Agencies of all shapes and sizes have for some time been rapidly heading towards a big mixed up muddled middle, where everyone competes with everyone else. It’s become increasingly difficult to easily separate agencies into convenient pigeonholes; 'the line' has begun to seriously unravel.
The traditional industry has built a mythology around the idea of 'the line' that at times it has seemed almost sacrilegious to consider climbing out of your box. Fortress above-the-line has set the barriers of creative quality and strategic insight high enough so as to deter all but the most foolhardy.
However to pretend that these qualities are somehow restricted to an elite group clearly does not recognise that they are vulnerable to the application of hard-work and effort. Get the right people together, and why shouldn’t any agency be able to fulfill these high-standards.
A couple of years ago we decided to jump in with both feet and start to pitch for traditional business to complement our existing digital skills. Although we came close a couple of times it took us a little longer than we’d originally hoped to crack it. Now two years on and having managed to make our first proper 'break through the line' it's worth reflecting on how far we've blundered into the muddled middle.
What we’ve learned is that there are definitely no shortcuts to the middle. The irony of this was not lost on us, as for a long time we’ve banged on about how difficult it was going to be for traditional agencies to ‘get digital’.
For traditional agencies to get to the middle it will clearly take more than the hiring of a couple of digital creative teams to crossover, but equally it’s not enough for digital agencies to just shout about how their ideas deserve to be taken seriously and hope that this will translate into a place at the top table.
What’s taken so long was not down to any questions around the quality of the work or the ability to deliver. Partly it comes down to confidence – who’d be the first client to take the plunge and go all the way? But more important than anything else is the simple fact that enough time has had to pass for the market to shift or catch up with the reality of how much digital has changed all media.
It’s exactly those skills that the digital creative industry has been gathering, working on, honing and perfecting over the last ten years or so that are more in-demand today than ever before. Abilities and attitudes around understanding interactivity, how to engage small groups of common interest, how to get the most out of limited budgets, how to work successfully in an open and collaborative creative culture.
Rather than shift our focus, or try to pretend we were something we weren't, we realised we’d be better off applying our skills to the opportunities open to us, and pushing for the right breakthrough. We can do this safe in the knowledge that the traditional industry shall need to adapt to a much greater degree than the digital world.
It’s not a question of asking which side shall prevail, as clearly it’s more likely that a huge variety of models shall likely co-exist, however whichever direction you come from, there are really no shortcuts to the middle.