Clone Snores

Are digital directors at agencies becoming clones of each other?

I am deeply concerned that most digital directors at marketing and communication agencies are becoming clones of each other.   You know what I’m saying:

  • 29-35 years old
  • maybe a touch of premature grey in the hair
  • enthusiastic, authoritative sounding, personable, charismatic and at the fringes of geeky

And all SAYING THE SAME THING… in fact, saying the same thing in a smug manner that has been said by them for the last four years or so, as if it is something new they have just discovered:

“Must start by listening online”

“Content is key”

“Must engage in the long-term”

“Measurement is crucial…and only we have proprietary tools to do that”

Yawn!  Yawn! Yawn!

Everything Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss Digital Director says is true (just like it is true that the Bible is a big book) but please, digital comms (agency side) has become as generic as choosing between media space buying options or what phrases to go for in SEO. Are digital comms agencies now much of a muchness all talking about the same things?

You remember when politics got pretty dull in Britain when Blair & Cameron both strove for the middle ground? Well, the same thing is happening to the digitally equipped comms agency.  This is partly because, indeed, social media work  should be measurable, content does count and listening is important – but let’s just leave it at that. If I have to listen to one more digital director lecture a room full of other digital marketeers about these basic FACTS, to comforting murmurs of “here here” and “@digagencydir  well put!  so true”,  I am going to vomit over my own shoes.  Conferences of digital marketeers listening to each other spout off, without saying anything new is like hanging out with the mutual appreciation society.

I believe the reason digital agency directors aren’t saying anything new is because brand marketing managers are now (three, four, five years later) repeating their digital agencies’ well-worn cliches and truisms right back at them.  This is flattering and reassuring, and for the agency director, it means a budget pipeline, as long as he doesn’t screw up after waiting all this time.  So instead of continuing to dream, devise and take risks, the agency directors are looking to cash in by pandering to the marketing managers limited demands for the script that is cemented in their minds: listening, measurement and some distinctly average branded content-creation.

I have to agree with Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed in this week’s Marketing, where he writes that despite being a digital evangelist:

“I don’t have any particular love for digital.  I am, however, a firm believer we need to be where the consumers are… online”.

Marketing managers, please listen to me, forget being impressed by listening programs and measurement tools. That should comes as standard from your agency.  And don’t be impressed by a digital agency director telling you: “Content is king”.  Ask him / her what content he is suggesting you create or already have, that is so desirable to spread online. Then he/ she will be forced to actually give you ideas instead of talking about processes.

What marketing managers should be excited to hear about  is ideas that move a brand forward and great business ideas, not re-assuring buzz words. Digital directors need to stop dumbing-themselves-down with a feedback loop of self-reverence, recommending online listening with the greatest gravitas, and instead take on the mantle of what Weed expects from his ad agency:

“Creativity, experimentation, innovation…true creative leaps and custodians of our brand equity”

I say: let your clients know that online listening and measurement is the LEAST they should expect from you. Like the small cup of mouthwash you get when you go to the dentist, or clean cutlery when you go to a restaurant.

So once all the digital agency directors have stopped saying the same thing, what’s going to differentiate them?


Everyone’s processes are pretty damn similar; it’s the ideas and their quality that excite and differentiate.


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