Digital Agency Structure

I was watching the Gruen Transfer on ABC tonight and as usual, was suitably impressed, entertained and intellectually stimulated all at once. It is a great show. In saying that, I thought I would have a look at the website itself and was drawn to their section titled Adworkers. It lists out the different roles within your typical ad agency –

Ad Agency

Production Manager, Flash Developer, Copy Writer, Art Director, Creative Director, Strategic Planner, Account Executive, Account Director, Personal Assistant, Managing Director, Finance Director & The Founder.

More pertinent are the summaries attached to each – succinct, accurate and precise. Working within a digital services agency as I do at Areeba, it has become more apparent that digital as a career is so young and immature relative to the more traditional realms of sales, operations, accounting, law, medicine, engineering and the arts that we have a bit of a task in explaining ourselves to a client about how we work and why. Ad agencies have been around since the 1850′s and if you tell someone off the street that you work for one, most people have a reasonable idea of the field of endeavour. They might not understand exactly what you do, but they get the context.

Digital is different. There are dozens of niche areas of endeavour, expertise and excellence in this burgeoning realm. To name a few: ad serving, portal management (think working for Yahoo!, Google, Ebay, Amazon, Sensis, Bigpond), social networks, data mining, data planning, customer relationship management (CRM), media buying, analytics, search engine optimisation (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM) strategy, design, development, campaigns, brand relaunch & alignment, stakeholder engagement… The list goes on.

From a digital agency perspective, structurally, there are similarities, but due to intent, there are differences to your classical ad agency. Web sites by their very nature, are a technical discipline, because if you build a website, it’s not just the visual that gets taken into consideration from a brand perspective, it goes deeper into the usabilty and the enticements that keep people engaged with your site that start to play a part. Websites are a derivation of software development, which has to take into account human interface aspects like usability, accessibility, ease of understanding, communications and audience assessment. Kick in there technical considerations. Think on this as one: Internet Explorer 8 was released last week. But consider that there are still 25%+ using IE 7 and 17%+ using IE6 (as at 26th March 2009). Then take into consideration this: if a website works on IE6, then it’s highly unlikely it will work properly on IE8. Introduce Safari on Mac. Firefox. Chrome. Opera….. That is ONE technical consideration. Next: Flash. Version 8, 9 or 10? Next: Javascript. Next: Form’s validation. Next: Data interoperability between website capture database and legacy environment like SAP, Oracle or Siebel. Each of these systems cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars to deploy. So back to the digital agency structure.

Many liken web studios to a software development house.

Yes & No.

Yes: technical rigour, testing, rollbacks, disaster recovery, code standards, compliance and then the digital hallmarks of usability, accessibility and legibility, which had their underlying foundations in software development.
No: Brand preservation. Brand extension. Brand enhancement. Brand iconisation. Campaigns. Engagement. Loyalty. Retention.

Software dev houses don’t give a toss (generally) about brand – a logo in the top left corner will suffice. People in Marketing, Corporate Comms, Public Relations and Sales WINCE at this approach because it detracts from the overall cohesive message of a unified, cohesive and consistant company.

So. To the digital agency structure. In my experience, they are structured, one of two ways, depending on the skew of their origins – technical or creative:

Software Development Agency foundation and underpinnings

Executive – Managing Director, Operations Director, General Manager, Commercial Director; Alternatively CEO, COO, CTO/CIO, CFO, CSO
Production Technical – Solution Architect, Senior Developer, Developer, Analyst Programmer, Programmer, Delivery/Release Manager
Production Creative – Design Manager, Senior Designer, Mid Weight Designer, Designer, Junior Designer
Production Compliance – Strategy Manager, Project Manager, Senior Business Analyst, Usability Engineer
Sales/Account Management – Business Development Manager, Inside Sales, Pre-Sales, Account Manager, Account Executive

Creative Services agency foundation and underpinnings

Executive – Managing Partner, Creative Director, Strategy Director, Planning Director, Group Account Director, Client Services Director,
Production – Executive Producer, Senior Producers, Producers, Senior Data Planner, Data Planner, Flash Developer, Database developer, Senior Art Director, Art Director, Senior Designer, Designer, Junior Designer

Digital Agencies can be either of the above or a hybrid of the above. In addition, you can count as additional roles that pop up by the uniqueness of web: User Experience Architect, Digital Strategist, Engagement Manager, Digital Planner, CRM Strategist, eDM Strategist….. Areeba is unique in that we don’t really have an account layer, preferring to get those senior individuals in the industry who actually enjoy dealing with the clients directly. If you are a developer, you deal with the client. If you are a creative, you deal with the client. If you are a business analyst, you deal with the client. if you are a digital strategist, you deal with the client. If you are part of the executive team, you deal with the client. No hidden mushrooms or low level juniors hiding in the background working in the sweat shop. Works for us.

So in saying all that, what is my point? Ad agencys are turning to digital, because its the new “it” thing. It’s also where the money is shifting too, driven by the clients who want a tangible measure on their dollars spent verses the result gained. From a marketing and PR perspective, the internet is able to empower clients so much more from an analytics, peer permission and social network context, that the dollars being spent are miniscule and a raindrop compared to where we will be in the next 5 to 10 years. It is only the start of the evolution that is igniting our industry and the first step in this is to get our clients to better understand the value that the industries staff and the digital agencies themselves are able to offer.

Regardless of the structure of your agency, or the agency you are engaging, I see it very firmly that it is our job and obligation to communicate the value and worth of each and every staff member across the business, so that the old fashioned values of trust, value, friendship, loyalty and understanding are met. Simple.

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