of a Suit labelling themselves as TV is as ludicrous as a TV Producer not knowing where the Ivy is.

But I’ve said all of this before: you know how I feel about Suits. We aren’t TV producers, we aren’t digital designers, we aren’t mac-operators; we’re Suits. Mark Lund recently described the Suit’s role as that of the ‘super-generalist’, there to tie it all together for the Client – to simplify and distil the raft of communication options available. And he’s right – it’s our job to understand and to inspire, to break the silos, not to build the website, post-produce the TV ad or develop the app. The problem I have with the Suit who refers to themselves as ‘digital’ is that it feels like they’ve misunderstood the job they’re supposed to be doing; and in doing so have misunderstood what everyone, from the Clients to the Creatives, wants and needs from them.

And I think, to be honest, that the same goes for Agencies that insist on referring to themselves as digital; give it two years, and the idea of anyone selling themselves as a Digital Agency will be as anachronistic as selling yourself as a TV agency would be deemed today. I was discussing this with someone recently, and he used the analogy of two dinosaurs wrestling, which seems pretty much on the money to me.

The breadth of options that digital technologies have opened up when it comes to answering Client briefs is nothing short of phenomenal, and phenomenally exciting at that; but they still remain options – digital in and of itself is not a solution, and should never be thought of as such. And of course thinking digitally is important – but to ONLY think digitally is the sort of thinking that leads to tech-driven responses, rather than idea, or, dare I say it, customer-driven answers that have the capacity to engage, and to drive participation.

To be able to succeed and thrive as a contemporary advertising agency, you need to have the breadth of knowledge to consider all the options, and then the flexibility and adaptability to deliver the right ones as rapidly as is necessary (whether through internal resource, or through a managed network – another post on the horizon…). That’s not going to come from an Agency that doesn’t understand the importance of digital; but nor is it going to come from an Agency that doesn’t see the point in considering anything else.

So, please. If you’re a Suit, or if you’re an Agency, don’t tell me you’re Digital. I’m just going to assume that you don’t get it – and so are your Clients.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. March 16, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Boom. Pretty much says it all.

    I hope we can freaking get over the ‘social’ prefix pretty damn soon as well

  2. March 16, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Well said. Agreed Digital (and mobile) will/should become part of the mix – key difference is that they need to be thought about slightly differently and take different skills to execute. Views – Mobile: Why Run before you Walk…http://www.indigo102.com/archives/1258

  3. March 16, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Nice post

    Although I do work for a digital agency I agree that, when all is said and done, marketing is the discipline where-as digital/TV/Print/etc are simply channels to get the message to the audience…

  4. March 16, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Do any ad agencies call themselves digital?

    • March 16, 2010 at 4:13 pm

      It depends how you define ‘ad’ agencies…

  5. March 16, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Indeed. The same is largely true for creatives too. Whilst we need to stand for something, and often need to proclaim specific experience/excellence within a particular medium, we still only specialise in it. Such as an Art Director specialising in digital for example. Which only means that you claim to spend a large portion of your time, due to your expertise, within that medium.

    But whilst we joke about suits, a suit will always be an important role for many agencies. As such, carving a suit’s niche comes from being the ’super-generalist’ of which Mark Lund speaks. The all-rounder, batsman, bowler and captain.

  6. March 16, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    1011010011001101000110. 1101010010!

  7. Toby
    March 16, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    But surely saying you’re an ad agency is equally restrictive. Advertising is not PR, DM, experiential etc. etc

    Each of those disciplines use ‘digital’ channels and they each play different, though theoretically complimentary, roles.

    The fact that agencies focussed on traditional disciplines have made land grabs for as many digital channels as they can, whether or not they make sense in the context of their specialist discipline, makes them worse than digital agencies as far as I’m concerned.

    At least ‘digital’ people have had to be like ultra generalists talking in terms (and measurements) from advertising, PR, DM etc. Etc.

    And they’ve had to work out how all those disciplines come together in one place. Surely that positions them nicely to really get integrated campaigns.

  8. March 16, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    Of course I agree with the main point you’re making.
    But I actually think there is a finer point here, and that’s what those “discrete values” enable in terms of a different type of engagement.
    While people may use the word incorrectly, I think they’re hinting at this change of perspective and approach to communications.
    Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think ‘digital’ is a destination point, but I do kind of understand it as a transitory position, to denote this difference of perspective.

  9. neilpotter
    March 18, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    It’s rare I don’t agree with you 100% Mr Suit – But I’d challenge this a little. In fact, I’m not really challenging… more just trying to play devils advocate.

    What is the most significant part of an Account Mans role? – to have an informed opinion? to add value to their clients by knowing just that little bit more than them? – To me, the thing about some (notice I said some) other aspects of marketing comms, is that anyone can have a subjective (and in their own eyes ‘informed’) opinion – but when it comes to highly technical digital projects, some aspects just can’t be subjective. Some aspects about web design and build are black and white. They work or they don’t (and knowing why or why not is the step-change).

    Imagine this – Client: ‘why is my website not rendering that image properly?’ ‘Why don’t people see my banners when they have got Javascript turned off?’

    Is it really acceptable for the Account Man to reply – ‘Oh, I’ll ask my tech guys and let you know’. Does that give the client any confidence at all the the Account Man is any more than a messenger boy?

    The point I’m trying to make is that some aspects of digital require very in-depth understanding of complex technologies – hence why some Account Men who ‘get’ this stuff think their skills are more niche than ones that don’t (but should) – and hence the ‘Digital’ buzz-word added to their title.

    Personally, I don’t agree with this concept, although I’ve been guilty of using the phrase before. Digital should be a given these days, not a a USP.

