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The End of the Beginning

The End of the Beginning
Jim Rothnie, New Business Director at McCann Manchester, explores how our innovation driven Diversification Adaptathon in February has helped his company move forward

Over a month on from the IPA’s Diversification AdaptLab event at The Bakery, it feels like the dust is settling on the back of the excitement it created.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it feels very much like the end of the beginning.

As one of the people who was lucky enough to attend, I went away inspired, excited and ready to evangelise to my colleagues.

The process of sharing what was shown, and the broader thinking that sat behind it, has been pretty straightforward.

Working in a large agency with strategy, insight, digital, NPD and innovation teams, who’ve been developing ideas in partnership with tech companies for some time, means the learnings from the event were welcomed with open arms by colleagues who already get it.

They were motivated by the fresh stimulus and this has been the catalyst for a number of conversations with clients and several of the companies that attended to look at what might be possible.

The process of developing thoughts and ideas has thrown up several interesting angles, which we thought were worth sharing.

How to Avoid the Solution Looking For A Problem

So we all know the industry has to adapt and diversify if it is to thrive and prosper.

However, when you take interesting and innovative technologies to a group of bright and inventive people, things gather momentum incredibly quickly as they start to explore the art of the possible.

If you’re not careful, you end up with a lot of very clever solutions looking for problems.

Put simply, just because you can do it, it doesn’t mean you should do it and nor does it mean that consumers will adopt it or clients will buy it.

Nevertheless, the counterpoint to this train of thought is one word – Apple.

That said, we need to remember we’re agencies, not Apple, and the chances of us co-creating the next great thing consumers don’t even know they need are slim at best.

Despite sounding a bit like Eeyore, there is a massive upside for agencies grappling with how they diversify and adapt.

Ironically the 'old economy' skills of agencies can come to the fore and act as an intelligent counterbalance to what could develop into uncontrolled innovation frenzy.

Change One Thing, But Don’t Change Everything

At a time when the industry is driving to re-invent itself, there’s a danger we forget what we’re really good at.

All the great things which agencies have built their reputations on, around understanding consumer motivations and behaviours, are as relevant in this age of adaptation and diversification as they were in the past.

Putting the consumer at the centre of the process to frame the problem or opportunity means you’re more likely to solve a real and pressing problem as opposed to creating something in search of a brief.

I know this may seem like a statement of the bleeding obvious, but when you’re looking to change there can be a tendency to forget the basics and try to completely reinvent the organisation. As a result, you may end up throwing out the good with the not so good.

Creating The Conversation and Establishing Credibility

The AdaptLab sessions showed the client community is already embracing the convergence of new technologies and marketing with Unilever shining through as a standout example.

However for those clients that aren’t as forward thinking, we need to recognise we may have a challenge on our hands. Just because it’s important to us doesn’t automatically mean it is important to the client.

Creating a need for something that the client hasn’t yet identified themselves, and then convincing them you’re the right people to own the problem and the solution will be challenging in many cases.

And that’s where agencies need to become a whole lot more transparent.

Keeping the technology partner holed up in a cupboard, like a Victorian child who must not been seen or heard, while you front the project just ain’t going to work.

The partner brings you the credibility you need to help create the potential need and they also provide the reassurance that you as the agency can deliver.

While it won’t always be easy, it’s about not forgetting what we as agencies are really good at and using the expertise of a partner as a strength rather than a weakness.

Don’t Try And Do It Yourself

For me, this is the final watch out.

Even if you’ve managed to persuade the client there is an opportunity born out of insight, rather than technological trickery and you’ve convinced them of your credentials to have a seat at the table, there’s one other issue that can take things off the rails.

And it goes back to putting a group of bright and inventive people in a room and introducing them to some innovative tech companies.

If you’re not careful you can quickly end up in a situation where people start saying, “But we don’t need company x, because we can do that ourselves.”

This way of thinking totally misses the points made, far more eloquently than I, by Alex Dunsdon in his recent blog.

Alex set out the case for exactly why agencies should stop trying to do it themselves because there’s a whole lot of companies out there who can do stuff cheaper, quicker and better than us.

Which brings me round full circle to Churchill and the fact that this feels like the end of the beginning.

Jim Rothnie is New Business Director at McCann Manchester

The next Adaptathon in Ian Priest’s ADAPT agenda focuses on Agility in early May

Last updated 25/03/2014

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