Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Time to pack up and go home?

Published in Nov-Dec 2012

In a truly digital environment there is no place for traditional agency people who cannot upgrade their skills.

One of the most pressing debates in today’s traditional agencies is whether they should remain true to what they have been offering their clients so far and create alliances with freelancers and digital agencies or morph into a hybrid agency and start providing both traditional and digital solutions themselves. These are valid questions that every creative, developer and entrepreneur should be seeking answers to.

Let me start by briefly telling you a little about myself, so that you know where I am coming from. I started my career in digital in 2000 immediately after college, and ever since I have eaten, slept and thought digital.

I stopped watching television, or even owning one, about 10 years ago. My three-year-old son is yet to have his first real book but he can read and sort of write ABC, thanks to the Android apps he uses. I have worked with people who are like me and with people from traditional backgrounds with various experiences and skill sets.

####In a truly digital environment there is no place for traditional agency people who cannot upgrade their skills and rewire their mindset. And very few will, writes Ejaz Asi.

In this article I will highlight the common resource gaps that exist between what people in traditional agencies can offer and what they need to ‘get’ if they are to make the switch to digital. I will also attempt to define the skill set, and most importantly the mindset changes, a digital professional has to acquire and adopt.

1. Creative (art director, creative head, graphic designer, etc.)

A creative who has worked on nothing but print and TV ads for the last decade can be described, in terms of skills, as a gardener compared to an airline pilot; in other words, they are worlds apart. These creatives know nothing about pixel-based designs, cross-platform formatting issues, site maps, CSS and font limitations. Teaching these skills to a creative is like breaking in a horse all over again. Creatives working in digital agencies need to understand file size limits (think KBs and not MBs), user experience, navigation and multiple platforms, and all this has to be rethought in a much broader perspective. The chances are that if a creative from a traditional agency is in a senior position, any willingness to start again from scratch may never kick in despite a lot of handholding.

2. Programming

Traditional agencies have either never been in contact with programmers or are so fearful of them that they tend to ignore them. They isolate them in a room, hoping that they will not have to deal with them. As a result, programmers tend to adopt a bunker mentality. Yet in a true digital agency, the programming and creative teams are best buddies. Sitting with programmers and compromising on design to achieve full site functionality and a ‘user first’ approach is something a truly digital creative person can do. Traditional creatives are not used to having their work messed around with. Furthermore, I would not be surprised if most creatives have still not heard about extensions such as greasemonkey, readability and instapaper. These extensions exist online to remind creatives that for the first time, users can recreate digital experiences such as reading, consuming and sharing. The bond between creatives and programmers is one of the most important in a digital agency.

A creative cannot simply dump a design on the programmer (an experience I am rather too familiar with). And unlike creatives, every programmer has a distinct style of working, which makes it impossible to switch from one project to another in a matter of minutes.

3. Account management

How can a traditional account manager survive in the digital realm without understanding issues such as backups, milestones, privacy policies, databases, load balancing, bandwidth, email limitations and hosting intricacies? A digital account manager needs to have a basic understanding of the impact client changes have on the design and development of a project. When an account manager keeps asking the design development team for changes on every project, I can only assure you that he can consider himself as part of the client’s team.

4. Project management

Digital projects are ongoing; they don’t just end. Whether it is a mobile application or a website or a static installation, you cannot do and forget. Project managers either do not exist in traditional agencies or have never worked so closely with a team that they are up to speed with every person’s skill set, business value and reiterations. The project manager must also know how to make allocations and adjustments in terms of tasks and priorities. The project manager calls the shots as to whether a process can be eliminated and readjusted at a later stage, or whether to manage multiple tasks and processes in sync. This fluidity and the need to be constantly on one’s toes is not something traditional agencies are comfortable with, let alone experts at. Yet a digital project manager and his team working in an environment known as ‘agile development’ can churn out more projects and maintain them much better than a traditional agency can ever hope to.

5. IA, ID, UX

Information architecture, information design and user experience are some of the areas which add value to an online project in terms of user satisfaction, high engagement and better ROI. Yet they are unheard of terms in a traditional agency. In fact, these functions are so important that platforms such as Facebook, Gmail and Twitter work precisely because of them and not because of their graphic designs and colour schemes. Here is something to be amused by, while we are at it; the Gmail logo was made the night before Gmail was launched. This is not to discredit good graphic design, but to illustrate that in digital, good design is not the only component users expect from their online platforms and experiences. An information architect creates site maps and wireframes and plays a crucial role in bringing sanity and order to the chaos brought about by the hundreds of pages of information clients want to upload. The information designer creates the navigational flow and design interaction between the different components of a website, an application or a mobile experience.

6. Social media specialist

This is another role purely created in and for the digital realm, although some traditional PR executives, copywriters and marketers have tried getting their hands dirty in this area with mixed results. A typical social media specialist has to be good at copy, PR, analysis of conversations, trend-spotting as well as optimising media. Like many other digital jobs, unless you are passionate about managing a social media asset and get up to speed with these skills, chances are the work, if nothing else, will grind to a halt.

7. The bottom line

The brutal truth is that there are traditional managers and creatives who do not keep themselves up to date with current technologies, simply cannot up-skill and refuse to even try. There is no place for them in an agency that needs to adapt and change with the environment. Once this simple fact is accepted, then we can talk integration or look for talented people who started with digital and continue to eat and sleep digital.

Ejaz Asi is Director of Planning and Strategy, The Brand Crew.