Mad Men culture holding agencies back in digital era, says digital consultancy boss

Margaret ManningThe head of digital consultancy Reading Room has said that the competitive threat of ad agencies for digital business has been weakened by the persistence of “Mad Men culture” in agencies and a dependence on the broadcast media model.

Reading Room CEO Margaret Manning, in an interview with Mumbrella in Singapore, said that while some agencies are getting their digital act together, the art director copywriter model was “locking creativity into words and pictures”.

“Creativity is about the art of the possible, and that has to take into account technology,” she said. “Could the centre of power in an ad agency shift to the extent where technology is at the centre? Even in a hair dresser’s salon there are creative directors who have to understand the technology around hair.”

“So many people ask me, are you worried about ad agencies taking your clients away? I say no, because they are still thinking in campaign terms, and in terms of broadcast media, said Manning, who was previously a consultant with PriceWaterhouseCoopers before co-founding the Reading Room 17 years ago.

On agencies as competition, Manning said: “I have started to hear the word ‘consultancy’ a bit more from agencies, as the language moves away from a preoccupation with campaigns to providing advice. But I see that likes of Deloitte Digital and Accenture more as competitors than agencies. We have more common ground.”

Ad agencies need to understand that the ground is shifting beneath their feet, she said.

“Look at the money spent on print media compared to the eyeball statistics for where people are spending their time. This shows that ad agencies still love old channels. Can they adapt culturally to the digital era? I haven’t seen much evidence that they can,” she said.

Digital is not just another channel to market, Manning added. “It is a strategic competency, not just another channel in the marketing mix. Until ad agencies understand that, they’ll only see a small slice of what the internet can offer.”


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