Digital creative agencies and search shops

LBi's recent acquisition of Netrank, follows AKQA's acquisition of SearchRev, Syzygy's acquisition of Unique Digital and Engine's merger of Meme, Eyefall and DC Interact to create Altogether (and in a reverse of the trend, iCrossing acquiring Proxicom). Digital creative agencies seem to be merging with search shops left right and centre. What's going on?

Only as far back as October 2006, all the buzz was about traditional media agencies moving into the search space and if anything, the buying of the search specialists was going to be by the very same media agencies. Then in October last year, Media Week covered the issue of why search agencies were hot, but giving us no clues as to why the sudden interest from digital creative agencies.

Is this purely a financial opportunity being exploited, with the plan to use the same account management teams for both creative and search, along with the chance to cross sell services to clients? Or is it something more – the signs of a synergy between creative and search that's been thus far unapparent? Does anyone have any ideas?

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  • Jonathan Rigby

    Search is measurable, strategic, accountable – so it is the start of a number of moves by us creative agencies to provide a more robust offer to clients. There’s good money to be made in search (if your agency is any good at it) and the contracts with clients tend to be longer-term retainers compared to creative projects that are often one-offs – so it’s good, long-term business for creative agencies to get into. It won’t stop here – citizen PR, campaign measurement, ROI – the smart creative agencies are getting into all of it because there’s only so much growth in just being a creative hotshop making funky microsites and virals.

  • Ciaran Norris

    I think it makes perfect sense (or at least can do). Creative agencies can often create the sort of viral linkbait that most SEOs would drool over. At the same time there’s a definite logic in building SEO into web build/design at the very start of a project. That’s certainly the vision that we aspire to at Altogether, and one that I would imagine becoming increasingly popular.

    At the end of the day, a huge chunk of most brands’ digital budgets goes into search and who wouldn’t want a piece of that?

    I think that these acquisitions/mergers (by media & creative agencies) is a belated realisation on their part that search is something that can’t just be bolted on (as the rather amateur search campaigns of some media houses show) and is something that requires dedication & expertise.

  • Duncan James

    problem is, how will creative led firms deal with a direct link to ROI.

  • Amelia Torode

    VCCP launched VCCP Search about a year and a half ago (and I think that it might have been considered quite an odd thing for a creative agency to do) I’ve never been at a place where Search is so upstream, it makes a real difference to me as a Planner. When Search is not a bolt-on or something done by junior interns we’ve found that it has a real impact on effectiveness and ROI

  • Jules Ireland

    iCrossing (nee Spannerworks) has indeed bucked the trend of creative shops acquiring search specialists, and I concur 100% with Ciaran’s observation in this context. So often we work with both existing and new sites that simply do not have search in their DNA. After all if Google is effectively a brand’s home page, it is critical that sites are designed with search-friendliness as a central pillar to optimise SERP traffic. And as we all struggle to second guess Google’s algorithm, and blended/universal search begins to include video and ‘creative executions’, search agencies that essentially understand the language of the customer/brand relationship and how to be useful will drive the necessary connectedness of channel/content to deliver ‘network-focussed’ engagement. Search will inform ALL comms strategies moving forwards…

  • john coleman-straw

    Now that Google has effectively dealt with the link farming business and is marking down mutual linking programmes search agencies need a creative wing that can create strong attention data programmes and acquire natural linking partners so it’s a logical trend. (I founded Netrank in 2000)