whither interactive shops?
being reabsorbed or targeted for acquisition
Something is going on in the world of interactive
media, and one key indicator is the common neck tie.
Just ask Sean Carton,
who has the interesting title of chief experience officer at Baltimore's Carton Donofrio Interactive.
In a recent account pitch, Carton looked around the table and
realized he was the only male not wearing a tie.
A year ago, wearing
tie at an interactive agency like Carton Donofrio would have been unheard
But in the time since, Carton's shop has been folded back
into the agency whence it came, Richardson, Myers & Donofrio,
and ties are back out--at least for some.
"I refuse. I
think Iíve worn a tie maybe four times in the last three years,"
All over the media
industry, agencies are reabsorbing their once-separate interactive
divisions, or they're snatching up independent online firms. For
instance, Razorfish, Organic and Agency.com are all rumored to be
potential merger fodder for BBDO.
It's not hard to understand why.
Several years ago,
the pricing and measurement of new media were so esoteric that they seemed
to demand the specialized talents available solely through interactive-only
agencies like Cartonís.
the web is far less of a mystery, to begin with, but perhaps more
important, the web is being integrated more deeply into old-media plans as
more mainstream advertisers come to see the web as yet another way to
sense to keep it separate in the early days of the web because it really
was a separate thing," says Carton. "Even the audiences
were fairly different."
Another factor was that traditional agencies were
a bit slower to pick up on the web.
"A lot of ad
agencies tried to do web sites and did a really horrible job at it, so
people quickly learned, if you want a web site, donít have your ad
agency do it," recalls Carton.
"Circa 1997, a CEO
would go off to some seminar that said Ďwhat is this internet thing?í
Heíd come back all jazzed and look at the hapless art director, who was
usually the weirdo who was into the web at that time, and heíd say, Ďyouíre
now in charge of our web site.í"
But clearly having two
separate agencies posed problems.
innumerable examples where the online agency was developing something that
didnít fit in with the brand character of what the off-line agency was
developing. The kids werenít playing well together," observes Greg
Smith, managing director for New York at Carat Interactive.
beginning, traditional agencies didnít have the expertise. Clients then
quickly realized that they wanted an integrated solution, and it was
easier to lean on traditional agencies to get a competent interactive
division rather than dealing with two separate agencies and two separate
streams of thought."
Besides that, some of
the obstacles to online ad buying have eased recently.
"One reason for the
freestanding unit was that in the beginning it was very difficult to
figure out how to price this stuff," points out Allen Banks,
executive media director at Saatchi & Saatchi.
"It was such a time-consuming process
figuring all that out, the only way agencies could do that and come out on
top was to charge separately for it. Now thereís a
greater acceptance of the fact that the internet should be integrated in
the overall marketing and media program.
"The same problems still exist, but since clients who
advertise on the internet are doing it with greater amounts of money, it
becomes easier to accept."
Others see the
trend as more of a scaling-back in the wake of the dot.com crash.
internet boom was too hot not to cool, and now thereís a retrenching. Itís
hard to sustain a whole department with just new media, so itís coming
back into the mainstream," says Don Cole, executive vice president
and media director at Fletcher Martin Ewing in Atlanta.
"There was a
lot of mystery then, and your agency looked more cutting-edge if you had a
separate internet group.
"Itís just like any other mania, from the consolidation
craze in the 1960s to the tulip-bulb craze in Holland in the 1600s. The
internet is definitely going to grow, but slower and more methodically
than people thought."
One way or the
other, independent interactive agencies will be in the cross hairs of major
ad agencies in coming months.
Whether or not the freestanding species will survive is very much
"I think theyíre
probably going to be gobbled up. There may be a few very specialized firms
that will survive, but I think most will form alliances or sell major
stakes to bigger agencies," says Cole.
Others believe that
there is still a place for internet-only agencies, if not in the
multitudes that exist now.
there are media that have always existed outside the mainstream of the
media world," says Saatchi's Banks.
"Direct-response is not necessarily integrated into the
mainstream media world. The internet is probably more akin to direct
response than anything else, because you can immediately communicate with
people and get a reaction to it.
"If direct response
has existed as an independent entity apart from mainstream advertising
components, the internet can continue to exist that way for certain
advertisers and agencies."
May 18, 2001 © 2001 Media Life
Spitzer is a staff writer for Media Life.
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