What Is Digital? And Does Your Agency Need A ‘Head Of Digital’?

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It’s a ubiquitous term now, but ‘digital’ is still baffling people, argues Jason Davey (pictured below), head of digital at Ogilvy. In this opinion piece he explains exactly what it is and whether agencies need a ‘head of digital’.

In a post-digital era, it’s a reasonable question. One that I get asked every other week by brand managers. Of course, the answer is never clear or simple; it’s the web, social, mobile, email, SEO, PPC, AR/VR, NFC, eCRM, IPTV – all that and more. The acronym list gets longer every day!

Jason davey head of digital

And that’s the point: everything is becoming ‘digital’, in the same way that 100 years ago everything became ‘electrical’. At one point, people stopped calling them ‘electric’ shavers and it was just the shaver, or the light bulb, or the toaster. You get what I mean?

In the agency landscape, ‘digital’ operates at the intersection of ideas, experiences and technology. It’s the glue that stitches together the vast array of elements that brands must deliver to be be truly powerful and effective. Digital is a loaded term: it’s both a noun and a verb. To make something ‘digital’ is to make it interactive; reacting and interacting to input from the user – unlike the more traditional forms of one-way communication we grew up with (for those of us who grew up when telephones had cords).

But why does anyone care? If it’s a loaded term with an unclear meaning, why do we keep using the word ‘digital’? Because it’s so damn important. It’s the most revolutionising phenomenon this world has seen for over a century; it’s changed business, economies, people’s behaviour, and even governments! I bet you’re reading this on some sort of digital device right now (whilst listening to music, checking your social feed, and working – or at least thinking about it).

The change has been so fast and widespread it’s opened up the opportunity for major disruption across businesses, categories and industries. This isn’t a diversion, it’s a major shift. With casualties. Those brands that don’t keep up, get left behind. Darwin would be proud: it’s evolution all over again.

To survive and thrive, brands need agencies with new sets of digital skills – but here’s the rub, they also really need all of the ‘old’ skills. Breakthrough customer insights, competitive brand positioning, big ideas, great creative that pulls on emotional heartstrings – something you rarely see done well by a ‘pure-play’ digital agency. That’s because they’ve mastered the new technology skills, but don’t possess the craft. And for your brand to matter in today’s world you need to seamlessly integrate crafted communications and experiences across the old media and the new – just like your customers do.

Do you need a ‘head of digital’?

So if digital is becoming ubiquitous, and seamlessly integrates across many forms of old and new media, do you need a ‘head of digital’ in your agency?

The answer is, “You bet.” At least for now.

Because right now, it’s the same as needing a creative director. You need a creatively driven agency that has all of the disciplines working collaboratively, including digital. In that way you make your brand matter more than your competition.

But, as any self-respecting head of digital will attest, the title’s days are numbered. Not the skill set, the title.

Because, like the head of direct marketing before us (and the head of social in the years to come), our job is to make ourselves redundant. To educate, infiltrate and agitate until everyone understands that digital is everywhere. It is everything. So, much like you don’t need a head of radio or a head of outdoor, you won’t need a head of digital.

Until then, an agency without a head of digital is like an engine missing a crucial cog.

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