This year, digital advertising surpassed TV advertising for the first time ever in the US, and the trend is only projected to continue.

Interestingly, digital media buying today is often still managed by traditional big advertising agencies, or even by digital ad agencies focused on larger-scale “cross-channel” digital media buying.

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Importantly, however, the agencies buying and executing the paid advertising of digital content are often separate and disconnected from the creative teams actually producing and publishing the creative.

My prediction: The current approach to ad buying for digital creative, specifically the teams and workflows involved, will be the next big chip to fall in our increasingly consolidated digital marketing landscape.

This feels especially true for digital content marketing, like social media and video content (of any kind), which has so increasingly become a go-to tactic that’s competing with television and even out-of-home advertising.

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Here’s the thing — its all about the incentive to see great results, as well as straight-forward capabilities, and simply an efficient and effective process for executing ad buys on digital creative.

My prediction: The current approach to ad buying for digital creative, specifically the teams and workflows involved, will be the next big chip to fall in our increasingly consolidated digital marketing landscape.

Digital Content Advertising Today

The old relationship between creative and advertising agencies was more symbiotic, if not already integrated. Traditionally, creative agencies produced the work, and if there wasn’t a media buying department in the agency, the options were broad enough that an ad buy could be run by a separate media agency and blasted out to reach tons of eyeballs. It just required a big budget, scale, and access.

But digital is complicating all of that — and soon something’s going to give.  Today, digital media buying is highly customized, includes automated elements, and is often highly complex at scale — requiring ongoing, real-time testing, optimization, and analysis. At the same time, social platforms’ push to self-serve ads gives more direct access to smaller teams who can be highly effective with a relatively small budget and clear strategy. 

For years, it’s become clear that the current way “Creative”, “Digital”, and “Advertising” agencies are asked to work together is fundamentally broken and can’t last. Digital agencies are so frequently tapped for “social media” or “video” or “web” campaigns — but the core creative ideas are just as relevant for any channel.

Now, brands like P&G are putting the pressure on agencies to drastically increase efficiency and show real effectiveness. Recently, advertisers have even started completely pulling YouTube ads because of the risk of running ads next to offensive content. Or, umm, something like that.

Digital agencies are so frequently tapped for “social media” or “video” or “web” campaigns — but the core creative ideas are just as relevant for any channel.

As digital has become less about “earned media” and “organic” social buzz, and more specifically about paid promotional effectiveness, the teams developing and publishing digital creative too often don’t maintain control of the contents’ performance, needing to rely on a separate paid media team to distribute and amplify it effectively.

It’s hard to see how it can continue this way.

In many ways, traditional ad agencies simply haven’t adapted to newer digital media buying processes and standards, trying to get by with it as an add-on service. Or, new-school digital advertising shops have emerged with the promise of large-scale reach and automation, but are still disconnected from the actual content production.

What if creative shops can’t hack it, you might ask? They just want to craft the content, or build the website, or cut the video, and leave the promotion and performance to someone else. Forget about it. Brands should be demanding real results, and they should be asking to see them directly from the teams creating and producing the actual creative.

Clients should look to agencies who can fully execute, and then let them do exactly that.

The Problems: Incentives, Workflow, and “Automation”

Incentive Mismatch

When digital shops hand over creative to a separate media team, the incentive on the receiving end to see absolute tip-top performance just isn’t as strong. Audience targeting and distribution is often executed less thoughtfully than if the creative producers ran and optimized the ad spend themselves.

The team owning the process from start to finish is going to have a significant investment — from work quality to team morale — to see content succeed, and meet a client’s business goals. 

A team focused solely on promoting content doesn’t have the same incentive to see top performance as the team that created the actual content. Why separate the two if creative and promotion are so dependent on each other?

Inefficient Workflow

Even if the incentives and partnership are there, the process is still way too inefficient with separate digital creative and media buying teams.

Exchanging assets between multiple teams in different places — the endless email chains, clumsy tool work-arounds, or just good old fashioned miscommunication — there’s no way it can continue to work for everyone.

The team owning the process from start to finish is going to have a significant investment — from work quality to team morale — to see content succeed, and meet a client’s business goals.

A disjointed process takes more time, people, and money than it needs to. Consolidating responsibilities with one team would help minimize the number of steps involved to take digital creative from production to promotion. Why not have one team manage the workflow end-to-end?

Automation & Optimization

Here’s the big secret: digital content advertising cannot, truly, be automated. Good advertising requires thoughtful human intelligence, creativity, and critical thinking to be truly meaningful, effective and impactful.

JPMorgan Chase recently cut the number of websites they advertise on from 400,000 to only 5,000 — and saw almost no difference in digital ad performance. How could that be?

Performance and true marketing effectiveness requires smart and strategic thinking behind how any media budget is spent. The agency that can do both is set up to get the best results — and they should continue to be put to the test.

The Solution: Creative & Media Consolidation

Here’s what to do: have the team that produces digital creative promote it.

In the future, companies and brands are going to demand more effective, efficient  creative and marketing solutions through consolidation. If those capabilities aren’t brought fully in-house, companies will look to one team to manage creative, digital, and advertising.

Cross-channel, integrated, omni-channel marketing — whatever you want to call it — is only going to continue to converge. Brands should start thinking now about who’s best positioned to execute their overall creative brand mission in digital, and look to a partner that’s poised to do it all with one team.

There are lots of creative agencies trying hard to keep up with digital, and lots of ad-buying companies trying to scale and automate with big data and low overhead. But there aren’t a lot of teams that can do both well — and that’s what it will take to be effective in the digital media environment.

Here’s what to do: have the team that produces digital creative promote it.

At ISL, we’re a fully integrated digital creative agency — able to concept, produce, and promote our creative end-to-end. Further, as a JWT company, we have even more resources all within one team. So yeah, let’s work together.

With brands demanding to see real results, digital creative agencies take on too much risk if they can’t control the performance of the content they create. True creative effectiveness will require an end-to-end approach.

At the very least, meaningful partnerships between digital creative and media buying teams are critical. That includes shared incentives and a workflow that works — that actually works — for everyone.

For brands and agencies to be pushed to achieve the performance they deserve, the team that creates the media should be responsible for its results, and ultimately ROI. To get there, the team that creates and publishes digital content needs to manage its promotion and then ultimately, its performance.

The bottom line is that digital creative teams already need to connect creative production with its promotion, performance and analysis. Consolidating those responsibilities with one team will make brands happier, campaigns more effective, and advertising better. If we want to see the best results, it’s worth a shot. 

Eric Shutt is a Director of Strategy at ISL, and leads the company’s Brand Strategy and Analytics functional groups. Contact: eric@isl.co