Why Full Service Ad Agencies Aren’t Scared Of Digital Agencies Anymore

Since the mid-2000’s, full-service ad agencies have been vacillating between keeping a wary eye on their new digital agency brethren and full sprints to catch up and surpass them. Why? Because research like the 2013 RSW/US Agency-Marketer Business Report showed (and continues to show) that clients intend to keep shifting more dollars to digital marketing and social media.

Digital Ad Spending to Increase

2013 RSW/US Agency-Marketer Business Report

But here is why full-service shops can afford to stand down a bit and focus on making themselves more digitally centric versus trying to sell against the digital specialist agency.

Digital vs Full Serivce Agencies

2013 RSW/US Agency-Marketer Business Report

According to RSW/US’ 2013 report, it seems both agencies AND clients agree that the digital specialist shop isn’t a really big threat to the full-service ad agency’s role as lead marketing voice.

How Will Digital Agencies Compete?

If you were asking yourself that question, then let me say this — you’re asking the wrong question. It’s not about, nor has it ever been about, digital vs traditional. It’s about remembering the role agencies used to play — strategic advisor. Go back and watch your Mad Men folks — while yes Don Draper is selling creative, he and the rest of the agency is using strategy to sell it. They’re solving the friggin business problem.

And that is what clients clearly want but I can tell you from my work with clients as a digital strategy advisor — they’re not always feeling like they are getting it. Clients never wanted to hire digital specialists but full-service shops gave them no choice. At the end of the day the client is charged with growing the business or lose their job. And these days, they’re looking for agency partners that feel that pain and ensure it never comes to fruition.

The Future of Agencies

A few years ago I penned a piece for Advertising Age predicting the future of advertising agencies and the various roles different agencies would play. If you go download the RSW/US Study (and you should) you’ll see that in the end, what clients want is a marketing partner that can see the entire playing field — traditional & digital. They want the C Agency of the future as I called it in my Ad Age piece. It’s not an easy place to get to because you need that rarest of breeds — the Uber-Suit, but if you can cobble together a few of those chaps, combine it with outstanding project management and toss in a bit of mind-blowing innovative thinking — well then I’m pretty sure whichever kind of agency you are — you’ll be just fine.

And if you’re one of those clients desperately seeking and Uber-Suit that sees the entire field — digital & traditional — and understands how to integrate it all — contact Converse Digital now.  We can help you.

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About Tom Martin

Tom is 25+ year veteran of the sales & marketing industry with a penchant for stiff drinks, good debates and showing companies how to Sell Greatly, and turn conversations into customers. He is the founder of Converse Digital , author of The Invisible Sale and a contributing writer for Advertising Age. Tom guides clients through the digital sales & marketing maze and helps companies teach their sales force how to Painlessly Prospect their way to more sales. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.


  1. Great piece Tom and exactly what I am trying to preach to our clients, albeit at a smaller scale! Current advice from me to anyone wanting to hire a Digital Agency is to first pretend that the Internet doesn’t exist. Then create a Marketing plan to promote your business and finally decide which channels are best. Some of them will be Digital but the fundamentals of Marketing should come first. Which is pretty much what Google is trying to push by penalising sites that take short cuts.

    Now, how do we convince clients to hire more ‘uber suits’???

    • Thanks Jonathan.

      I don’t think it’s a challenge to convince clients to hire über suits, I think it’s a challenge to FIND those suits.

      Seems like there is a huge talent gap in marketing right at the senior management level. Think the dot com and wall st heydays sucked some of the best marketing talent out of advertising (where it used to go) and into those arenas.

      We’ll see though.

  2. Thanks for the perspective Tom. I love this: “you’re asking the wrong question.” That strategic advisor role is so crucial and seems to get lost much of the time.

  3. Great information with authentic sources and graphical presentation gives clear understanding of the topic. I also agree with your opinion and think that marketers will increase their digital marketing budgets little more.

  4. Great Article Tom !!! Online advertising is more cost effective and has a better effect all around because most people go online for information today. While people used to take a look in phone books for information when they needed to find a business or service, today most people just fire up their computers and look online.


  1. […] Tom Martin at Converse Digital picks up on the RSW Agency Marketer Business Report and shows that agency positioning and business development messages should be changing “full-service shops can afford to stand down a bit and focus on making themselves more digitally centric versus trying to sell against the digital specialist agency.” […]

  2. […] Tom recently wrote a post on our survey report called Why Full Service Ad Agencies Aren’t Scared Of Digital Agencies Anymore. […]

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