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How Ad Agencies Accelerate Digital Literacy, Culture Change

Bring the Outside In

As marketing-oriented companies continue to invest resources to build awareness, drive sales, and develop customer loyalty, C-suite executives agree on one thing: their digital strategy and capability development is a 2015 priority. It’s no longer enough to have some digital capabilities. It’s critical to have the right capabilities focused on the right things to impact the business and the customer experience.

Their question is, who can actually get this stuff done?

Enter the (lowly) advertising agency. Contrary to recent and unfortunate demotions in supplier status, ad agencies accelerate the process of figuring it all out. They remain the best of several strategies for companies to onboard the express lane on their path to customer-centricity. Like all company outsiders, ad agencies can function as catalysts for the much-desired cultural transformation clients seek.

Level Set

Trending now. “Digital Marketing” encompasses ‘push’ and ‘pull’ strategies that captivate consumers in online media. Digital marketing also leverages offline marketing strategies with brand creative, mass media, promotion, and events that work together to engage targeted consumers in purposeful and persuasive ways. The shift in marketing effort into the more visual culture with social media channels has forever altered the way clients go to market and communicate with their customers. The opportunity to purchase just about anything online, anytime enables an expedient response to marketing initiatives. The quality of data is a powerful elixir that fuels success.

In this high-velocity evolutionary era the culture of an organization is an often unexamined factor. The ability to do the wonderful things digital technology suggests is greatly impacted by a company’s culture. Cultural norms will either aid or detract from the marketer’s ability to cultivate winning customer, partner and employee relationships. There are no right or wrong cultures, but there are culture traits and values that can help leading organizations move forward faster towards their vision and achieve competitive advantage.

Given the addictive nature of the status quo, cultural change, to be open to the new way of thinking and working, is downright difficult to achieve. Innovative thinking threatens and fractures established norms. It takes a threat to a company’s survival or its sliding stock value (think McDonald’s) to compel innovation and radical change.

Catalyst for Cultural Change

Marketing leaders are being tasked with turning the proverbial ship in the water onto a more digitally-sophisticated course. They team with internal departments from IT to HR and Procurement to do this. External resource strategies that bring the outside in often accelerate cultural change, no matter how big or stalwart the battleship may be.

Today companies race to recruit digital marketing talent. Expectations are high that a few key hires will impact the digital transformation agenda, that new people will arrive with fresh knowledge, technical ability and (hopefully) relational skills that bring others along for the ride. Sometimes this works. Sometimes people struggle with how best to evaluate the foreign skills of those they seek to hire. Others are not sure where to place social and digital media professionals within their organization so they can make enterprise-wide contributions.

Clients spend inordinate time and effort restructuring internal staff and process, edging towards aligning resources to serve targeted customers. They want to change up their established marketing orientation, product offerings and brand communication; they strive to improve corresponding workflow process, risk profiles and team behaviors; their goal remains to produce campaigns that count with consumers and generate sales results. Sometimes this reorganization effort refreshes perspective with new internal alliances; often it reshuffles existing talent who, without training in their new roles, revert to comfy old ways of working.

Smart (and impatient) companies will outsource to ad agencies to increase their own digital literacy and accelerate cultural change. They will engage ad agencies that offer clearly defined expertise and validated experience. They hire agencies to generate multi-media engagement strategies, repurpose brand content, and identify and execute digital marketing opportunities. They gain immeasurably from diverse perspectives. And often the sheer act of investing greater expense into agency resources elevates the stakes within client organizations; teams shift from strategic discussion to executional effort with more commitment and energy, especially when the meter is running.

Companies that build out their agency rosters with strong partners offering strategic, creative, production, media, discipline and target market expertise hit the trifecta: they augment their internal capability and realize higher levels of productivity; they gain mastery of digital skills faster; they shift their organizational culture with an elevated focus on expansive values like creativity, abundant thinking, empathy, and learning agility. Marketing leaders increase levels of productivity and harmony when they orchestrate the integration of internal and external talent.

Interestingly, digital agencies operate with their own distinct organizational cultures. They engage with clients in specific ways that are more Agile, Responsive, Collaborative, and Integrated. Most agencies of all types and philosophies are quickly developing digital literacy to up their own game. Their strongest value proposition is to provide their clients with three key things: broad, external perspective to inform strategy; talent to develop intelligent and emotionally sensitive creative messaging across multiple media platforms; and validated networks of related executional suppliers. This offering destines agencies to serve as the gateway to the big developmental ideas clients crave, some of which will become tomorrow’s essential initiatives.

And How it Happens

Easing Up. Clients that allow a greater degree of latitude in the ways they ordinarily (micro) manage their agencies are pleasantly surprised to see how fast and effectively agencies can move their client organizations from ideas to action to impact; and how forward thinking and empowered their people become in the process. Teaming and ideation go hand in hand but require openness, mutual respect and trust-based cultural environments. SOWs should frame but not restrict the work effort.

Seek to Serve. Agencies that complement, not mirror, a client’s organizational culture will work well with other roster agencies and become indispensable. Having made the roster (no small feat), they can pay close attention, capitalizing on a relationship to meet un-articulated business needs. Ad agencies surprise and delight clients by proactively offering ideas for digital strategy, salient message content, and revenue generating apps or IP that will resonate with consumers, and subsequently merit funding. Organic revenue growth results from satisfied clients.

In summary, hiring the optimal ad agencies helps marketing leaders gently open the door and throw open the windows to desired culture change within their companies, stimulating new ways of thinking and working towards shared goals.

Success will be defined as creating extraordinary partnerships with winning results in these revolutionary times.

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