Category Archives: Strategy

How to MC a conference in 10 steps


A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to MC the 10th edition of Web Directions. WebDirections is Sydney’s premier conference for the creative development scene with about 700 attendees and plenty of high-profile international speakers. I have to thank Maxine Sherrin and John Allsopp for trusting me to guide the  audience of the Product, Experience and Design stream.
It was an absolute pleasure and if I could, I would jump onto the next stage tomorrow and do it all over again. Judging from the audience’s reactions I didn’t do a shabby job either. Videos of each talk including my MC-ing bit will appear shortly and I will repost them here. So if are organising a conference, panel, session or series of talks or know someone who does, drop me a line and I’d be happy to help out in the near future. 😉


Looking back, it was a fresh challenge for me to switch positions and, rather than being a speaker myself, talk to other speakers about their topic. During their speeches I was simultaneously taking notes, weighing up pre-researched questions with live tweets from the floor, scribbling tangential thoughts I had while listening. Most importantly I was judging the live audience’s physical reactions, whether they were leaning in, laughing or getting distracted.

15716387522_d299d71c79_zOverall it was a great training exercise in moderation. As for prep, I had the help of Andy Murray (Gatsby Studio) who is actually an illustrator and artist by trade. He brilliantly MC’d the previous conference I was speaking at, Sex Drugs & Helvetica. there is a short review from it here on my blog. As you might be able to tell from the two photos below, I nicked the idea of having seats and a table from the Sex, Drugs & Helvetica event. You can see that the furniture style and arrangement even looks similar, but that happened without me briefing Web Directions on it.


There is a very comprehensive review of the conference and many speakers here on Ben Buchanan’s blog, additionally some observations here from Kye White. In the below I would simply like to add a few personal thoughts on what an MC is supposed to do. It is a combination of what Andy Murray told me and what I picked up during the day. Take it as advice if you’re planning to do something similar and let me know if it worked for you as well:

  1. It’s not about you, it’s about the speakers. So don’t play up your questions and opinions like you’re an additional speaker. Let the audience feel at ease, the first 20 – 60 seconds are crucial for it.
  2. Organise your notes on housekeeping, don’t stumble across details as to when the break takes place or who’s up next.
  3. Keep your question short, ideally no more than 7 seconds. Interviewees start thinking about their answer after that point. So they will be unable to listen any longer. You’ll notice it happen when an interviewee asks the MC ‘So what was the question again?’
  4. When you are interested, the audience will be interested as well. Try to find something that interests you personally – the audience will follow you. You direct their interest through you, just like actors create empathy for the roles they are playing.
  5. Do some research on the speakers, but don’t overdo it. You’re not acting as some sort of human wikipedia. As soon as you rattle off too many points, especially when reading them off a written card, everything will sound forced on stage.
  6. Your research will help you have an informal chat with the speakers beforehand. Have them tell you an anecdote, something that, when you retell it on stage, will make the audience believe you’re familiar with the speaker. Some people at WD believed I had known the speakers from before whereas I had only just met them.
  7. It’s your job to let speakers feel at ease, like they are just telling you their answer. An experienced speaker might be able to address both MC and audience simultaneously, but most speakers are professional experts in their field, not in public speaking.
  8. Try to draw connections between the talks where you can. Even if the link is spontaneous and idiosyncratic, it will make the audience feel like there is a flow and a theme to the event.
  9. Give the later speakers something to bounce off of. After I mentioned in one Q&A, that there might be too much agreement among the presenters, up came Dan Hon. He opened his talk with a slide on ‘controversy’ and ‘dissent’. This trick can also help the speakers energise their own talk. It then has a fresh element to the last time they spoke about the same topic.
  10. Finally, be respectful to an audience, be they paying or non-paying. Do a good job, be prepared, rehearse your bits and concentrate.They have come to give you their attention. So don’t insult them by trying ‘to just wing it’.

Overall it was fantastic opportunity to get to know some brilliant minds from around the world. There were some seasoned speakers among them, which helped me compare their styles in a short amount of time.

