Have you noticed that direct marketing is going through the biggest crisis ever? I’m not talking about the advance of online, the lack of retainers or how much the Royal Mail is going to charge us for delivering big envelopes. The change I’m talking about is the movement of ‘data’ out of direct agencies and into standalone data agencies and departments in client companies – and with it, much of our power. It’s easy for many to forget that our industry was founded on data; creative, brand, big ideas have only come to the fore in recent times. I’d draw a parallel with what happened above the line, when media departments (originally the heart of ‘full service’ advertising agencies) were moved out and became separate brands, and now, frankly, are often considered more strategically important than the creative agencies that follow.
Yes, there are plenty of big and established DM agencies who do data well – but I feel that the last DM agency to really get it right heavily invested in it over 10 years ago (TMW). So what for the new agencies today? Who are we? What are we? And can we be ‘direct marketing’ agencies if we don’t have rooms full of data jockeys?
Maybe agencies just haven’t invested enough, and need to get into data planning and interrogation, if not processing? Perhaps it’s this lack of investment that’s let data agencies get a foothold.
And with the ever growing market for online services (particularly eCRM), are we going to be able to deliver at the speed they demand if our clients’ data is at arm’s length?
Or are we, like ‘advertising’ agencies, becoming media neutral ideas agencies, lead by creative planning and research, and our future challenge is how we make the most of that opportunity?
So which way to go? Ideas only? Data? Media? Have you read any of those big strategic plans that management consultancies create for clients (for about a quarter of a mill)? The last page usually says, “And to do all this, you need a big idea”. Is that where we come in?