Interactive must be part of the Ideation Process

In my years of working in and with advertising agencies I have heard clients on more than one occasion assert that “print is dead.” One copywriter I once worked with realized that the possibilities of interactive were more restrictive than print and suggested that web be the first part of any marketing campaign and not the last. While I don’t think it is necessary to place web projects first (an agency should get the GENERAL creative thinking out of the way before process-heavy projects such as web or mobile are tackled), there is a strong possibility that agencies which continue to leave their web designers and web developers out of the ideation process will produce a predicable anti-climactic ending to every campaign of which digital is a part.

Forget about the old frustration of art staff choosing a non-standard font… When does social media exist outside of a web page? Or an online video? Or SEM? Traditional agencies need to stop treating these projects like the standalone artifacts of old media and accept the fact that they are not only part of the whole, but in fact, the largest part.

A little background is in order here. Just twenty years ago the internet was about liberating people from the confining hours of their local libraries. The internet was one-way… presentational. Business websites amounted to “here’s what we do, and here’s our phone number.” This has been retroactively termed Web 1.0. In 1994 when the first web form was introduced, making it possible for people to submit information to a website, everything changed. Darcy DiNucci, an information architect, coined the term Web 2.0 in an article in which she wrote that the internet would soon become “the ether through which interactivity happens.”

It has been said before that the internet has changed the way people think, and, that includes how people respond to internet advertising. Websites and ads must be interactive (two-way) or they are ignored. People especially under the age of twenty-five, who will soon be decision-makers, make no distinction between their online and offline lives. This age group innately disregards one-way communications on the internet. Those of that age group (and a good number of those older) who think about these things see such presentational information as garbage left over from the early days (even though it may be completely new). But most simply disregard it without any thought whatsoever. For an increasing number of people, one-way communications on the internet amount to nothing more than background noise, no more relevant than the sound of traffic or an air conditioner.

A first step for traditional agencies trying to effectively make their mark in digital should be the creation of a line item at the top of the schedule for digital jobs entitled “technical evaluation.” This is something which no one at your agency should have reason to object to. This will prompt some communication between the web designers and web developers and the traditional art directors and copywriters. In time this communication will create a pattern where the web staff are consulted at the beginning of a project or campaign and not seen as simply the last in a line of production workers.

A second step is to be serious about web management and project management in general. Traditional advertising was a factory… A place where the production staff could escape into their minds, tune out the rest of the world, and go through the motions. There is no place for that conveyor belt mindset in modern advertising. No two digital projects are alike and so the formulaic thinking of the past must be vanquished. Your agency is going to need trained project managers. Mere scheduling is not enough.

Finally, as with many things anywhere and most things in advertising, success depends upon perceptions. Middle management must be on board with the idea of letting go of their control over some of the staff. They certainly cannot be allowed to give the impression that they are holding a grudge over the new restructuring. Web designers and web developers, especially, need to be empowered to take the lead in the projects with which they are the most qualified. This will translate into having to promote some (younger) digital people faster than your traditional staff. Are you ready for the effects that might have on your agency? Is your Human Resources manager empowered to pull aside anyone, including senior management, should they have problems adjusting? Have you considered hiring a Change Manager to help staff adjust to the new conditions and provide counseling to staff with change-related fears?

If you can’t take the heat…