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Agency Life in 2020 and the Balancing Act Between Data & Creativity

Marjan Straathof, DEPT

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Let start with a little story. Almost three years ago, when I started as Head of Marketing at Dept, much of my focus was around developing and creating a new brand.

With TamTam, the founding platform of this new and expanding network, a large part of our discussions were around creative social posts, our never good enough Instagram wall and topics such as why we should create a better and fancier agency website.

Two and a half years ago, we acquired 'Expand Online’ and as they gradually integrated themselves into the Dept family, things started to change. Expanders, as we call them, didn’t really care that much about capturing the perfect Instagram picture; because they care more about the data. And with help of these true digital marketing specialists, our focus suddenly revolved around effective campaigns, ROI and—you won’t believe it—banners.

In double quick time, I had to learn how to find this new balance between (noisy) creatives and (dry) excel sheets. Not that easy for someone who prefers the beautiful design and funny social. But, I can’t agree to the fact that it makes no sense to put in a lot of effort towards marketing campaigns that don’t deliver. So, I’ve been through all the discussions: long SEO texts vs. creative storytelling, beautiful pictures vs. an ugly (but converting) contact button. Nowadays, we do both lead gen campaigns while having a polished Instagram wall. We track everything we do and impressed our sales team with an amazing amount of new, qualified leads. And while the discussions aren’t always as straightforward as they could be; having data as a backup makes my work as a marketer a lot easier. Especially now, given that over 1,000 people currently work at Dept. These are all people with different specialties, who do not only care about client projects, but also about Dept itself, and how we market ourselves. They are not afraid to express their opinion if they see things happening within Dept that they wouldn’t advise clients.

But, what does this mean for the agencies of the future? It means that we all have to find the relationship between these two opposing concepts: creativity & data. It isn’t difficult to see that combining them is incredibly valuable. But it also heavily relies upon teamwork, flexibility and being open-minded. You need project managers that aren't afraid to push people out of their comfort zone. You need people that are willing to get to know one another, particularly those with different interests and backgrounds. Because, the more diverse a team is that’s working on a project, the better your data analysis and the end result will be. After reading last year’s SoDA Report, and discussions with industry peers, I noticed that putting this into practice often sounds easier than it is. The percentage of data scientists that are currently working at digital agencies is still close to zero. And believe me; that standard analytics report that's naturally tossed over the fence once every month is no longer good enough. We need diversity, no "us versus them" So get out of your comfort zone and let’s do better.

Agencies of the future invest in talented data-oriented people along with creative and technology-minded people to form an all-star marketing team. No ‘us versus them’, no more silos, but people working together on projects and facing the difficult discussions that will ultimately benefit our clients.

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About the author: If someone knows the ins and outs of the digital and creative industry, it is Marjan Straathof. She previously worked for a variety of organizations, including Dutch Digital Agencies, Emerce, TEDxAmsterdam and the Dutch Creative Council. At the moment, she's building a worldwide Dept brand as Global Head of Marketing. By combining creativity, technology and data, the digital agency reinvents and accelerate digital realities by creating experiences that make our lives easier. From offices in both Europe and the US.