Should Agencies Move Beyond Digital?

Swedish agency Honesty says it’s doing away entirely with digital roles, as the lines between “traditional” and digital marketing continue to blur. It’s a nice idea on paper; instead of employing digital specialists, just ensure that all staffers are equipped with the knowledge, ability and experience to work across all channels.

Easier said than done. Digital is complicated and nuanced, and the idea that staff can be channel agnostic, yet skilled enough with specific technologies such as mobile, seems somewhat utopian. It’s just not that easy to make happen on on a day-to-day basis.

Digiday caught up with Honesty founder and CEO, Walter Naeslund, to find out how and why he plans to make his vision a reality.

Why are you abolishing digital roles?
Our staff will never learn digital if they don’t feel that it’s useful for them. And it won’t be useful for them if they can just ship that task off to the dedicated digital staff and be on their way. So why not just keep things the way they are? The answer in my mind is that having an isolated digital staff breaks integration, and integration between design, owned presence, paid presence and earned presence is crucial for communication’s effectiveness now that we flow so easily between the three.

Is this a realistic, or even possible, goal to achieve?
Sure, we have our work cut out for us in sharing knowledge and awareness about how “digital” works between all staff members, but it is the only way forward unless we want to stay stuck in the unnatural division between digital and analogue, a division that exists at agencies but not in the lives of consumers. The way we approach this problem is to push all our staff into the digital pool and have faith in that they will want to swim. Then we assist them with guidance and tools to help them learn how to swim. This training process will be an indefinitely ongoing one and one we will embed in our cultural DNA.

What has the reaction been among staffers?
The results that we see already are extraordinary as staff members hustle to bring themselves up to speed with everything that happens in the world of digital and mobile, a world that they suddenly realized was already in their hand, touch screen and all.

Won’t you still need people focused mostly on digital or areas like mobile?
The idea is not to have digital specialists, no. Our designers should know how to design for screen, including UX. Our creatives should understand things like bite-size content that fits mobile behavior just as well as 30-second TV commercial, our account managers need to know how to manage an app development project or a Facebook-Spotify integration just as well as an outdoor roll-out. I believe it is realistic to expect all staff to have an understanding for the types of media that are relevant for the brand-client relationship. Not only realistic, in fact, but necessary.

Is this there an element of risk associated with this type of approach.
Sure, this mindset may sound optimistic, but on the other hand, what if we succeed in doing this transition? When I started this agency everybody said I was unrealistic to start an unfunded company in the highly competitive Swedish market. Today we are one of the most respected agencies in Sweden. Next, they said it was unrealistic to have in-house production for film. It not only worked but gave the client better products, better prices and us an industry-leading profitability. Both these two ventures involved risk-taking, and this latest move is no different. But if we do succeed in this, where will it take us?

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