Why we are not a Social Media Agency (and how that benefits you)

A prospective client recently contacted me because he heard that The Duffy Agency is “one of Europe’s best social media agenci...

16 Mar 2010 4470 Views

A prospective client recently contacted me because he heard that The Duffy Agency is “one of Europe’s best social media agencies.” At the risk of losing his business, I had to tell him we are not a social media agency, we are an advertising agency that is highly skilled in social media.

At the risk of losing your business as well, I’d like to explain why we are not, and never will be, a social media agency and how that benefits you.

We do three things very well:
1.  We consult and offer training on marketing strategy and tactics.
2.  We create integrated marketing campaigns across all media.
3.  We adapt and manage campaigns across different cultures and languages.


Social media is the latest of several tools we have to do our jobs. But that does not change our focus. That focus is marketing.

Silo 2 Ad agencies began as media brokers and have suffered from media-commission-induced tunnel vision ever since. It started with the exclusion of “below the line” work and PR from core agency skills. In the 80‘s, clients wanted branding expertise. Most ad agencies refused to develop that competence, giving rise to Branding Agencies. When the internet became recognized as a valid marketing platform in the 90’s, ad agencies resisted that as well, giving rise to Web Agencies. Adaptation agencies sprang up for the same reason when clients began advertising beyond their domestic market. Over the last few years, ad agencies have failed to pick-up on social media, giving rise to Social Media Agencies.

As a result, clients today need a barrage of different agencies just to market a single product or service (see  Justin Celko’s excellent Talent Zoo post: Who Should Handle My Company’s Social Media Initiative?)

These silos are not in the best interest of clients. They are simply the by-product of an industry that has ignored its customers’ needs and blindly resisted change at its own peril. That’s why I am no more inclined to label The Duffy Agency a social media agency today than I was to label it as a web agency in the 90’s or an adaptation agency or brand agency before that — even though we excel in these areas. Instead, we have made it our business to constantly adapt to the times and offer the services marketing departments need to compete more effectively. So have many other independent shops.

Mad-menOver the past decade ad agencies, such as mine, have been falling over each other trying to distance themselves from the label “ad agency” with descriptors like “communication agency”, “marketing agency”, “integrated brand communication agency”, etc…  We’ve remained in the category, but who could blame us for jumping ship as well? Thanks to a severe lack of industry governance, the term “ad agency” today stands for a business model that, for all its hype, is essentially a rigid, self-absorbed and largely irrelevant institution that peaked in the era of Don Draper and has been in decline ever since.

Still, I’d maintain that you do not need a social media agency to compete in the information age. You need a company staffed with marketers who have kept pace with changes in your markets. One of those changes is social media. But it will take more than social media know-how to win the day. It also wouldn’t hurt if they were adept at branding and marketing strategy, were able to create a website as effortlessly as a print ad and understood digital media and adaptation as well. These skills need not be mutually exclusive. Today, they define the basic skill set of our trade. A skill set that every ad agency would possess were it not for the shortsighted leadership of an industry that has never been able to see value in any service that didn’t have a 15% media commission attached to it.

As the media landscape continues to morph, a new, more adaptable, more cross-functional breed of advertising agency is emerging. With the help of our clients, I hope The Duffy Agency can serve as a model for this new generation. Ultimately, it will be our clients who decide.

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Sean Duffy | @brandranter
Speaker, consultant & founder of Duffy Agency, the flipped digital agency that provides accelerated growth to aspiring international brands.