Douglas bowman Douglas Bowman, TwitterScottThomasScott ThomasThe Noun ProjectMattWebbMatt Webb, BERGScreenshot 2014-11-23 15.44.14Jonny Mack, Google15512650089_4fe346b266_oTom Armitage, InfovoreDanHonDan Hon, Code for America15512649569_07139ff2f2_oErin Moore, Twitter15700118352_3983ff3b5d_oYounghee Jung, Nokia/MicrosoftTobias RevellTobias Revell, Superflux/ARUPjohnallsopp2John Allsopp, Web DirectionsmaxinesherrinMaxine Sherrin, Web Directions15691117216_b946eb5672_zPhotos by Xavier Ho – Jump to Glide and Tim Lucas – ToolManTim, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Agency Open House Sydney

Register for our free event now:


Next Wednesday afternoon, Sydney will see its first Agency Open House. You can visit and have a beer with people at places like Reactive, Host, Soap, Deepend Group, Digital Arts Network, Reborn, WeAreSocial, Pollen, TheFarm,Small Multiples or The Interaction Consortium.

Check out this Agency Open House microsite for Wednesday October 29 where you can also RSVP to the respective agency events. Rub shoulders with art directors, copywriters, uber-geeks, producers and strategy minds. Learn from their work exhibited, listen to talks, ask questions, make connections. You could score an internship, dream job or your next creative collaboration partner. As it is part of Web Directions 2014, expect some heavy hitters from their international speaker roster like Jessica Hische to maybe make a cameo appearance. Just saying….

Check out the full program to RSVP here

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We at Reactive are excited to partner with Web Directions & Creative Social to open our doors for a Sydney-wide Agency Open House So in particular we would love for you to join us at our office in Surry Hills next Wednesday afternoon (Oct 29), between 4-6pm. You can RSVP by registering online


What are Web Directions, Creative Social and this Agency Open House?

Since 2004, Web Directions has been Australia’s cutting edge conference that bring together the world’s most pioneering, interactive creative directors, business owners, strategists and other global experts of digital design and development. As a social warm-up for this year’s Web Directions (October 30-31) the aim of our joint Agency Open House is to have a beer and a chat, explore agencies’ work and workplaces and build some new connections. Reactive has been part of Creative Social since 2007 and together with this group of leading agencies, we recognise that collaborating in a digital landscape is how we will advance the whole industry and enjoy the journey.

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What’s the inspiration all about?

Reactive has been a partner of Web Directions for 3 years now. This year is particularly special as we were invited to create the opening title sequence for the conference. The film is completely HTML-generated and plays live in the browser, unlike traditional videos.


One of our creatives involved, Melissa Baillache, explains the thinking behind the film:

“We wanted to touch on the importance of everyone that come together to imagine, design, create and build great digital products and services. The people, who passionately labour over the tiny details, behind the scenes as well as at the forefront of the digital world. In our film, all these individuals are represented by a ‘pixel’. Their stories evolve into playful geometric structures, yet always keep their original core—the element that binds everything together into a single experience.”

We’d be thrilled if you can stop by Reactive’s office for some beers, food and showcasing and explaining the tech behind the title sequence. Registering can be done by simply replying to this email or visiting the event page below:

We hope to see you next Wednesday arvo, guys!

Sex, Drugs and Helvetica with Reactive

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Reactive represented at Sex, Drugs & Helvetica in Melbourne and Brisbane in September. The attendance was great – we had almost 900 people in both places together. But most of all it was fab bunch of speakers: great creatives but also clever and generous human beings, on and off stage. It was possibly the best group I have yet had the honour of sharing a stage with. 

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Opening up was Chris Doyle, easily the funniest man in Design (go on, follow him on ).


As he spoke about his work for The Jezables we learnt how he used to lay it all bare on stage as singer of a Screamo band from Canberra (oh dear, double whammy). How he managed to mix stand up comedy with screaming emo music is a mystery to me.


Following him were Fabio Orangato Design and Michaela from Studio Round, both working in Melbourne. After me and countering Chris’s antics (while not being unfunny) was Kevin Finn with his thoughtfulness and passion for deep design thinking.


His series of Open Manifesto books are renowned the world over Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 6.08.58 PMand he continues to work with global creative luminaries like Vince Frost, Stefan Sagmeister and Steven Heller on his trivia game DesigNerd.

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Michael C Place (previously of Designers Republic fame and now leading Build) rounded it off and spoke about a great project for Ukrainian kids TV station PlusPlus that created lots of ups and downs (mostly downs actually).


We at Reactive have already admired Michael and Build for their great character designs for Virgin America. Check them out, they are a hoot.

