Because I’m one of few advertising agency folks playing vocally in the social media space, several friends have asked for my reaction to Forrester’s “The Connected Agency” report released Friday. I’ve also had a few ask what I thought about Jeremiah Owyang’s ear-flipping of the agency world with his post on Sunday.

My reaction? I’m surprised Jeremiah didn’t link to the Forrester report.

The Connected Agency cover pageLet’s be frank. There are a lot of people out there who don’t trust us in the agency world. Mary Beth Kemp and Peter Kim’s report pointed out that one advertising director at a high-tech firm called agencies, “a necessary evil.” They say we’re all stuck in the mass media world, focused on above-the-line execution and out of touch with consumers.

And if you’re generalizing, sure, most agencies probably own varying degrees of guilt there. And I’m sure a big wad of them jumped up this week and said, “Oh, we’re connected. Forrester is brilliant. We’ve been delivering community and conversation for years. Thanks, Forrester, for pointing out you should be calling us!”

One major problem with advertising agencies is that they’re exceptional at believing their own bullshit.

So, here’s where you expect me to start touting Doe Anderson as the solution, right? This is where I roll out the sales pitch on why my agency “gets it” and other agencies don’t. Well, you’re right, but you’re wrong.

In all aspects of the advertising agency business, we’re not perfect. I could tout and brag, sure. But so did everyone else this week. You don’t want to hear my trumpet blast any more than I want to give it.

What Forrester’s report did say, and accurately so in my opinion, is that agencies must evolve to focus less on time frame-driven campaigns and more upon ongoing community involvement. Forrester’s report drew accurate conclusions from not-so-new rhetoric. It read like a Cliff’s Notes of top marketing blogs dating back a couple of years.

What Forrester does very well, though, is take anecdotal evidence and hang solid analytical numbers on it. Though some of the numbers are from Europe and not the U.S. (Does this bug you, too?)

So the answer is for agencies to focus on communities. And the plethoric cries of “we’ve been doing that for years” echoes hollowly down the blocks of Madison Avenue like the Yankees’ World Series hopes.

Eight years ago, Doe Anderson developed a community idea. We implemented it. It grew. We knew then we were onto something. Admittedly, it’s taken us a while to wrap our brains around the notion that this is how we should grow the business of our clients, but we no longer see ourselves as an advertising agency in the traditional sense. We see ourselves as doing something Forrester’s report shrugged off.

“Brands may be tempted to go it alone but will only succeed with small groups of brand advocates.”

Small groups of brand advocates are the new influencers, gang. They are your community. Without them you have little chance of taking any idea to market and being successful. What you should be doing is focusing on the small groups of brand advocates and empowering them to share your brand with their friends. By cultivating brand enthusiasts you’re fostering the community.

Community cannot be found somewhere else. It already surrounds you. Stop looking and you’ll find it.

For those of you hoping to build community for a new brand, the same principle applies. Your family, friends, neighbors and colleagues are your brand enthusiasts. Share your passion with them, give them the tools to carry that passion forward and your community will grow.

Some agencies will tell you they can help you do that. There are a few qualified ones out there who can.

Doe Anderson has spent the last eight years building and growing a, “highly interactive and intelligently integrated through multiple channels, one contact driving the next and with WOM as a given,” community. I’d be happy to tell you about it, but not here. Not this week. Because as much as I hate to say it like this, we’re just not like everyone else.

Other Posts You’ll Find Interesting:

  1. The Connected Agency
  2. Why You Don’t Need An Advertising Agency … And Why You Do
  3. The Value Than An Agency Brings: Case In Point
  4. A Moment Of Truth For Digital Agencies
  5. Is This The Year Of The Un-Agency?

[tags]advertising, advertising agencies, ad agencies, Forrester, The Connected Agency, brand enthusiasts, brand loyalists, brand fans, Doe Anderson, community building[/tags]

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Jason

    I tweeted about this report to let everyone know (that sometimes drives more traffic than my blog).

    Also, Forrester publishes hundreds (thousands?) of docs a year, so I can’t link to them all the time.

    Most importantly, Peter Kim has a blog, and has spread the word.

    http://www.beingpeterkim.com/2008/02/the-connected-1.html

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  • http://forrester.com Mary Beth Kemp

    Hi Jason,

    The European data is my doing – I’m based in Paris and Pete and I spoke with marketers and agencies both in Europe and in the States. The point is, the challenge is not just US-based.

    “Brands may be tempted to go it alone but will only succeed with small groups of brand advocates.” Brand advocates are important, certainly (you may be interested in my upcoming research on Social Value) so not a shrug off, we just don’t believe that the brand will be the most compelling reason to create a community. We’re placing our bets on consumer-controlled communities built on shared interests and objectives, rather than on brand silos.

