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I watched the R/GA presentation on The Way Forward for agencies in the same week that I’d presented to the marketing department of a famously engineering-led company.

In both companies the people who make the giant leaps, whilst all around them are taking small steps, are the engineers and the technologists. 25% of the headcount at R/GA are working on the technology behind platforms such as Nike+.

It was the same when I worked on the Honda business. There’s a general atmosphere of cool around the place, and the marketing is awesome, but there was no doubt whatsoever that the engineers are the rock stars at Honda.

At Cadbury it would have been the marketing department.

At Standard Life it’s the actuaries – “Hey. I’m a rock star actuary!”

A long long time ago when I worked at BBH and it was a full-service agency (media planning and buying in-house), the TV buyers were the rock stars of the media department. Whether that remains true in today’s media agencies, I’m not sure. Like everyone else, media agencies are jockeying for lead/upstream planning and strategic partner status but I get the impression that clients aren’t necessarily willing to pay for this added value.

In every ad agency I’ve ever worked in, the ‘creatives’ have been the rock stars. For sure, there are rock star planners too. But rock star status for planners tends to stem from their endeavours outside the agency that employs them, or after they leave to go it alone as bloggers, conference speakers, futurologists and consultants.

There has been a lot of talk about the endgame in terms of ad agencies versus digital agencies providing digital marketing services, and the pure-play digital brigade can draw great comfort from the rock star status of their technologists.

These are people who can create and build technology platforms as R/GA describe them.

Not people who can build banners and campaign microsites.

Is there space in an erstwhile ad agency for a second band of rockers to compete with the creatives for ‘star’ status? And how do these rock star technologists feel about operating in an environment that doesn’t really understand them?

So. in short, R/GA’s distinction between short term campaigns, and long term technology platforms that become part of people’s lives has profound implications for a sustainable business model for ‘pure-play’ digital agencies.

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