BLD_VA_WEB-01Here are more snap shot impressions from the ground: and here is a live blog doco Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 5.04.33 PM

Find below a more elaborate write up from SDH of the actual talks:


This whole experience wouldn’t have been possible without some incredible passionate and talented youngsters organising the event. As I mentioned on stage in my talk in Melbourne, at their age I was spending day and night in techno bunkers in Berlin. I was definitely not organising high-calibre creative events. So big props to Nick, Zac, Leisha and Andy (pictured below) for their work.


If you now feel like living on the wild side of design, with the right shirt to match your ‘tude, then here are the original T-shirts on the Sex, Drugs & Helvetica Shop: And see you at next year’s event.

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Interview on Innovation with Daniele Fiandaca

I have just published one chapter of our new Creative Social book ‘ Hacker, Maker, Teacher, Thief’ called ‘The Role of Innovation in Agencies”, written by Daniele Fiandaca. To supplement the chapter I interviewed Daniele below and in it we dive a bit deeper into the topic. You can read the book chapter we reference here. And, if you’re keen to know more about the future of advertising, then you can purchase the whole book as a paperback on An e-book version and the Amazon purchase option are coming very soon.

Daniele was until recently Head of Innovation at Cheil UK, with key clients that include Coca Cola, Converse and Samsung. Previously he ran Profero for over a decade, growing it from a small team in London to the global business it is now. He continues to run Creative Social, which he founded alongside Mark Chalmers in 2004 and recently co-founded Innovation Social with Nadya Powell. He is an ongoing Hyper Island Masterclass speaker and Course Leader. Daniele’s passion include film (his favourite film is Nuovo Cinema Paradiso), collecting vinyl toys, and traveling to exotic places. The best advice he was ever given was from reading a blogpost by Dave Trott, when he wrote “Better to be wrong and interesting than right and boring”.

+ First of all, Hacker, Maker, Teacher, Thief, which one are you?

I honestly couldn’t say one or the other, I am all of them. But ok, if my life depended on it, probably Thief!

+ Why is it up to agencies to innovate? Don’t the clients have deeper knowledge as well as pockets to solve their own future problems?

Alex Jenkins, Editor of Contagious magazine recently said “A client told me “I didn’t want to pay for my agencies to experiment and innovate as much as I needed them to.”

The fact is that our marketing clients are extremely busy and often just too close to the coalface and have little time to think let alone drive innovation. What agencies are very good at is giving a different perspective which is driven from learnings across a number of clients as well as an overall understanding on how technology is driving changes in our audience. And what this means at a communications level. I like to think that a big part of the opportunity for agencies is that by adding a layer of creativity to new and existing communications technologies, we can help solve client problems.

Anders Sjostedt, Global Partnership Director, who writes his own chapter in the book goes even further by saying that agencies need to in fact refocus so they are delivering innovation, education and transformation. By understanding technology and its impact on people, agencies are in the perfect position to understand what impact it is going to have on their client’s business. The next step is education. If you know more than your client, then your client will naturally ask you to help them understand it better. And if you have enough knowledge in that area and have the methodology on how to deliver education, you will naturally move into the strategic discussion. All agencies want to be involved the in strategic discussion but don’t invest in what is needed. Agencies need to immerse themselves into the brand and understand what the future holds.

Ultimately this will naturally lead into business transformation and will make agencies an invaluable partner to their clients.

+ You are calling innovation ‘a matter of life-or-death’ for agencies. Is it really that dramatic?

It totally depends on how broken you think advertising is. I personally think that advertising is really quite broken right now. If we want to remain relevant to clients, we need to both innovate as an industry as well as help our clients innovate both in their communications as well as in their business/product.

+ If it is that dramatic, can every agency solve it on their own?

I think there is certainly a movement in the UK towards marketing and advertising working with start-ups to learn from their ability to develop solutions quickly and to pivot their product where needed. Agility is certainly one of the buzzwords at the moment in the industry and I think we were right in my previous agency, Cheil, to aspire to be one of the most agile agencies in the industry. What was really interesting for me though was the work we were doing as an innovation team to actually help our clients become more agile.

+ Do you think integrated and media agencies have caught up with digital agencies when it is comes to innovation? Or is there still a cultural advantage at play with the digital shops?

Theodore Levitt, Professor, Harvard Business School defines innovation as follows: “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” I think that this definition has confounded those that grew up in digital advertising as most of the creative work we were delivering was about doing new things. And it is really the fact that we were at our heart makers and hackers (as well as teachers and thieves of course), that really separated digital agencies from integrated and media agencies and these skills I do think help us in delivering ongoing innovation. Saying that I do think the future is not digital but rather an evolved form of integration which also encompasses shopper marketing thinking – I have learnt so much in the last three years working with people like Emma Perkins, Jamie King. Pete Martin and Simon Hathaway, who all come from a shopper marketing background.

