Will the real Digital Agency please stand up!

Even today, digital agencies are still widely regarded as just another type of advertising agency operating in the world of marketing. But is that really the case? Are we really the same beast, born from the same mold – or is that just what traditional agencies luddites would have you believe?

Most digital agencies were built similar to traditional advertising agencies – Our core departments are made up of a Creative department, Account Services and Production, and some with Media.  We even have the same titles as those of the traditional advertising agencies: Account Directors, Producers, Creative Directors, Designers, Media Planner, etc.  And we compete with other advertising agencies for marketing budgets from brands,; and our services and deliverables are focusing on serving our client’s marketing needs.  Everyday our jobs are around putting effort to help sell our client’s products or services.  So the only difference between the traditional advertising agency and us Digital agency surely is just on the media we specialize in – Digital agencies focus on the “digital” platforms whereas traditional advertising agencies focus on the “traditional” platforms?

A lot of us broke out of the traditional advertising agency world, not to be sucked back into it, but to create a new world for ourselves.  A new world where digital is the lead agent; where technology is being valued just as much as the creative, strategy behind every deliverable we create; where experiences we build do not go to die in weeks or months; but perhaps most importantly, where we are builders first, and we are being recognized not only by the thinking behind it, but the execution.

The explosion of digital devices and the proliferation of media types has created tremendous opportunities for us and the brands we serve to do something traditional media, to date, has failed to do – create lasting engagement with an audience.  This has turned the idea of “traditional” mass marketing upside down enabling the early movers to leverage digital beyond the marketing departments and forge strong ties into all areas of our clients’ business.


Some great examples that I have seen include;

  1.  R/GA, partnering with Nike to design the entire user experience of the FuelBand, changing the way people exercise and measure activity.
  2. HUGE, who recently helped Newsweek, a stalwart of the traditional media industry, go completely digital, leveraging its 80 years of publishing history to change the way people consume traditional news media.
  3. Nurun, working with EA to develop Origin – a new online gaming platform that will change the way people buy, manage, and play console games.

The biggest brands in the world rely on us to execute their digital marketing initiatives and some of them even recognize we have the brains (and hands) to help them with other aspects of their business including product development, logistics, HR management and operational efficiencies.  Being an ‘agency’, by its very nature, ensures that we play a support role, enabling some of the world’s biggest and strongest brands to succeed in their quest to transform the world in which we all live. The opportunity however, is in being our clients’ digital ‘agents’ and in doing so we can become not only their marketing team, but their design firm, their development partner and their digital consultancy.

This is the vision that drives me every day; it gets me out of bed in the morning. Being part of this industry has given me a glimpse of what we could do as the lead digital change agents and the world we could create together.

So who else has bought into the idea of not only creating world-class marketing campaigns, but also committed to leveraging digital platforms to transform businesses worldwide? Together, we will be able to create a new future of digital experience where behaviors will evolve and people’s life might actually be changed for the better.

Ming Chan

As founded and CEO of The1stMovement, Ming was named as one of the "Top 10 Asian Entrepreneurs" by Inc. Magazine, and has led the agency to numerous accolades including 3-time Inc. 500 "Fastest Growing Private Companies in America", 3-time "Best Places to work in LA", and 5000% growth in 5 years with his passion for innovation and company culture. Follow @mingAtT1M