As search is being integrated into digital projects like programmatic buying, content strategy, chatbots and voice-control assistants, agencies that started out in search marketing are looking to evolve with the market and become full-service marketing shops.
ICrossing is the latest that has made the change. When Michael Racic, president of media operations for iCrossing, joined the agency last February, he started combining social, display, search and analytics teams into one media services group to prevent accounts from becoming siloed by channel. Racic’s team — organized by operations, organic (owned media), audiences (paid media) and data — has around 200 people in North America and 300 globally.
This new structure is in line with iCrossing CEO Nick Brien’s vision of turning the agency into one-stop shopping compared to a dedicated specialist agency, said Racic.
“It’s an evolution of search agency from our perspective,” he noted. “Search is essentially about consumer intent to buy something and their positive or negative reaction to a brand. We are not walking away from search as our core — we just apply that data to social, display, video, print and TV.”
Clients are asking for integrated services, said Racic. Everyone at iCrossing gets the same training in programmatic, search, strategy and creative. For instance, the agency has numerous clients that want to see how much e-commerce sales or the amount of in-store traffic is driven by overall media buying. For those accounts, the owned media team — comprising search and social — sits with the tech team and the creative team to have an overall insight into the brand. “Analytics and tech practices are set up to optimize the media buying and creative toward the outcomes, while social and search together show what people think about a brand,” said Racic.
Search, social, technology and analytics all come together in the development of chatbots, for example. Scott Linzer, vp of owned media for iCrossing, explained that when his team develops a bot for a client, it usually works with tech specialists to determine the right semantics for the bot: What are the conversations that should be automated for the voice query “Find me an address” versus specific queries that have higher value for clients, like, “What are the differences between snow blower A and snow blower B?” For the latter, the team will tailor more of a one-to-one relationship than a standard automated would allow.
“Search specialists can dig into the search engines, search results, as well as the search logs within our client’s websites and social channels to determine where are the proper bot or automation points,” said Linzer.
With the new structure, iCrossing won part of the creative business of pharmaceutical company Bayer and household products Church & Dwight last year. “I’m very comfortable with how our media practice is set up right now,” said Racic. “This year, I really want to harness data insights and optimize business outcomes across media, strategy and creative.”
Of course, iCrossing is not the only agency that is transforming from a search marketing shop to one that provides full service. 360i, for instance, expanded its offering from social and search into creative and media back in 2011. Both iCrossing and 360i have also built their own programmatic team lately.
ICrossing’s new structure may be unique to the agency, but smaller players like Barker and Giant Spoon have had integrated teams starting day one. From a boutique agency’s perspective, John Barker, president for Barker, thinks that there will always be attempts to create “so-called integrated shops,” whether it’s the traditional battleships going digital or the digital shops hiring big-name creative, but the reality is that the leopard can’t change its spots. And it’s more challenging for agencies that have more than 250 employees to do so.
“It’s a new business ruse, really,” said Barker. “Because if you go to an interactive firm, they’re going to think in that box first and foremost. Same with traditional. Or production. Or media. Unless a company has been built as an integrated shop from the ground up, then it’s just lipstick on a pig.”
We’ll be discussing restructuring the agency model for the future at the Digiday Agency Summit, March 1-3 in Nashville, Tennessee. Join us.