You read the headline correctly; at one point in the recent past, Dell Computers employed as many as 800 separate marketing agencies.

And here I wondered why their marketing had gone so bland.

Imagine the turf battles. Imagine the complexity. Imagine the egos.

Now imagine the difficulty you’d have pushing even a brilliant idea through that mess.

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Valleywag offers a typically snarky look at the situation — where Dell cast off its multitudes, signed a $4.5 billion contract with ad giant WPP, and asked them to essentially create a single-client ad agency:

Why is Dell taking a beating from HP? One reason may be that it didn’t apply its vaunted supply-chain techniques to its marketing. Before asking WPP to create a single-client ad agency just for Dell, the PC maker worked with 800 advertising agencies around the world. [News.com]

Never underestimate the power of a small team of individuals working together. It’s typically how great work gets done.

And never, ever underestimate the power of a mob (or a series of self-interested mobs) to blunt even the best work, which is precisely what Dell was experiencing.

While Dell’s situation was largely its own making, their situation reflects the fragmentation of an industry where we used to deal with only a small handful of media channels (TV, radio, print).

Organizations now face the need for specialists in everything from SEO to viral to rich media to engagement to “traditional” copywriting.

In fact, Dell needs all that just to power their own Web site:

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Ad agencies are scrambling to integrate a lot of new technologies and disciplines, all while maintaining the aura of invincibility that agencies wear like armor. They’re taking a few lumps, and having worked at a few, would guess they’re in for a few more.

I’ve only been at this for two decades, but I can’t imagine a more interesting time to be in marketing.

Keep writing, Tom Chandler.

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