A Brave New Digital World: Part 1

As I mentioned in a previous post, Makin’ Ads has asked our pal, Nate, to do a series of guest posts on his transition into the digital realm. This is the first in that series. Follow Nate on Twitter @NKArch


A few weeks back Makin’ Ads asked me if I’d be interested in writing a guest piece. The subject: what it’s like to be a copywriter at a digital agency. I leaned back and pondered. It sounded like a worthwhile subject and a useful read for anyone coming out of portfolio school.

Suddenly my head cocked. It actually sounded like a relevant topic to anyone in advertising. The industry has been changing at such a rapid pace and I’d only recently joined a digital agency full-time. I’d never really stopped to consider the differences. My philosophy had always been that a writer is a writer is a writer.

Uncocking my head and glancing around, I had to admit that Greg and Jim had a point. There are major differences between how digital and traditional agencies operate. Not just in the work produced but the process. In the people. And in the philosophy.

I agreed to cover the story for Makin’ Ads, but only if they met one condition. Instead of writing a guest piece, I put together a guest series. For one thing, there was too much material to squeeze into one article. For another, every time I gazed beyond my laptop I caught a glimpse of another difference between digital and traditional.

Let’s kick things off. Here’s the play-by-play of how I got into digital.

I started out doing traditional work at traditional agencies. There wasn’t much digital going around. They were very good agencies and their formula worked. They had no reason to tinker with a medium they didn’t own and they focused on what they were great at. Agencies can’t escape their DNA – that goes for both traditional and digital shops.

Two years ago I started freelancing and digital was everywhere. But as my book was making the rounds I kept hearing the same rejection. I didn’t have enough interactive experience. The old chicken and the egg routine.

Gigs came and went, and enough places liked my print and TV work that they asked me to take a shot at their digital projects. It was mostly boutiques that did a little bit of everything or traditional agencies tackling digital. After a few projects, I realized the latter was like a linebacker lacing up skates and playing hockey. I pursued interactive hoping it would lead to more interactive. Which would lead to an interactive portfolio. I started small, but that’s exactly what happened.

Taking a roundabout path into digital is one way to do it. As I can vouch, it’s been done. A better way is to choose which pill you want to swallow, traditional or digital, and gulp it down. Just don’t end up in that murky grey area of having too little experience in either.

That’s all for this week. More background than foresight, I know. But everyone has to start somewhere.

8 thoughts on “A Brave New Digital World: Part 1

  1. I'm interested to read the series, for sure. One thing that stands out to me is your statement that your philosophy had always been “a writer is a writer is a writer.” That's where I'm at. I write for multiple media, and digital is one of them. It'll definitely be nice to get your insights.

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  2. I think people (especially at my agency) tend to get to caught up in digital vs traditional. A good writer or AD should be able to come up with ideas in both, no? Nate, you're a great example of this. A traditional writer who made the jump to digital because you were able to come up with good ideas in different mediums. Of course, a print execution is going to be different than an online execution. But that doesn't mean you can't use one to extend the other.

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  3. I agree that it's all about coming up with ideas. But I think we have to recognize digital as a different animal, whether we're at a digital agency or a traditional one.

    Kevin Lynch, the lead creative at EnergyBBDO once told me that if he's interviewing someone who says, “Digital or tradition – either way it's all about storytelling,” he immediately knows they don't get it. Because digital isn't storytelling the way TV or radio or even print can be. There's not a beginning, middle and end. Unless you count “Hello,” the conversation, and then “Goodbye.”

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  4. I Agree 100%. It's funny, I almost shared a quote from Kevin in my last post. Now, I have to. It's from an interview where he talks about Mullen's one off Panera ad (you can see the ad here: http://tinyurl.com/y8y5ozu )

    “i think of a digital idea as being more of a life form than the announcement-feel of a traditional TV or print ad. which means a brand’s expectations of how folks take in the idea should be different as well. using the panera example, if they had created a “Break Bread” day, encouraging adversaries to grab a meal together on a particular day, the print ad could’ve been pretty much the same, but the digital could’ve spurred a lot more conversation (i.e. “which facebook friend have you had a falling out with? time to make up…” type of thing). panera could’ve then made it easy to have people share stories about who they reconnected with (they have a couple hundred thousand fans on facebook, so their audience is voluntary and substantial already). then, panera could’ve encouraged the same event next year, and the year after. and the success of future events would be led more by online conversation they’ve generated and maintained throughout the year, rather than a one-off print ad.”

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  5. I think I can speak for Greg and Jim in saying that an ongoing discussion is exactly what we wanted to get out of this series. So far it's been great to hear everyone's feedback.

    There's overlap between traditional and digital, and maybe more similarities than not. But every agency has their own formula or model and only by discussing them can we all understand what works and what doesn't. I'm no expert on traditional or digital – I just happen to be a opinionated person who has experienced both.

    In regards to storytelling in the digital space, earlier today I read this quote from Edward Boches, CCO of Mullen:

    “So what we do make if we don’t make stories? Experiences. Experiences that earn attention, invite participation, inspire co-creation, provide utility and inherently generate more content.”

    It's a great point and I plan on using it as a jumping-off point for a future post. It ties in perfectly with a blog post I wrote last October about empowering fans by providing them with cool experiences: http://bit.ly/2ftZld

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