4 Ways for Agencies to Succeed in a Connected World

The following is a guest contributed post by Fred Gerantabee, Director of Creative Technology at Grey New York. Owning a great tennis racquet does not make you Roger …

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The following is a guest contributed post by Fred Gerantabee, Director of Creative Technology at Grey New York.

Owning a great tennis racquet does not make you Roger Federer. So why should simply plugging digital talent into old business models yield groundbreaking results?

It won’t. And yet ad agencies all too often expect that it will.

Just like a killer serve can’t be bought, only taught, established agencies cannot expect to win the innovation game by just recruiting and buying the best talent.

In an age when food can be ordered directly from the face of your refrigerator, those of us who create products, whether it be a piece of advertising, content or physical product, must redefine our thinking and creative process. For agencies, this must mean placing a stronger an emphasis on product development, a refined focus on user experience, and changes in our work methodology. A fundamental shift in how we operationalize our tools and people will be the only way to succeed in our technology-centric world.

Many years ago, big “traditional” agencies owned client relationships along with pure-play digital agencies. The desire to be a one stop-shop, and the growing client trend of agency consolidation led to mass hiring of top-tier digital talent across the industry. Digital production groups grew ten fold, agencies were mashed together, and acquisitions became the norm.

Yet to this day, established ad agencies still struggle to deliver technology adoption and innovation as an organic offering. Innovation is simply not a part-time job.

If the growth of digital teams was the first step, the next steps the advertising industry will need to undertake will be the hardest. We need to seriously rethink how we structure our organizations and create meaningful partnerships with our clients to operationalize great talent and realize our capabilities. A school of thought can, in fact, be a great way to learn.

So how do agencies make this a part of our DNA in order to be positioned to create the things the market deserves to see? There are four key ways to walk this path:

  1. Invest in Strategy (and repeat)

There has never been a case (at least in this techie’s humble opinion) where great execution compensated for poor strategy. Both from a brand planning and technology strategy point of view, understanding how technology lives across the channel ecosystem and supports the consumer journey is the only way a good idea can become effective.

This is especially true today, where that journey is no longer linear, but a complex tapestry of different touch points to be followed in many directions. Music and packaging are now a one-tap path to purchase (think Shazam), connected devices order laundry detergent, and social media is as much about consumer relations as it is about content. In a market where complexity and opportunity go hand-in-hand, great strategy is absolutely essential. The 50-foot view often owned by strategists must now encompass a 10-foot view provided by subject matter experts and technology specialists.

  1. Build Where You Can be Unique, Borrow Where You Can’t

Human tendency (which ties back to our need for ownership) is to build things from scratch. We can make a wearable, therefore we should. However, a lot of responsibility comes with product development, including a parental role of supporting it for years after it’s outlived its purpose.

Unless you can create something truly unique, and meet a need that no one else provides, consider partnerships with companies that bring a vision to life and are far more equipped to design and support a product.

There is immeasurable value in being where the consumer is (rather than telling them where to go), so exploring ways to be part of a consumer’s relationship with something they already rely on (i.e. a FitBit) is one of the best solutions to achieve scale and viability.

  1. Redefine Client Relationships

Efforts to create cutting edge work are often hampered by our own dated working systems. As long as we’re trying to ‘wedge’ technology and innovation into decades-old agreement models, the less likely we’ll be able to actually move the needle.

We often see ideas become loss leaders, piggybacked onto pitches or done “off the grid” alongside other work. Defining a relationship with clients that creates true partnership is crucial; with this needs to be a visceral, mutual desire to work together and prioritize groundbreaking ideas in all shapes and forms.

The truth that we must all agree upon is that technology and innovation as a daily practice is not ONE way, it’s THE ONLY way to succeed in a connected world.

  1. Don’t Forget What You Know, Evolve It

Agencies have years of collective knowledge around sectors, brands and consumers. It’s how campaigns become successful, and why our best work actually influences sales and brand perception. This knowledge is not a commodity, and should be regarded as such.

And the agency talent, who bring such historic intelligence to their work, is not something to be displaced, but enhanced. This may mean pairing new talent who live and breathe the connected world with seasoned players in an agency who are less entrenched in such practices. It may mean creating new working models or redefining the hierarchy (for example, at Grey, key technology staff operate within the creative group). In addition, supporting the co-existence of generalists and specialists is necessary, for it will influence how you hire and develop talent within your four walls.

There is no greater measure of success than being able to adapt and evolve, and utilizing the right structure and methodologies can flourish alongside shifts in thought and belief.

And yet one thing will always hold true regardless of whether our cars drive us to work, or smart appliances eliminate the need to ever walk to the store again – which is – great ideas will never lose value. The goal is to provide the smoothest path for them to be realized.

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