+ What’s our relationship to progressive, innovative production companies in this regard? Some agencies want to leave the actual ‘making’ to them.

I think we all know that the creative process is much more fluid than that. If your agency wants to work in an agile fashion, you need people on the ground doing. And taking a prototype of an idea into a meeting, that can actually sell the idea. Especially when your clients are very visual people.

+ Do I understand you correctly, integrated agencies are better at thinking new things and digital agencies at doing new things?

That depends on what you mean by integrated. I think it’s more a question of where the agency came from. And I don’t believe in the model of planners coming up with single minded propositions that creatives then work from. The future is getting a mixture of people that tackle the clients’ problems together.

+ We are seeing some digital agencies going into advertising and some moving into customer experiences, with both paths hopefully leading them to innovative work.

The advertising industry is sometimes still woefully sniffy about digital agencies. Yet some of these places like DigitasLBi or SapientNitro have done amazingly well and are now bigger than them. But they are in a different space. Engineering, process and science play a big role. Creativity does as well but I would say it’s not as much part of their culture. They do add massive value to their clients’ businesses.  Still, for me personally it’s not does not deliver the same satisfaction as creating something that truly connects with people.

+ So how can digital agencies innovate the more traditional marketing channels?

I think digital agencies are often victims of their reputation, what clients perceive them to be able to do. Actually, it can be easier to start a new shop, with a new name but with the same people. And then go after and innovate the more traditional marketing channels.

+ You are listing 9 criteria for driving innovation. Do all need to be addressed for success to happen? Is there one criteria more important than the others? Which one do you see being ignored most often?

I do personally think they all have a part to play although if you were going to pull one out it would be the need for innovation not to operate in a silo. For this to happen I do think it needs more than just having senior responsibility as it ultimately needs to be from the CEO down and be integrated into the overall strategy for the agency otherwise it will not get the time and support that is needed for innovation to succeed. Because fact is innovation is not easy. As Henry Chesbrough, Author and Leading Innovation Academic comments ‘”Most innovations fail. And companies that don’t innovate die.”

+ Have you found a way to measure the innovation’s success in the agency? Can you actually measure an ROI?

It’s definitely about opening up new opportunities with existing and new clients, getting them to buy innovative ideas. So in that way, it’s about new business and differentiating the agency from the competition. Those are major KPIs together with being recognised and shortlisted for innovation, ideally internationally.

+ Financially speaking, do you have to “go into the red” to achieve innovation?

Absolutely agree that innovation is expensive because their leaders tend to be quite senior and therefore pricey to hire. But I also don’t know a single ‘Head of Innovation’ that doesn’t wear multiple hats in the business. None of them are 100% on innovation but also take on new business and other client-facing roles. Irrespective I truly believe that innovation is at the heart of the future of our industry and it is an investment which will deliver a positive ROI if delivered successfully as part of a wider strategy.

+ Focussing on the role of ‘Head of Innovation’ itself: how do you avoid being the sole person responsible for it, becoming the person that just talks about it?

It has to be about delivery. And how you deliver it has to be transparent to everyone. But the more senior you are, the more you need people who can actually deliver, because it wouldn’t be cost-effective if you did it all yourself. Additionally, people in this role often come from a strategic background and aren’t necessarily ‘Makers’ themselves. That’s where a ‘Creative Technologist’ can function as a bridge between the innovation team and the tech team and creatives.

+ And what’s the biggest frustration for such a person?

The biggest frustration for innovation-driven people is probably that most people don’t see the world in the same way they do. But having actual makers in your team can bridge that gap between imagination and reality.

+ You have been guiding innovation from within agencies such as Cheil and Profero as well as from outside with HyperIsland. Which model brings better results and what feels more fulfilling for you personally?

I would love to say that there was a single model that works as I would then be very rich and have a successful model to sell to agencies and marketers. However there is not a single one size fits all and you will find some very different models in very different (and successful) agencies. However I would be surprised if creativity was not at the heart of every culture – it would be interesting to see how many of those 9 criteria they meet. I’d assume it would be a very high proportion. I would love to hear from your readers if they think there are any additional criteria.