    • March 20, 2010 at 11:21 am

      The problem I have, Mr P, is that I absolutely do think Suits should be able to answer questions about why a website isn’t rendering properly, or why iPhone apps probably aren’t the answer if your target audience is 65 and lives in Cardiff; I just also think that they should be able to talk about why the post production on a TV spot is going to take two weeks rather than one, why reverse copy is always tricky when it comes to tabloid repro and why you don’t have to worry about the RACC because they work really quickly. It’s our job, and our professional responsibility to know this stuff – and ignoring some of it to know a little bit more about other bits of it is, to my mind, professionally irresponsible. And the same applies to Agencies – of course, you’ll always need specialists, and you’re as unlikely to trust your site-build to a place that’s done a couple of banner ads as you are to trust your house-build to a man who owns a trowel, but those specialists aren’t well-placed to look at the bigger picture. To my mind, ‘digital’ is too limiting (when applied to Suits or Agencies) and yet not quite specific enough. Does that make sense?

  10. LT
    March 19, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    Love it.

  11. March 21, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Great one.

  12. neilpotter
    March 22, 2010 at 10:29 am

    I’m with you now Mr Suit, that makes perfect sense. But I think also the weighting of an account man’s knowledge will rely heavily on their agencies’ offering (or even particular accounts within an agency). So where you say ‘ignoring some to know more about others is professionally irresponsible’ is probably more important to agencies who offer a complete full-service. Do you think that’s fair to say?

  13. March 22, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    We are in the middle of a gold rush and I have always thought that in this situation, make sure you are in the picks and shovels business. But do we know what that is yet?

    Social media campaigns for stationery! iphone Apps for value cleaning products! all of these things I have seen either presented or delivered recently.

    We are all neophiles, looking at the shiny new thing – rather than thinking about is as a channel.

    *runs off to sell an app to a Client*

  14. neilpotter
    March 23, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Sorry Chris I think those days have past already.

  15. unknown
    March 29, 2010 at 8:49 am

    Trying to work out how this article skews with the recruitment of a Senior Digital Project Manager at DLKW in January.

    • March 29, 2010 at 1:59 pm

      Well, two things.

      First off, this blog isn’t affiliated with DLKW in any way – opinions expressed here are mine, and mine alone.

      Secondly, my post deals with Account Handlers specifically, and Agencies in general – I’m not suggesting in any way that there will never be a need for specialists. Because that would be stupid.

  16. lucky ten seven
    April 8, 2010 at 9:08 am

    For me the word digital does the job of pointing to a persons specialty/experience, I imagine many people at the more junior end do not have experience at all levels of advertising that you yourself have.

    I have a lot of experience in digital work and zero experience in TV/film, this is as a result of working in ‘digital’ agencies that do not provide a lot of film experience as this is often completed by the lead creative agencies.

    Depends whether you think about a job title as limiting what you can offer or just as a helpful guide to your core experience. If I am looking for a job I look for the word digital as I know it’s an area where my experience will be most valuable, and I imagine for those recruiting it makes very clear the core skills that are required.

    But I very much agree that the word digital is limiting when it comes to agencies and do see creative agencies continuing to take back more and more digital work from the specialist digital agencies – so that all work on a campaign can be managed by the same core team.

  17. Buzzman
    May 11, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    A provocative issue, Mr ALS, as you well know. Your assumption that Suits and Clients are as passionately diligent as you in your search for perfection is (I’m assuming deliberately) naive: many clients and just as many Suits find security through obfuscation (and I’m ignoring all the people who profiteer from the confusion – they are just tossers). I’ve met plenty of Suits in the advertising community all over the world who could fill a number of (e)books with their clueless adwankery.

    Many of the Blue-Chips that the mainstream Ad Agencies adore so much are the dysfunctional product of ill-conceived and ill-managed mergers or acquisitions, with processes that are fundamentally flawed and people who have been promoted way above their levels of competence. The issue is that people within ‘digital’ agencies have been foolish enough in their attempts to win people over by trying to take on and fix some of the problems that decades (centuries even) of poorly managed growth have caused. And the issue for all of us is that sometimes they have managed to succeed. Which makes it incredibly difficult to actually define what such people or agencies actually do.

    Many of the digital ‘specialists’ that you so refer to detest the term with equal vehemence: it’s simply that the term is a suitable pigeonhole used to cover a range of issues that no one really wants to face up to. And until more people are prepared to do that, I’m afraid we are all going to be stuck with whichever neologism strikes the collective chord.

    Enough of this, I’m off to find a Six Sigma Black Belt Guru.

  18. June 4, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    I do dislike the difference that seems to have been pegged on the word ‘digital’. However after working for a rather brilliant agency and then being made redundant, I found not one agency in the North of England wanted to listen or see you without the prerequisite digital experience.

    However working for a web Development agency for a month for free and turing that into a full time ‘suit role’ has really develop my confidence in this sector. I hate to have the word digital ahead of my title, but with some experience under my belt in developing work for web focused clients I am constantly bombarded with emails from recruitment consultants.

    When the industry moves away from segmenting marketing into these little grey areas I will be more than happy. Plus many clients seem to see the shiny word digital and think ‘wooooooo’ thats amazing.

  19. October 3, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    I do believe the term ‘digital’ when applied to agency advertising is merely the emperor’s new clothes.

    Yes there are fundamentals of SEO, PPC, and a deeper appreciation of website programming languages, but at it’s heart is the same principles that have sustained traditional agency work.

    You need to generate people powered ideas

  20. January 14, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    I was suggested this blog by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is
    written by him as no one else know such detailed about my problem.

    You’re wonderful! Thanks!

  1. June 7, 2010 at 12:00 am

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