Winning the Race to the Middle

by Ben Evans

The digital marketing arena is a land full of opportunity.  Consumer adoption of emerging technology is busy broadening and deepening this landscape.

I recently had what I would consider one of the best jobs in the world, Head of Digital at OgilvyOne in London.  However being in this role in a digitally mature market is a double-edged sword.  It’s great working at the cutting edge of this new marketing age for major clients but it’s a tough gig because clients expect you to know everything to do with the medium when it’s an incredibly deep discipline evolving in a hundred directions at once.

In reality, you can only scratch the surface from a personal perspective no matter how hard you work to keep pace.  Luckily Ogilvy, both here in SA and in London, is set up as a large multi-specialist agency and there’s always someone who can assist on almost anything – the nuances of affiliate marketing, the latest advance in artificial intelligence solutions, augmented reality, Facebook algorithms.

Navigating this world between specialism and generalism reflects today’s client dilemma.  There’s a need to know, understand and apply a high level of technical specialism to modern marketing challenges but there’s also the need to deliver joined up customer experiences across all brand touch points.

So clients are left with a tough choice. Buying integration from generalist ad agencies in which case they’re often left with a nagging worry – do these guys really know what they’re talking about in digital? (No! is the short answer in my experience). Or they are buying digital from specialist pure-play agencies which creates the opposite anxiety – are these guys able to produce integrated work effectively with my other partners and am I producing holistic brand experiences through all my touchpoints? (The answer there often is also No!)

In a world where pure-plays are pushing into traditional media and ad agencies are trying to build digital capabilities in ‘the race to the middle’, Ogilvy has been providing digital integrated solutions and experimenting with new models of integration for many years.

The Ogilvy & Mather group structure comprises a number of individual business units – run and managed by specialists.  Clients can buy and enjoy these specialisms directly but, equally, they can buy fully integrated services through a single leadership team which can be based out of any part of the business which best reflects the clients’ centre of gravity in terms of marketing discipline.  It’s this breadth, depth and flexibility that is absolutely market leading.

We also enjoy strong relationships with progressive clients who are actively experimenting with new models of integration.  For example we set up a “Colab” for KFC – a bespoke agency within the agency group comprised of a cross-discipline team, staffed from all our specialist units.

With this set up we are able to adapt, constantly refine and improve on the operational integrated model.

As the landscape continues to shift, and talent rises up through the ranks, we will get more and more “T-shaped” people who are able to advise clients in a fully channel-agnostic way.

But we can never stand still. The industry needs to keep working hard and changing even harder to ensure that we can optimally meet the modern marketing challenge.


Ben Evans is the National Managing Director of OgilvyOne Worldwide SA.