South Africa: Integrate Digital in Every Agency Strategy

The digital era is creating a massive buzz in global advertising and marketing circles, but how many are actually making headway into this new arena? Melanie Walter, media director of Starcom South Africa reports back from the Starcom Berlin Digital conference, which was designed to launch the Starcom network's digital future across Europe, Middle East and Africa by finding ways to translate the digital talk into effective action with a clear business plan in place.

Last year Starcom defined its focus as 'Connections that Captivate' (CTC) and to fulfill this promise in the changing consumer world, the network simply has to address the digital issue. Starcom has elected to integrate digital throughout the network, rather than create a separate division.

"Clients will be able to talk to their usual Starcom contact person about communications that include a digital strategy," explains Walter. "And it goes beyond merely honing our individual digital expertise. Starcom's goal is to create a digitally empowered organisation, from top to bottom."

The key areas in which Starcom wants to boost its capabilities are: broadband, search, messaging, data analytics and mobile.

Homing in on the media truths about the importance of digital, Starcom organised a line-up of speakers from a variety of digital frontrunners including Facebook, Joost and Google and trend experts such as futurologist James Bellini and analyst Nate Elliot from Jupiter Research.

According to Bellini clients are working on ideas that are 15 years out of date. "In 1965 there were 10 000 people for every computer, by 2015 there will be 10 000 connected devices for every person," he told the Starcom grouping of 130 senior agency executives.

Elliot highlighted the trends in broadband, online and on-demand consumption, saying that online really took off with the introduction of broadband and the uptake in online video had happened much faster than any predictions.

The Joost and Facebook presentations provided an understanding of just how things are changing and the scale of growth. "Both urged creativity when asked how to use them," reported Walter.

"Don't just slap a social onto the end of your plan," Mike Murphy, vice president: media sales at Facebook told the delegates in turn: "Create a connection, spread it virally and then collect the insights from the back end."

Henrique de Castro, director of Google's European operations advised Starcom to up its share of the search market. "Focus on a few key clients in each market to track developments and get it right rather than be abstract about its capabilities," he reiterated.

Within the Berlin Digital theme was the message 'Be Digital'. It is deliberately a mandate for all Starcom offices who are all expected to show clear signs of implementation within the next three months. Bringing this message home to South Africa, Walter urged the local staff to view themselves as 'dynamic content managers' rather than media planners. "Young strategists should hold the key. They are the new creatives in the digital world," she relayed.

According to Walter the immediate challenges facing the local market are understanding the implications of user generated content and coming to terms with how to optimise social networking.

(Biz-Community (Cape Town), 12 August 2007)

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