Let’s Ban The Name ‘Digital Agency’: International Creative Services MD Anne Miles

Let’s Ban The Name ‘Digital Agency’: International Creative Services MD Anne Miles

There is a lack of understanding about digital agencies, says International Creative Services MD Anne Miles, and in this opinion piece she grapples with what they actually do and what makes them different.

How can you tell if they actually do what they say they will? What differentiates them? Having the same title for all the different types of services seems the root cause of confusion.

Isn’t it time the industry matured enough to redefine the specialities and make it clearer what they do?

Some marketers understand a digital agency to be responsible for performance display, re-targeting and other media based activities yet other digital agencies are really just about producing products like apps, websites, marketing communications that support them. Some are just social experts and all about content and amplification.

Many only do a specialised part of the digital world and also are only likely to propose recommendations that fit with their own service specialties too. Of course there are many businesses that genuinely are full service but the challenge is in knowing if they really are. Without outsourcing certain tasks there also tends to be the consequence of mark ups and margins too – so is full service at a cost to the client?

It is easy to think your digital agency will help you with all the digital media needs, but the truth is that they don’t. With each supplier doing only their own niche tasks the wider and fully integrated strategies can be lost. For example, you think you’d like to have display ads running on a high demand website or blog site because you share a very distinct and similar audience.

Seems straight forward, right?

Do you get your digital media agency to do that? Not always. Do you get your offline media agency to do that? Not always. So, who is considering the fully integrated campaign to get you the very best solution? In many cases – no one. Even if the marketing team know it is a great idea and want to drive it, with suppliers not engaged in it, it will surely die.

What about the web development company that you think will help you with your website build. Many people think that building the site alone is all you need, but truthfully there is no point building a site if there is no sound strategy behind it, and it is not there to grow your business. The website is just the front for the smart thinking behind it, not just a pretty brochure (which many mistake it to be even if they seem like they know the difference).

Many web development companies claim to understand the strategic needs, but they actually don’t. Many marketers think they can do this themselves in lieu of the supplier, but truthfully they can’t – or not well. That’s all OK if there is full disclose about service offering.

Take a look at most digital suppliers’ websites and the case studies will be very impressive, but in the main you wont really know what tasks they actually did and what value the client got from it. Let’s play around with some ideas for this name rebranding then….

Ok, so let’s say “Digital Agency” for those that genuinely offer full service – media based activity – all the various kinds of digital display media, SEM, SEO, sponsorship of blogs, online channels and websites, creative, content creation, community management, social strategy, web development, web design, email marketing campaigns, technology development, app development, interactive activations… and the works.

There are some out there. Digital Media Agency – how about this be for those businesses that just get work exposed to the world? Where that doesn’t always capture the full extent of the media side of digital marketing then perhaps we need sub groups? Digital Media Agency – SEM, Digital Media Agency – Display & Retargeting and so on.

If a business doesn’t do the whole gamut, then don’t claim the broader title. Digital SEO Service – Seems these guys are out on their own whether that be the technical side of SEO, strategies, or the content and distribution side. Some do all, some only do one or the other. So, let’s call them Digital SEO Service – Architects, or the others Digital SEO Content Service.

Digital Technology Agency – How about we use this for those businesses that make stuff? Apps, digital kiosks, beacon services, stunts that are based on a technology like where an ad is displayed on a billboard as each Porsche drives by, or even build websites? Web Developers – How about only those people that actually just build websites and that’s all they do use this title? So, that’s not including strategy and other services like integrated email marketing, social activity and apps that plug in to it.

There are those that only do UX design, graphic design and front end, and others that only do the back end. So, let’s be clear about that: Web Developers: UX, Web Graphic Design, Web Developers: Front End, Web Developers: Back End. Social Media Agency – What about we use this title genuinely for those that do full service social media marketing including strategy, content creation, even display on social channels, and let’s leave out community management for now.

Content agencies can do just print or online editorial publishing content only, some do video, some do blog content, but let’s say it is not PR activity that is starting to cross over here. Their foundations are more likely in publishing or journalism. This can be for paid or unpaid activity. If there is an element of PR in there, then let’s call them a Content & PR Agency.

Within this category – how about disclosure on specialty? Like the Content Agency that specialises in health based content, or pharmaceutical content, or automotive content. Wouldn’t that be great to find the right supplier if you were in those industries? PR Agency – Businesses that write content, and generate activity that gets the world noticing them and is more of a traditional service to change public perception of a brand and to manage brand fall out. This can often include internal communications too, but isn’t primarily a social media service despite using it at times.

Marketing Activation Agency – No, they’re not event companies and despite using digital technology sometimes they’re not the mainstay of the digital agency. Keep this separate. These are businesses that do an activity or branded activation that engages people for a participation and interaction with a brand. This list could go on…. Don’t get started thinking about Digital Design agencies….

Perhaps this is all about the fear of missing out? Like the Plumber that wants to be a generalist so they don’t miss out on any customers? Funny thing is that the plumber that specialises in emergency call outs, or the ones that specialise in hot water services, or new home plumbing installations, or dairy farm plant installations – they all end up getting more work because of their niche positioning and there is clarity to the market about what they do.

When a customer wants a certain activity done they will more easily engage in the supplier that delivers just that. There are many that hate being put in boxes, so there will be fall out over this stance, no doubt.  Some of the titles need work of course. How about at the very least that there is a better way to at least disclose the disciplines more transparently to better service the marketers, but also to help the suppliers in the industry better get discovered by the clients that actually need them?

At least have some better disclosure on the disciplines and services? Isn’t it time that the industry followed the food packaging example – put on the tin what is available inside the can?


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