The Hurdles in Digital Work

Those of us who have been running around on this playing field (not level, increasingly unchartered, and mostly unseen) know that the goal posts move every day. The truth is out there, but myths abound. The knowledge we have today is old hat tomorrow. And, because it’s mostly the world wide web – geography is history.

What both marketers on brand side and agency financial pundits often don’t get is how a really cool, totally creatively outstanding digital exercise can have zero or near zero media spend attached to it. Microsoft and Ms Dewey? Viral word. Burger King’s Subservient Chicken? Same. BMW films? What media spend?

That’s a big financial hurdle right there. Massively successful programs that do not yield immediate dollar returns for the agency. It builds brand, probably also creates demand, but doesn’t add to agency bottom line. So, what happens is, when it is seen as something that doesn’t generate immediate revenue it gets to be a bit on the wrong side of the ‘must do’ line.

Another big hurdle is experience. In an industry where experience – the black bag of goodies, the reel – is what makes or breaks you, this is a road less travelled. New insights, new sets of software, multiple options and fresh skills developed on a continuum are all necessary skills sets for the digital creative. And these skills need to be updated continuously.

Even beyond skills, research and studies relevant in January are outdated by February. And in March, the whole demographic is testing new waters, new channels, new platforms.

Those of us involved in managing digital agencies or the digital sides of a mainstream agency are also faced with the hurdle of uniformity Рor rather the complete absence of a uniform model. There cannot be a standardised pricing model, cannot be a routine creative process model, and there should not be just one campaign with a follow up that is more of the same. Change is the only real constant, to use a clich̩.

onsumer expectation changes, updates itself and demands different and asks for more every day, every hour. For agency-client relationships, understanding this is crucial. “But we paid only $X last year for a banner (static) on 120 different sites, and this year you’re asking for $3X for banners on only 30 sites and a connected microsite?” the brand manager will ask. Go figure an answer to that one.

Try and explain rich media. Try explain interstitial or page takeover. The rate card is dead, unless of course your creative also is six feet under.

The biggest hurdle of course is talent. Good digital talent is near impossible to find. Skill sets in Flash, Java, .Net, SEO & SEM, Silverlight, pure digital design are all becoming hard to source. Competition is tough. Agencies are not just competing against themselves, but much larger, much more powerful digital players like Facebook, Google, Yahoo and AOL.

And the ones that are ambidextrous – the ones who can write Flash, HTML, a bit of smart copy and do killer retouch work on Photoshop all in a day’s work – they are gold. But finding them, holding on to them? Not easy.

The problems aren’t any different in our part of the world , in this geography of the global adnation. They’re just more compounded because we’re still adapting to what we learnt yesterday, while the search guru who left and joined Yahoo is adopting tomorrow. Quickly at that.


Judgment Day is almost up on us for the Lynx Awards, and the question on everyone’s minds is what makes for an award-winning digital creative piece? I’m tempted to say ‘engagement’ should be the key criteria – whether the particular communication traps the mouse and engages the eyeball and moves on to some sort of desired action and ongoing interaction after that.

But, simply, crudely put, I ask: “Does it interrupt in a creative way?” At the end of the day, it’s about pulling me away from what I am doing and then holding my attention long enough to make me want to know more – even though I had no intention of heading in that direction.

As digital creatives, we preach the gospel of “non-interruptive, fluid engagement” – one that resonates with the target audience enough to draw them in. But, I feel compelled to say, against my grain, that it does start with ‘interruption’. Once the path that I am headed down is suddenly ‘forked’ and I am given a choice – an interesting one – that I click on to the ‘alternative’ – then, I am responding, interacting, participating, moving closer to the real intent of that fork.

This choice, this ‘hey-wait-a-sec-and-look-at-this’ moment, isn’t just limited to, say, online banners or messages. They can be entire web pages, sites, portals, games, social media, networks, experiences. But each one relies completely on participation. If they’re googling a query and find you, do they click through and participate in your exchange of information? No matter how boring the content may be, is it compelling enough in its presentation, in its format, in its creative appeal to ask for and facilitate interaction?

And, then there’s interruption-of-interaction, meaning, once you’ve hooked your target and trapped the mouse, what happens if that process gets interrupted? Do they come back, because, they were pretty much into what you were saying in the first place? We live in a continuum of participation, engagement and interruption. What makes a web page ‘sticky’ is when, no matter what the ‘further interruption’ (phone call, sms, instant message, email checks, other work, kids) the target comes back to your message, your exchange with him or her.

Creatively speaking, it does not have to be about the execution only. If the overall idea (just as in ATL) is big enough, the consumer will resonate and stay, and interact, and click through, and give you more. We have to realize that if we talk about participation and engagement, we are, by default, talking about a two way street. Give and take. The old one-to-many, preaching from a platform, thumping a pulpit or a soap box is long gone. So, if the target is compelled – through the idea, through the creative approach and the offer of the reward – that to me is overall a winning proposition. Up for the award.

Is the idea worth googling? Are they going to click through to your dialog? Is it quick and if not, is it worth waiting for? Will they look across the entire site? Will they give you their email address? Tell a friend? Will they talk about you on their Facebook wall? On Twitter? Blog you? Will they participate in your journey? Take part? Be your ambassador in the long term?

If and when all these happen, you’ve got a winning idea.