Thank you, Daniele, for adding these thoughts to your chapter on ‘Innovation in Agencies’. Get the whole book here on Lulu: ‘ Hacker, Maker, Teacher, Thief’

You can follow Daniele on Twitter @YellIf
You can follow me on Twitter @TBuesing


How to run innovation in advertising agencies

Creative Social‘ is a global collective of the world’s most pioneering, interactive creative directors and business owners (the Socials) which I have been part of since 2007. In our latest book Hacker, Maker, Teacher, Thief: Advertising’s Next Generation members of our group outline what it takes to survive the next few years in advertising and creative communication.

Below is one chapter that revolves a round a topic dar to my heart, how to run innovation in advertising agencies. It is called “The Role of Innovation in Agencies”, written by Creative Social co-founder Daniele Fiandaca who I interviewed here for Adverblog.

Role of Innovation Within Advertising

By Daniele Fiandaca

As conundrums go, the one currently occupying adland could be of life-or- death proportion. Defining the role of innovation within advertising is occupying the great and good of the sector, and rightly so because it’s pivotal to future-proofing what we do, and how. It is something many and diverse agencies – including Albion, AMV BBDO, BBH, Billington Cartmell, Digitas LBi, Karmarama, McCann, PHD and VCCP, to name just a few, are currently preoccupied with, not least because all have hired innovation officers over the past three years or so.

In the UK alone, there must be more than 50 agencies that have added into the usual mix a specifically innovation-led title, usually at senior level. It’s an increase that is matching, and arguably trumping, the introduction of such roles within client companies.

So what’s driving this relatively recent fixation?

Surely innovation should be at the heart of advertising and creativity? It was certainly central in the world of digital advertising. In the formative years of digital, which coincided with my first 5 years in the sector, I can’t remember a time when we weren’t innovating. It was core to survival – the industry was moving so fast that you constantly had to find new and better ways of solving problems. And this is probably the reason that most of us who have grown up in digital have found it so difficult to distinguish between creativity and innovation.

Yet there is a distinct and palpable difference, most interestingly summed up by Theodore Levitt, a Professor at Harvard Business School. As he puts it: ‘Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.’ It’s certainly a simple and clear definition. But like many such demarcations, the reality is far from straightforward, and in the wonderful world of communications we’re now always finding and activating new ways to deliver interesting experiences to our audience.

To get a clearer idea of the factors that have driven the rise of innovation – and why I believe it’s such a key component of what we need to deliver as an industry – we need to look beyond the face value of the here and now. We need to look at the context of the market we now operate in. And never have we been in a market in which change has been so rapid.

As Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google observes: “We’re entering an age of acceleration. The models underlying society at every level, which are largely based on a linear model of change, are going to have to be redefined. Because of the explosive power of exponential growth, the 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of progress; organisations have to be able to redefine themselves at a faster and faster pace.”

It’s that pace of change, combined with the pressure to redefine, which is having significant impact on our clients’ businesses. Put another way, change is now a do-or-die business imperative. If you need proof, consider the fact that an incredible seventy percent of the companies that were on the Fortune 1000 list a mere ten years ago have now vanished – unable to adapt to change.

So businesses need help, especially in navigating the communications landscape. The challenge faced by the specialists – the communications agencies – is that clients aren’t necessarily willing to pay for this help. Alex Jenkins, editor of Contagious Magazine, sums it up nicely when he recalls a client telling him: “I didn’t want to pay for my agencies to experiment and innovate as much as I needed them to.” This clearly presents challenges for agencies, especially in a time when margins are being constantly threatened and the pressure to deliver ongoing fees from clients is just increasing.

This is one of the reasons that the role of innovation has gained currency – it’s a direct response in recognition of the fact that there needs to be time allocated to looking at clients’ businesses in a different way. Anders goes even further in his chapter earlier in the book when he advocates the need for agencies to help clients actually adapt at a business level, rather than just a communications level.

From where I’m sitting, it’s also the biggest challenge we’re facing. Innovation is so wide in its scope it is unclear exactly what we need to be delivering for clients. When I asked my peers for their definition of innovation, the general consensus funnelled down to doing something new to solve a client’s problems. There were some variations including: ‘Innovation to me is about change and transformation’; ‘being brave enough to do something different’; and ‘entrepreneurial response to change’.

But assuming we define innovation as finding new and better ways to solve client’s problems (and it is worth noting that innovation and technology are not synonymous – old media and old products can be used to solve problems in new and better ways), the next step begs the question of which problems? And how? And do we need to limit what we do to clients’ problems?