    And indeed, we’ve had a few claims of ‘connectiveness’…

  • http://www.leapfroginteractive.com KatFrench

    …agencies must evolve to focus less on time frame-driven campaigns and more upon ongoing community involvement.

    True, but the other half of that equation is that clients must also evolve to that focus as well. If clients don’t unclench their grip on “counting impressions,” it doesn’t give their agency, even an interactive agency, much leeway to start corralling and marshaling that community around the brand.

    I was encouraged this week because a fairly large client of ours is really beginning to start pursuing their innate community in earnest.

    The more clients that get it, the more agencies will.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Jeremiah — I thank you for the point and for blogging about it yourself. I’ve responded there as well. And the fact I was surprised you didn’t link to the report was a bit tongue-in-cheek. Thank you for continuing to connect with both me and my meager readership here. I’m always honored with your input.

    Mary Beth — Thank you first, for the report. Quantifying the notions many have been offering recently is valuable to us and that’s what Forrester does best. Thank you next, for coming to clarify and discuss. You’re right, the implications are global, not limited to the U.S. I would be interested to see if there are any variations in the data polling U.S. subjects.

    I agree that brands may not always be the most compelling reason to create community, but something about the notion of creating a community seems fake to me. Brands have community already built in. Customers, audiences, etc., are your community. From the first person who asks for more information or the first sale, brands have the opportunity to instill a sense of pride of use in that individual. If done properly, that individual tells someone about the brand and the cycle begins again. Soon you have a community of brand enthusiasts. It’s not whipped up like a social network or a building wing. It’s more organic than that but its growth can be fostered and encouraged. Yes, consumer-driven communities both have and will continue to be powerful market-changing forces and yes, agencies need to plug in, participate and understand them. They should even try to create networks of them as your report indicates. But the brands that win will have agencies that build communities of brand enthusiasts that go out to these consumer-driven networks and tell friends about their favorite brand of X.

    Are they microcommunities? Are they social networks? Doesn’t matter. They are communities of people passionate about your brand. Thats what agencies need to facilitate. The greater communities of consumers will form on their own around social networks, buying and review sites, etc. Agencies need to fuel recommendation and product information into the greater communities through brand enthusiasm. Your report is thorough, thoughtful and well supported. I just think more credibility should be given to communities already in place around brands by virtue of organic growth. Communities shouldn’t be manufactured, by agencies or anyone else.

    Kat — You are SO dead on. Unless the client gets it, the agency won’t be enabled to. We can get it all we want but when the check writer says, “Screw that. I don’t want people commenting on anything on my website,” then that’s what we do. Agencies can get a bad wrap based on executions of client’s wishes and that’s unfair.

    I think Forrester is looking down the road a bit farther, though. Their assumption is that over the course of the next 5-10 years, more agencies will be recommending these evolutions to their clients. When everyone is saying it, the client is more apt to believe it. It’s all coming and Forrester is spot-on with that.

    Thanks to all of you for the conversation. This is really appreciated.

  • http://www.newfangled.com Eric Holter

    I appreciate your honesty Jason, in how you describe your agency’s own adoption of social media. I wrote up an extended blog post (link below) after buying and reading the Forrester report.

    Social media is having a dramatic and ultimately positive impact on marketing. But as Mary Beth acknowledges in her comment on Steve Ellis’ post (http://thenewmarketing.com/blogs/thenewmarketing/archive/2008/02/14/2269.aspx), it’s mostly impacting large consumer brands and their agencies.

    The typical mid-sized agency with typical mid-sized B2B clients do indeed need to be paying attention, but I think the forecasting isn’t as accurate for them. So I don’t think it’s entirely fair for Jeremiah to say things like “I can’t imagine ever advising a client to deal with an advertising, PR, or interactive team that doesn’t get social media.” For the majority of advertising agencies and their B2B clients, social media is a very small facet of their current marketing. And appropriately so. I do think all agencies they should be paying careful attention, but right now social media strategies are not the most important (though not unimportant) activity for the typical B2B client. I think there are valuable lessons to be learned by keeping aware the changes, but that doesn’t usually translate to significant activity for the mid-sized B2B.

    With that fairly wide qualifier I did think the report was very effective and well worth digesting.

    My post: “Forrester Takes Aim at the Dis-Connected Agency” – http://www.newfangled.com/social_media_strategy_for_mid_sized_ad_agencies

    Eric Holter
    CEO – Newfangled Web Factory

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