Several years ago I worked for a marketing firm that specialized in print for a well-funded, loyal niche market. Agency X had it locked up… the sales force was recruited straight from the target industry and were well-connected, the loyalty factor in this industry was very high, and the methodology was tried and true. Best of all, the profit margins were astronomical because the actual cost of producing the deliverables was a fraction of the billing. The methodology was a simple ad agency boilerplate:
- Account executives would set up the appropriate appointments
- They, along with the creative team, would conduct discovery interviews
- They would produce what they called a “discovery document” that talked about the nature of the the business as it related to the campaign
- The document would be presented and then go through some revision cycles until final approval was given
- The creative team would be dispatched to create assets such as logos, photos, etc. Copy and taglines would be written. At some point focus groups might be used, but more often than not approval was up to stakeholders
- Final approval of the project, production and delivery.
This model worked fine for branding and printed material. Advertising could also be engaged, as well as video production for message-based commercials.
And then what happened? Somebody mentioned the website. Can Agency X also do our website?
Sure, said the agency. We’ll just hire some web designers. We can launch this site based on the campaign. It will be great.
And they did just that… Web designers were brought in, billings were increased and everything was hunky dory until one day a client got a look at another agency’s work, an interactive agency’s work, for a competitor. Remember, this is a niche industry, and an insular one at that. The client, being loyal, asked the account exec at Agency X why this competitor’s website was so superior when they were paying Agency X top dollar.
Thus began a long and disastrous attempt to educate the account executives about the vast differences between interactive media and its more traditional counterpart. The thing that was hard for them to grasp was the fundamental difference between traditional and interactive media: the user. In interactive media, the user needs to be included in the earliest conversations. A new role was defined to help facilitate this inclusion. Enter the interactive strategist.
Right from the beginning there was trouble.