By Kim Palacios

A trained eye can almost immediately detect the robustness of a brand’s online media presence.  So, why do so many major brands that spend millions a year on marketing show so many rookie mistakes?  It could be because they have the wrong people managing their online marketing programs.  Our observation has been that it is typically traditional marketing agencies who win, then botch, virtual media marketing jobs.

How do we know this?  We have pitched no fewer than a dozen major companies with proposals showing evidence of serious gaps.  We have shocked executives by showing them problematic and widely visible messages about their brands; we have shown them benchmarked best practices and proof that their current agencies aren’t using them; we have recommended data-supported strategies and spoken to them with a level of sophistication about the subject matter that they have not experienced with traditional agencies.

Yet, choosing our company is rarely a matter of replacing an underperforming direct competitor—the feedback we hear most is that a traditional agency is handling all of their marketing.  This has led us to an important conclusion:  traditional agencies are telling companies they can handle digital.  And companies, unwisely, believe them.

Let’s be clear: there is nothing fundamental that would stop traditional agencies from building capable virtual media practices.  However, based on what we have seen (indeed, the companies we pitch have named names, telling us specifically who is managing their online media), some very big name firms are doing some very bad work.  We suspect that these agencies have rushed forth to capture the online portion of the business before clients consider looking outside; while they may intend to eventually build capabilities to make good on their promise of excellent results, we haven’t seen much evidence of this.

So begins a dangerous cycle: companies look toward their agencies to manage numerous aspects of their marketing.  Those traditional agencies then do the work and report results to clients who rarely have a sense for whether results are good or bad.  Clients are convinced by these agencies that results are aligned with their goals, but skip independent research or consultation to confirm whether another agency could do better.   In fact, specialized agencies can do better.  Speaking for ourselves, we have seen triple digit performance growth when budget has remained constant for every single account we have taken from a major traditional agency.   In fact, some traditional agencies now contract specialize work out to firms like Luxe because they know they don’t have the expertise in-house.

Don’t believe me?  That’s fine.  Don’t take our word for it.  But, do your brand a favor, and test this theory out. Bring in firms that specialize in digital media and have them bid against your traditional agency.  Check out the quality of the proposals and the recommendations.  Most importantly, have newcomers comment on weaknesses they see in your current programs—this will be the largest indicator of how well your current company is doing.  You may find out what we know: that traditional marketing expertise doesn’t always line up with that of virtual media, and that results of the best traditional agencies rarely stack up to the best digital ones.