Innovation is the great imperative of the media tech industry. As systems evolved, propelled by consumer behavior and our own tech evolution, innovation has become a means of differentiating, competing and securing our place in the future.
Transformation has been a constant we all accept. Yet we are very much in a new transformational period, unlike any we have seen before. The bar has been raised even further as we have shifted as an industry to emphasize the more widespread, steady application of data technology. Tech keeps us on our toes when it comes to innovation.
Media ecologist Jack Myers’ new book, “Hooked Up,” reminds us that transformational periods almost always begin with a single break-through invention or technological advance, which spurs a period of profound innovation. You see rampant invention and disruption, followed by application and infrastructure development. We can safely say the Internet was a break-through and that we are now in the period of application and development.
Innovation is a tall order, so many some unfortunate institutional or executive tendencies have persisted. See if the following sounds familiar: “The market moves faster than we can innovate in-house. Google will develop a solution we can use.” Or how about this one: “No, it’s not ideal, but we’ll continue to use the manual processes and tools — like Excel — we know. The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”
The way I see it, there are two types of innovators. There are those who innovate only when the alternative is death. This invites negative implications. If you have not put forth a clear point of view and culture on innovation, you will continue to operate without a cohesive plan for developing new business and your agency client base. But if innovation instead plays an obvious, leading role in your products, services and engagement style, you will target particular companies or people with whom you know you can do good business, because they value innovation as well. You will tend to work with clients who are right for your business.
If you see innovation as an obligation rather than a core value, then laziness will show up in your workflow, with poor collaboration models, gaps and disconnects everywhere. There will be breaks throughout all phases of your agency work and a lack of cohesion. This fragile agency state happens because your vision and commitment to innovation is not authentic.
As a result, you risk profitability in this type of environment because you are creating without vision. Your output is haphazard. This is a wasteful operating mode. Inefficient concepting, creating and iterating all impact the bottom line.
The second group of innovator is comprised of those who understand that innovation is the life-blood of the agency. They organize, foster culture and invest at every level to focus on and benefit from it. We all saw GroupM’s recent appointment of Rob Norman to a global role. This move was made to facilitate management and dealings with GroupM’s thousands of vendors. It demonstrates the appreciation of how important getting this innovation right will be for the agency. Norman’s comments at the time of his appointment made it clear that he appreciates these issues related to technology, systems and collaboration inside the global agency set — and knows just how great the room for improvement really is.
Julian Baring is svp North America for Facilitate Digital, a technology firm providing software and services to digital media agencies and advertisers.
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