Eight years ago, BBH set up Zag to create and develop new brands, which it will license or sell to third parties in return for a share of ongoing sales revenues. Other agencies, such as Droga 5, have since dabbled with similar models, while most recently, shops such as Mother and Wieden & Kennedy Portland have launched their own tech accelerators to get closer to the tech community. This is something that is also close to clients’ hearts. Jeremy Bassett, strategy and new ventures director at Unilever recently commented at the launch of the IPA’s Adapt programme that “partnering tech start-ups will be how we pioneer the future of marketing”.

It is here that I would like to provide my view on the opportunity innovation brings to the industry. I concur with Professor Andrew Hargadon, Director of UC Davis Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship when he comments “Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and, now, their modern counterparts were capable of creating one breakthrough after another because they built innovation strategies around recombining existing technologies rather than inventing new ones.” In a similar way, I believe that by adding a layer of creativity to new and existing communications technologies, namely by innovating, we can help solve client problems.

So what does innovation in advertising actually look like? I had hoped that the introduction of an innovation category at Cannes Lions in 2013 would give us all a steer. It was an exciting recognition of the integral role of innovation in advertising. Now though, I’m wondering whether it ultimately only served to confuse the landscape even further. Rather than celebrate innovation within the advertising space, it awarded innovation within a product design sense in 2013 (e.g. a two-sided phone and a credit card which incorporated a digital display) while 2014 seemed to be more focused around technology rather than innovation (e.g. a kinetic façade and connected signs, tennis rackets and headsets).

At least 2013’s Grand Prix winner by our good friends at Barbarian Group sat perfectly within the comms space – an open source software tool for professional creative coding which provides a platform for developing physical installations, mobile apps, music visualisers, screen-savers and completely new categories of projects. It is a great example of the ad industry not just reacting to, but actually leading tech innovation. And by making it open, the agency is part of the ecosystem, something I touch on later.

Cannes also brought some other great examples of innovation through the Converse Hack a Chuck competition, which we actually ran as Creative Social in 2013, to find interesting ways to hack a Chuck, in turn creating content to launch Converse’s Google+ page. Entries included turning a Chuck into a Wah-Wah pedal, LED Chucks, Chucks with Drone support, Chucks which turn your dance moves into bespoke images and of course, our own entry from Cheil, a skateboard which is unlocked using a pair of Chucks and then monitors your location, distance travelled and your key tricks (using an accelerometer).

Other recent examples include MRY’s collaboration with Spotify to create Placelists, a location based jukebox which allows you to connect with the people you love, through the music you love, in the places you love; IKEA’s Klippbok iPad App by the Monkeys, which essentially brings the flat-pack furniture king’s showroom to your front room; and the Facebook app by Tool that works out who to avoid if you want to stay healthy – or, if you already have the flu, who to blame. And, of course, Pereira O’Dell’s Inside films for Intel and Toshiba that merge social media and movies, and have produced three “social films” so far, including the multi-award winner The Beauty Inside.

Obviously innovation does not necessarily have to be driven by technology; one of my favourite examples of this in 2013 was the Coke cans that you could split into two. Another example I loved (as did Dave Bedwood) was Paddy Power’s hijacking of the Ryder Cup by sky-writing tweets.

Given the round-up above, it’s fair to say that innovation in advertising in its truest and most exciting sense is alive and thriving. So what are the challenges that the advertising industry faces in delivering innovation?

Surveying my peers, more than 60% said that the biggest barrier to success is time and money. Many are lucky in that they have dedicated innovation team members. But even then, most heads of innovation have to grapple with a secondary role that has clear revenue attached.

The fact is the return from innovation is still unproven, mainly because it cannot sometimes be directly charged to the client. In any case, at its most successful, it should have an impact on the whole agency and subsequently, its output.

However I have found that there need to be some core pillars for innovation to be successful:

Determine senior responsibility:

I am not advocating that all agencies have to have a head of innovation, but they need to have someone at board level with responsibility for it so that it fits clearly into the overall business plan (hence being supported by the overall management team). Where agencies do hire someone though, it must be clear that hiring them is not enough – there has to be a commitment from the wider senior team that cultural change is likely to be needed and this change is likely to be perpetual.

