Integrating Online and Offline Agency Work

Offline and online agencies must work closely together to pull off integrated advertising campaigns. While some agencies perform both online and offline services, most will partner with other agencies in a variety of roles.

Online advertising rich media in particular brings entirely new concepts to the foreground. In a medium that can be tracked in real time, the nuances, strengths and weaknesses of that medium should be handled strategically by experienced online specialists.

By no means should online advertising throw out the tried and true methods of brand building, direct response, and other forms of traditional advertising. The goal for advertising agencies should be to work together to design and deploy amazing creative that holds true to the client’s brand across all media.

At Freestyle, we work with many other great agencies, both traditional and offline, on a daily basis. Sometimes our mutual clients arrange the meetings, sometimes agencies hire us directly, and sometimes we hire them. Oftentimes, we will work with several agencies, all focusing on different tasks (offline creative, online media buying, online creative, PR, etc.) toward the same goal. Some agencies are easier to work with than others, and this largely has to do with the respect they accord to the other agencies involved.

Many agencies look to us for rich media projects. Sometimes a purely offline agency will come to us with online ideas already designed and storyboarded, and will hand us well-designed Photoshop files, asking us to produce the piece.

Most of the time, we cringe at this setup and ask the partner agency to take a few steps back and look at things under a strategic light. What are the goals of the campaign? What’s the target audience? We ask these and other basic questions.

Some of the common mistakes we’ve seen are caused by a lack of understanding of what can and can’t be done online. What happens then is that we’re presented with ideas that simply won’t jump that online-offline divide. Concepts that work fine on billboards, on TV or in print can’t always be forced into a 468×60 space! Problems range from too much copy (“But the print ad has it!”), to no animation to illustrate the message, to a lack of consideration for file size requirements.

Many times the partner agency will have promised deadlines on rich media concepts that “the client has already signed off on!” and will have no idea how to get things done by the dates promised. Most of these problems are due to a lack of understanding of the online medium and what it can accomplish.

It is interesting to look at what makes a great online/offline agency relationship and what areas cause relationships to become dysfunctional at times. The best relationships we have had with other agencies have been built on mutual respect. The partner agency respects the strategic and creative work we can achieve online, and we understand the overall branding stewardship and creative goals of the offline agency.

Both shops need to give each other creative room and completely drop any egos that can get in the way in the creative business. If an agency lacks the online experience required to support a brand in the digital medium, it needs to work with online partners who can extend the amazing brand that was built offline, using the new medium to its fullest advantage to support that brand. Such agencies should hire the best talent they can find in the online space and use that expertise, with support from the offline component, to create amazing work.

If the brand steward isn’t educated in the online space, extreme conservatism often creeps in, and great ideas get shot down for being deemed “risky,” when in reality it is just business as usual for online advertising.

Below are some guidelines that might help agencies working together across the online-offline divide.

  • Get to know the other shop’s creative style and voice. Review all examples you can find of previous client work.

  • Understand that a banner ad is not a billboard, and an interstitial is not a TV spot. All media have their unique advantages, and it is the responsibility of the agencies involved to support each other to bring the most out of each.
  • Don’t promise clients deadlines or capabilities you aren’t sure of. While this seems like a no-brainer, I can’t tell you how many times it comes up.
  • Define upfront how all the agencies will work together. Clearly define account and creative structures.
  • Set client expectations and explain how the agencies will work together.
  • Identify the client goals and set clear measurement criteria.
  • Don’t hide the relationship between the agencies. I’ve been asked several times to out and out lie about our relationship with an agency during a pitch to “their” client. Relationships based on lies just don’t work.
  • Online agencies should make sure the client and other agencies involved understand the particular challenges posed by rich media (as well as its clear benefits, of course) and other technology-related issues.

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