How Regional, Indie Agencies Can Innovate in Digital

Digiday is at SXSW giving you the latest industry news out of the festival at Austin, Texas. More from the series →

Scott Neslund is evp of Media Services at Centro, a provider of media services and software that aims to improve campaign performance and digital media teams’ productivity. This story concludes Digiday’s coverage of the SXSW Interactive Festival sponsored by Centro

It’s no secret that big guns have deep pockets, enough to stay on top of digital media’s breakneck evolution. Interpublic Group, for example, acquired stakes in 10 digital companies last year and did the same with three more in January.

Independent shops, by contrast, wouldn’t be able to keep up the same pace with the resources they have. And while they may not be able to drop $11 million on startup investments, they can’t afford to get shut out of the digital race. After all, Forrester Research predicts digital ad spending to grow at 17 percent over the next five years, as compared to a 1 percent overall decline in traditional offline advertising during the same time period.

To keep up, mid-sized shops should focus on expanding their expertise and knowledge in the following areas:

Emerging Media Specialists: Media planners have enough on their plates keeping up with the newest and most relevant media for their clients. But digital is developing at a pace that makes staying ahead of the curve a full-time job. Smaller shops are generally more nimble, and employing a full-time emerging media specialist would certainly help them stay ahead of the Goliaths.

Media Technology Specialists: More and more, media buying emulates the benefits of paid search. Understanding real-time bidding platforms, choosing the right ones for clients and applying the best data sources is a new post that shouldn’t go unfilled for long.

Research Data: Media agency workers used to be able to cover client needs with a few research contracts from MRI, Nielsen and Kantar. Today’s media landscape has become so fragmented that responsible agencies must buy a full suite from ComScore and others. This information is necessary for clients, and its cost is incremental to what an agency already purchases.

Customized Digital Creative: Online display advertising has moved far beyond reformatted traditional ads. Today, campaigns may have up to 100 publishers on its play, each with its own unit specs. Keeping up with new and impactful digital formats, rising star units and original applications isn’t enough. Designers have to be innovators, coming up with new ideas that work across a variety of sites and publishers.

Test and Learn Teams: Agencies need teams that will test the effectiveness of new technologies and methodologies like native advertising, search retargeting and others. Not having these teams is a risk and could mean losing out on innovations that add significant value to clients.

It’s an expensive wish list with a grand total of, at minimum, $5 million a year in investment. That sum may be out of reach for an independent agency, which may prefer to spend in other areas critical to building their business.

The alternative is partnering with a digital specialist that allows access to these resources without the capital investment. A partnerships strategy gives agencies an “a la carte” menu of services and capabilities that close the gaps of internal resources and frees the client team to think ahead for the future.

By finding the right partner, these shops can focus on what they do best  — helping brands figure out the best way to find and engage audiences.

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