Innovation must not operate in a silo: Part of the role of the innovation team has to be to ensure that everyone in the agency has the opportunity to be innovative and that innovation is baked into the overall process. Any briefs tackled should be in collaboration with other members of the team, especially creative and tech. As Alistair Campbell, Creative Director at Guardian Labs comments: “One of the biggest challenges is persuading everyone that it’s their job to innovate. No-one is going to do it for them.” The way agencies achieve this may differ. At Cheil we did this by creating a wider team who have responsibility for innovation and allocating time aside. At DigitasLBi they have a lab within the agency. When they believe there is a big innovation opportunity, they brief the creative technologists from the lab at the start of the process, alongside the creative team and production. Ideation and execution are interdependent.

Strong planning department:

I still find that the best ideas come from matching a human insight with technology to solve a client problem. While a large proportion of those in a senior innovation role actually come from a strategy background, they still need a good team of planners to ensure that they are finding true human insights, which is very different from a proposition. The strength of the Tesco Homeplus subway virtual store, which won the Media Grand Prix at Cannes in 2011, was that it tapped into a cultural human truth. Koreans are the second most hard working nation in the world, and in giving them the opportunity to shop while waiting for the tube, they were given one of the things most precious to them: time.

Provide time for innovation:

We all know Google famously lets its team spend 20 per cent of its time on new things, as does 3M (in case you’re interested, this is how Post-It notes came about). I understand that in an agency environment this can be tough, but the best way to innovate is to provide time to think outside tight deadlines.

Set an R&D budget:

Agencies keep on advocating to clients that they put some budget aside for research and development, so we need to do the same. At Cheil we invested in a 3D printer, Arduino training, and kit and prototypes for new products. Using these technologies helped us sell in the NX Rover campaign to Samsung, where we built a robot to allow people to remotely take amazing photos from their computer from inspiring places around the world, as well as opening up other new opportunities with clients.

Become part of the ecosystem:

Not only do we as individuals need to invest in testing new platforms (in order to swim, you need to get in the water) but you also need to do the same at an agency level. This may mean actually launching your own product, but this might be more with the intention of ‘learning’ to make your product better for clients, as opposed to aiming for the next big money maker. A good example of this is Little Printer from Berg, which Mark Cridge described as “their own probe – put out there as an agency learning tool.

Expand your network:

Tied in with the above is finding new relationships and partnerships to help deliver innovation. A good example of this is Leanmeanfightingmachine’s partnership with Queen Mary University of London. The agency works with Queen Mary’s media and arts technology Ph.D. programme, which has a mission to produce post- graduates who combine world-class technical and creative skills and who have a unique vision of how digital technology transforms creative possibilities and social economies. They sponsor students and get them to tackle briefs and challenges we set them. LivesOn, a product that allows you to tweet from your afterlife, came from this collaboration.

Provide the right culture:

While responsibility might reside with someone senior, for an agency to be truly innovative, it needs to permeate throughout the agency. This can only happen if you have the right culture. Tom Uglow, creative director of Google Labs, describes innovation as a combination of exploration and experimentation, which equates to play, which equals fun. So if you are not having fun, you will never be able to innovate. In addition I believe one of the key challenges for agencies in the next 2-3 years is going to be the ability to constantly adapt to change. This means creating a culture of agility, one in which we are constantly challenging the way we work, sometimes using different processes to solve different problems. This is going to also require a different type of talent which is why at Cheil we focused on hiring what we called ‘curious mutants’;

Deliver clear KPIs:

This is essential. It provides focus as well as determining the parameters of success. These KPIs will be a mixture of revenue, new business, awards, reputation and developing IP.

Irrespective of the above, there is one thing that every agency needs to be truly innovative. And that is a brave client. As PJ Pereira says: “Corporations like to talk themselves out of brilliance.” Fortunately there are quite a few brave clients out there. Hopefully, some will read this book and maybe even pass it on, as perhaps you, dear reader, should too. Because I believe that however you define innovation, offering it to brave clients is going to represent the best opportunity for our industry going-forward. And this will ultimately mean that agencies need to invest in the future (in terms of talent, dedicated time and budget), deliver new structures and processes that make them truly agile, and deliver new services which will help clients adapt to this new future. If we focus on what advertising has historically done well, which is help connect brands to people, then I think the future is bright and innovative.

Purchase the whole book here on Lulu: Hacker, Maker, Teacher, Thief: Advertising’s Next Generation

You can follow Daniele on Twitter @YellIf
You can follow me on Twitter @TBuesing