10 mistakes made by agencies looking to ‘do digital’ better

At Citizen Relations I’m part of an organisation always striving to “be” in the digital age and not to just “do digital” – opting for the Method approach.  The only way to ensure that keeps happening is to reflect on what not to do, as well as what to do.  So, looking back on another year I thought I would add a few points to my post written back in August entitled: “7 mistakes made by agencies looking to ‘do digital’ better”, to bring it up to a grand total of 10 considerations.

1. Unprepared to drop ego in order to work with other big digital players – With every PR / ad / media-buying agency claiming to “do digital” these days, the natural reaction can be to go into battle mode.  Looking to prove to clients that whatever the digial scenario ‘we know more and can do it better than them’.  But the wisest agency, will act as a connoisseur of the digital talents and strengths of other agencies and consider what they would like to team up with agency X on that would be mutually beneficial? Can sometimes playing the bashful partner to another agency result in amazing case-study or an award-worthy / pride inducing piece of work that would otherwise not naturally fall into your office?  Also, you can learn a lot that will sharpen your own offering from casual conversations with heads of other digital agencies or those looking to move increasingly into the space; as long as you are prepared to ditch the constant battle mode.

2. Just talking about digital innovation – most digital innovation will involve making things, whether they be new tools or apps or aggregators, or automated processes. So if any agency doesn’t have a capacity to tinker in these areas it can’t really validly claim to be inherently innovative – even one innovator/developer/technologist is a start, you don’t need a whole Innovation Lab initially!

3. Dabbling with social media monitoring / insight tools – I don’t care what tool you favour, it can be Meltwater Buzz, or Radian 6, or Sysomos, you have to get to know to use any one tool inside out and back to front before you can deliver real value to a client through using it.  Dabble all you like with additional monitoring / insight solutions, but be prepared to go-along-for-the-ride and seriously commit to one tool for long enough to gain real expertise.  Only when you really get a tool, can you move on to presenting it’s data findings most effectively.

4. Disconnection between PRs & digital specialists – meaning client briefs that may or may not involve social media solutions are poorly interpreted by PRs so delivered to digital specialists in such a form that opportunities have been lost for both meaningful work and meaningful profit.

5. Inability to attribute precisely – wooly digital KPIs agreed with clients, because of a lack of confidence and experience with the range of possible digital outcomes and attribution models internally. Resulting in client and agency working too hard chasing the wrong things.

6. Lack of star quality in community management – clients believe community management is cheap and easy, thus they brief it out to agencies, but it proves almost impossible to turn a decent profit on for the agency. The only ways to increase this profit margin are to turn away community management work or demonstrate why you are charging a premium for it. To do this you need a star person, famous for running hugely successful communities or forums to wheel in front of clients and oversee any community management work at a premium price point.

7. Digital leadership at board level – junior employees are not naive about how companies work. They realise the significance of being called a Managing Partner, Managing Director or Director and they see who disappears for board meetings. They trust they are being represented- if digital specialists- or that digital expertise is being taken seriously by such subtle dynamics, not because of mission statements about “digital being central”

8. Data and presentation of it – clients cannot see the hours spent researching before something is presented about their audience, it’s social media habits, online journey or the proposed digital strategy etc, all they can see is the presentation about it. The client can go online and check out YouTube videos of Hans Roslings data visualisation work or JESS3s infographics and so the bar is constantly set by outside forces. Thus, day by day the PR agency must win over the client by taking the final way of presenting data and ideas compellingly just as seriously as anyone else, not just in the industry but outside of it.

9. Weak digital design and build capability from social media pages, to sites, to apps – If you haven’t got the resource to do this, you can’t compete in the PR big game anymore. Unless you have an almost symbiotic blood-brothers relationship with an agency that only offers this. Even if this relationship becomes weak, fraught or mistrusting, watch the quality of work, ambition of work and profits evaporate bit by bit.

10. Great people make great agencies – it only takes one person to be outstanding at one aspect of the digital conmunications skill set to start building agency specialisms. But not enough digital-ready PR agencies are investing in truly high level training or self- development time in online data analysis, developing digital attribution models, future of connected TV etc for key interested staff in order to bring them forward. They think “well staff leave”, but that is wrongheaded. One member of staffs key knowledge area has ripple effects and before you know it it has become the organisations collective knowledge and expertise.


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