Full service agencies are probably feeling pretty good after reading this week’s Adweek article by Andy McMains: “Marketers to Digital Shops: Diversify or Die”.

In the article, McMains cites results from our latest 2011 Client’s Look Ahead at Agencies survey where 67% marketers state that in order for digital shops to stay relevant, they need to find their way into more traditional media to meet the needs of marketers looking for fully integrated solutions.

While I completely agree with the findings, there was a point during Andy’s interview that caused me to take pause and think more broadly about the issue.  During the interview, Andy asked a question I found very difficult to answer…but in the end I chose “digital agency with little experience in traditional media” over “full service agency with little digital experience” as my answer.  He asked: “assuming nothing else changes and you’re a CMO and you have to pick one of the two types of firms today to service your needs, which one are you going to choose?  The way I look at it, it is easier for you, the marketer, to shepherd a digital firm through the less complex landscape of traditional media than it is to shepherd a traditional firm through the very complex world of digital.

In our survey only 18% of marketers state that they believe that traditional full service advertising agencies have “excellent” digital marketing/advertising skills.  This compares to 29% of marketers who believe that digital firms have “excellent” traditional marketing/advertising skills.  Right now, it appears that digital firms in general have the advantage.

Let’s turn the clock ahead 2-3 years….

You’re in the middle of an agency search and the agency search firm presents you with a full service advertising agency who has done little to upgrade their digital services.  Sure they do websites, create facebook pages, and they know how to buy banner ads…but do they know how to measure ROI, do they know how to run sophisticated analytics, do they know how to evaluate the impact of print or broadcast on digital activity, do they know how to buy bid-able media versus buying from networks?

Who are you going to choose?  The full service firm above or the digital firm with solid digital skills  but little traditional experience?

I’m guessing the latter.

If you’re full service agency isn’t there yet…push them to get there.  Ask them the tough questions and see what kind of answers you get.  There are plenty of agencies out there that are working hard to stay ahead of digital curve, so if your firm isn’t working it, look for a firm (or find someone to help you look for a firm) that can work it for you.