Its 2008. Sixteen years since Tim Berners-Lee uploaded his first website. And as far as I can remember everyone in the digital world has spent most of that time comparing themselves to their offline counterparts. And although we would never admit it, always with a hint of envy.
But that's to be expected. TV was the medium that made brands famous. It was the most engaging, entertaining vehicle for talking to consumers for thirty years. I'm a digital guy, but let's not be precious; when it was done well TV really was great. I still remember waiting for the final installment of the Nescafe ads back in the UK in the late eighties. Everyone seemed to be talking about it. That's pretty decent engagement even by our high, digital, standards.
They must have been doing something right, those offline people. TV wasn't always there. It was the mid sixties when David Ogilvy wrote 'Confessions of an Advertising Man' and he hardly raved about the wonders of television. Back then TV was the new kid on the block. Press and radio were by far the safer options.
The point is the 'offline agencies' didn't have a business model for TV advertising when it landed on their doorstep. They had to learn how to create one - and they had to work out to integrate their TV ideas into all those press and radio ideas that they were used to creating. And they had to keep evolving their models as their industry grew.
So what did those TV guys do to make it work so well, for so long? Well, some pretty basic stuff really. For a start they separated campaign planning and production. And then the respective teams specialized. And the more they grew, the more they were able to specialize. And the more they specialized, the better they got at their respective tasks.
And that's just where we are at in our digital world today. We've spent sixteen years debating which is better; online or offline. In fact we've been so wrapped up in the debate that we failed to notice that clients really are buying the best ideas. It doesn't matter where they come from.
What we as an industry need to do pretty quick though is to start collaborating. To do what those TV guys do so well - work out which part of the process our businesses are best suited for, focus our efforts, and work together with the right partners to ensure the consumer, and therefore the client, gets the best possible marketing solution.
Digital agencies used to be able to do everything in-house. Those days are fast disappearing. As our industry matures we need to learn from the TV world and understand that specialization is not only inevitable, but absolutely necessary if we really are to keep producing the best work for our clients.
For the TV world specialization meant the separation of campaign planning and production. In the digital world it means just the same. But in the digital world the production components are different. Rather than the editing suite its might mean the illustrators, the motion graphic designers or the flash action scripter. Regardless of the skill set the principle is the same. The campaign planning requires a thorough immersion in the research and analysis, combined with a functional understanding of the technology. The production means a focus on the specifics of the technology and the process led focus on the intricacies of development efficiencies and cost management.
That way the debate becomes less about digital agencies versus traditional agencies, and more about great agencies versus the other agencies. The great agencies will know what they are good at and they will continue to specialize. They won't try to do everything in-house, but rather will align themselves with the best partners, be that production or planning, just as offline advertising agencies and TV production houses have so effectively collaborated in the development of TVC's for the past thirty odd years. Give it a couple of years and the digital agency landscape will be very different to where it is today. As an agency owner that is a very exciting opportunity.