Defining a digital agency in 2015 can be (very) confusing

A couple of years ago I searched far and wide for a (good) definition of the role played by digital strategists.

On the surface you’d think this would be pretty easy, but given the breadth of the digital space it wasn’t at all.

As a result I decided to create my own definition of a digital strategist based on the best explanations I could find (if you’d like to read the post, click here).

Recently, I started asking myself a similar question about the modern-day digital agency – is it something that can be defined?

Again, you’d think it’d be a walk in the park, but you’d be surprised.

Why?

Digital, from a marketing and communication perspective can mean a million things, literally.

Below is my attempt to narrow down the ‘million’, or at the very least, provide more context as to why the digital agency definition in not a universal thing.

Digital – a chronological perspective

Where did digital start?

For arguments sake, let’s begin in the mid-90’s when the internet began to surface.

Websites, emails, blogs, online news, search engines – they all entered our lives in one movement.

This led to the first generation of digital agencies, especially ones who recognised very early on that there was money to be made from building websites.

Then, at the turn of the century, the dot-com bubble burst, taking a bunch of agencies with it.

Slowly, digital returned to the fore, with a less manic disposition, and began to create a role for itself alongside traditional communications.

A very significant event took place in 2001 and it changed the direction of digital (and our general lives) forever.

The sad events of September 11 2001 have been cited by one of digital’s most important players, Google, as a turning point in the way we sought our information online.

A 2011 article from Poynter explained that Google recognised that it failed its users by not making information about the 9/11 attacks available in real-time.

This led to the creation of a sub-product that facilitated real-time searches, capturing and serving up content as it was published.

Media outlets also identified the thirst for news on demand and began to invest more in online portals.

Even in the years that immediately followed 9/11, internet access was still a luxury for many which meant it was still not the first port of call.

Consequently, newspapers, magazine, television and radio continued to be the best way to reach people on mass.

Fast forward to 2015 and SO MUCH has changed.

Smartphones, tablets, social media and wearable technology (just to name a few) have been added to the digital basket, widening the need for digital expertise.

The digital agency service list in 2015

The following is by no means exhaustive, but it gives a good idea of some of the services digital agencies offer clients in 2015:

  • Website development
  • Mobile app development
  • Social media marketing
  • Content marketing
  • SEO and SEM
  • Digital advertising, social media advertising, content promotion
  • Digital design
  • Data analsyis
  • Digital PR
  • Blogger outreach
  • Email marketing
  • Digital strategy
  • Online video
  • User experience

It is important to remember, that not every agency offers every service. Not every agency specialises in every area. Not every agency places emphasis on each area equally. Not every agency can afford to be a one-stop shop.

Not every agency began as a digital agency but these outfits now recognise that these services and skills are important to their clients but integrating them can be challenging.

In the majority of cases, the slant of most digital agencies has been determined by the time they were established.

Obviously, the aim for any digital agency is to evolve as the needs of clients evolve, but that isn’t an easy task.

Is it possible to define a ‘digital agency’ in 2015?

In my opinion, it is virtually impossible because there are hundreds of sub-types.

An increasingly popular argument is that every agency IS digital in 2015 and there shouldn’t be any delineation.

The problem with that argument is that the skills involved are not exactly in limitless supply (nor is the experience).

This is not a dig at people who don’t have years of experience in the digital arena, it is just a statement of fact.

Perhaps one day, the term ‘digital agency’ will become obsolete.

All I know, is that it’s a challenging time for businesses as they assess the ways they operate, and the support they have in place, and ‘digital’ is a big reason why.

 

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