Is your agency making cool shit — or just talking shit?
You’ve probably heard this question a dozen times in the last year: “Should an agency act like a startup?” Essentially, agencies share key ingredients of agile software companies, like designers, programmers and project managers, but do they have the patience to iterate and persist throughout a profitable product’s lifespan? And is coding products in-house just a great exercise, or is a viable new business model emerging?
Google’s Allison Mooney and Ben Malbon tackled the subject with a panel of agency innovators at last year’s SXSW. Industry pubs like AdWeek, AdPulp and Fast Company pondered the question from all angles, and by June, the question had been asked so many times that Edelman’s David Armano reversed course and suggested that agencies act more like blue chips.
So is this the year that agencies start to answer the question? Digiday’s Brian Morrissey dug into the topic at Social Media Week with agency innovators who aren’t just talking shit, they’re making shit. The panel, called “AgencyWare: Agency as Maker,” featured folks from independent agencies Deeplocal and Breakfast, as well as bigger houses that support their own innovation groups, Weber Shandwick, BBH Labs and Mr. Youth.
Andrew Zolty of Breakfast, the agency behind Conan O’Brien’s check-in-able Blimp, said the key to the startup approach for agencies is experimentation. “The path to innovation is not linear,” he said, “it’s really messy.”
BBH Labs, an innovation unit of a larger agency, takes the same, agile approach to “getting shit done.” The most successful groups are able to “learn from failure on your own dime,” said BBH Lab’s Tim Nolan, “Not at the expense of the clients.”
To stay profitable and productive between client projects, these agencies pump out their own successful products. See Breakfast’s Instaprint, an Instagram-based printer whose Kickstarter has already raised $30k in 4 days. And profit isn’t the only motivator for the maker-agency. Said Mr. Youth’s Matt Britton, “Build your own cool shit to retain talent and keep your people stimulated.”
Other agency innovations represented at the panel were:
- Weber Shandwick’s FireBell, a social media crisis simulator for PR firms
- Deeplocal’s Chalkbot, a twitter-driven robot that printed encouraging messages alongside the roads of the Tour De France
- CrowdTap, a marketing platform that was started at Mr. Youth and has since spun-off into its own company
If you’re interested in this topic, and you’re headed to SXSW, be sure to catch these panels:
- Why Ad Agencies Should Act More Like Tech Startups
- We Made This, and It’s Not an Ad
- It’s Alive: Interactive Machines That Captivate
Is your agency making its own cool shit? Give us a shout.