For a couple of days this past week, I attended conferences at Ad Week in New York. This took place during chapter 186 of the great financial meltdown, and it was after all, in New York. So somehow participants at every conference couldn’t help but open each session with expressions of concern about the latest twist in the crisis. My first reaction was to think “Give it a rest, let’s talk about the subject in the conference program!”

But these are C-level executives at traditional ad agencies, publishers and broadcasters, all among the largest and operating worldwide. So they are understandably on edge about how the uncertain future will affect their business, and thus the livelihoods of their employees (it’s much easier not being the boss, I must say.)

The agency heads in particular were optimistic about the future of digital, both the creative and metrics aspects of the business. But their comments showed they also still don’t have a clear understanding of how to make digital marketing work efficiently in their agencies. Said one CEO, responsible for an enormous measurement and buying firm -”There are too many components to manage, and no one has the ability to do it. It gets done by the client CMO.”

Said another, “Doing websites is hard.”

I was taken aback. After ten years, numerous advances in digital technology, and two business cycles, the agencies are struggling to get the work done, even as they claim digital is the way of the future? This is not the way to cost effective campaign production and management. The margins in digital are tighter than broadcast and print, so there is far less room for inefficient work processes if you want to satisfy your clients, pay your bills and employees, and keep the shareholders happy.

Turning management of complicated campaigns over to the client marketing executives will not inspire confidence. Agencies have to take on the job of complex program management and serve as a new type of business consultant in return for the client’s commitment of money. In my years directing critical business projects for various industry verticals, I’ve seen waves of innovation affect the industries at different times. Now is the time, and the opportunity, for ad  agencies to adapt, or suffer.

Follow sound project management and digital product development methods. Almost every other industry has come to grips with this. Add professional project managers and digital designers and developers who know systems and processes to your staff. Websites shouldn’t be “hard,” once you decide on the creative. That is where the effort should be. Actual construction, or development in IT jargon, should be structured, repetitive, documented, measurable, and ultimately boring.

It should also result in improved employe morale, productivity, reduced energy drink intake and most important, a noticeable decline in expenditures that can’t be recovered from clients and put stress on profits.

In short, if you hire the right people or partner with experienced firms that have built their business around process, and adopt their methods. your agency will succeed in the digital age. This is where advertising and marketing meets technology.

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