#CSInterviews Lawrence Weber, the man putting innovation into Karmarama

I am a very lucky man. As with Creative Social, Innovation Social, which I co-founded with Nadya Powell, is giving me the opportunity to build deeper relationships with my peers and actually have them become friends. Lawrence, Managing Partner Innovation at Karmarama, is definitely one of those people and it was a pleasure to sit down with him last week and talk to him about innovation and his expectations from this week’s Cannes Festival, amongst other thing:


What is your definition of Innovation?

Doing something new – in the context of the problem and who you are solving it for – that creates a sense of real change.

What’s your That’s Me That is (i.e. the piece of work that best defines you)?

I think it would be our ongoing Beacon trials for Unilever, rolling out across 270 Tesco stores this summer. It’s not for the pure creative endeavor of it, but because it shows how collaborative and complex delivering innovation projects can be. The original project- a Beacon driven, proximity campaign that allowed consumers to find friends nearby and invite them to special Magnum events- was a product of 5 different groups of people including the start-up who provided the tech. The second has been on an even larger scale. When you work with new tech and new partners, everyone learns as they go, which makes things exciting but much less linear. Maybe next time we’ll make a TV ad ?

I believe you were one of the first members of Innovation Social? Tell me in your own words what Innovation Social is and how it has helped you personally?

Innovation Social is AA for people who are itching to do things differently.

In the early days it was about huddling together for warmth, persuading each other that trying to do difficult and new things was worth it. Now it’s about rapid learning from success and failures to keep me ahead of what’s going on.

Innovation Social

How important do you think innovation is to the future of brands?

I think it’s very important for brands to be very aware of other people’s innovation and disruption and how it’s affecting, their sector, their consumers and their competitive set. That gives them the confidence to identify a kind of continuum of services, from small-scale pilots, to assimilating those pilots into the core of the business to legacy business that needs maintaining.

And how important do you think innovation is to the future of the advertising industry?

Like brands, advertising agencies have a continuum of services. Sir Martin Sorrell called WPP’s traditional ad businesses his legacy, profitable and important now but not where the future lies. Creative Innovation in the work is really important but innovating new products and services and business models is even more crucial for an agency’s long term health

Cannes Karmarama Innovation 1[1]
You are speaking on a panel on Thursday called Brands, Agencies and Start-ups: A Match made in heaven?. Tell us what you have been doing in the space?

For the last 18 months I’ve been fascinated by and increasingly involved in – in particular with Unilever Foundry and The Friday Club London – understanding the relationships between the brands, agencies and start-ups. I think we’re all affected by the relentless charge of new tech, new channels and changing consumer behaviour and no-one can credibly claim to have a handle on all of it. Working with start-ups with very deep knowledge of a particular domain or vertical is a great way to pilot a new product or service, before making a bigger investment. On the flipside helping mentor new businesses around keeping products and messaging simple for the end consumer is incredibly rewarding

Who else do you think has been doing interesting things in this space?

Aside from Unilever Foundry and Friday Club, I think Collider – the dedicated Marketing Tech accelerator – and people like The Bakery are bringing agencies, brands and start-ups together in a really constructive and interesting way.

There are a growing number of agencies who are starting to dedicate time and resource to engaging with start-ups too, I think the next 12 months will see that move from single people in agencies to more packaged products for clients.

I take it you a veteran to Cannes? What for you are the Must Dos for anyone visiting the festival for the first time?

I’ve always been the SXSW guy, so this is my first Cannes. I’m looking forward to the Lions Innovation part the most I think. We’ve been involved in Cannes and Unilever bringing 50 start-ups to the festival, so I’m fascinated to how that plays out in context with the rest of the festival.

I’m relying on my friends from Karma and IS/CS to keep me out of trouble.

What trend do you think has the potential to most disrupt brands?

The trend for people to demand transparent brands that at least don’t damage the eco system they sit in. CSR has been dragged from the periphery of corporations to the middle, Unilever being a great example, in the main to counter the mission led brand expressions of start-ups. To counter the disruption though, brands have to fundamentally change, not just up the marketing budget to run more “we’re nice people really ads”.

If I was to say “innovative brand”, which brands spring to mind?

In terms of an existing brand really committing to Innovation, it would be Barclays for the way they’ve embraced Fintech in London.

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Would you consider yourself a Hacker, Maker, Teacher or Thief (or a combination of them all)?

I aspire one day to be a Teacher- a real one not just someone who does lots of panels ;)- but at the moment I’m working out how to be a mixture of the other 3.

If there was one thing in advertising you could fix, what would it be?

The way we charge for our expertise. Not a new problem, but one agencies have to solve for our long term health.

This is the third year of the Innovation Lions and this year they have opened it up so that it is more than just rewarding technology driven innovation? What have you seen in the last 12 months that you would like to see winning an innovation Lion?

I think I’d need to pick 2. As a piece of innovative creative thinking it would be “Life Paint” by Grey for Volvo, because not only is it a beautiful ad, but if the product trial goes well it will become a useful, commercial product that delivers the brand promise.

If they could enter I’d give one to the incubator Entrepreneur First for creating a place where the UK’s brightest tech people can come together and create start-ups out of that energy. They’re squaring up against people like Y Combinator and that takes bravery in their sector.

What’s the one business book you would recommend to anyone who wants to get ahead in advertising?

I really enjoyed “The Best Interface is No Interface” by Golden Krishna. It has some good lessons on how not to over engineer a solution and how transient the screen maybe as way to control out lives, but also as a canvas for our creativity.


What’s the best piece of advice you have been given (and from whom)?

A year or so into my career I was moaning about the life of a producer to my boss Terry Heath. He said the ability to take an inspiring but often wafer thin idea, bring together a team of crafts people and produce something out of nothing, was basically magic. Collaboration is more important than ever and the ability to lead a disparate team an even more vital skill. It was also a spectacularly good bit of man management.

If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?

I’d find a better currency for creative success than awards, although they are a useful rule of thumb at the moment.

What’s the one question you would like to ask a fellow Innovation Social?

I’d ask Jon Burkhart where his accent comes from

Finally, you are speaking at Innovation Stories next month in London. Tell us why smart folks from agencies and brands should be buying their tickets now to our annual event?

There are lots of events that are designed to inspire people in our industry, but not a lot of them allow or encourage people to be honest about what they’ve really done. Honesty about the work and our industry is really refreshing and very inspiring.

If you are in Cannes, Lawrence is speaking on Thursday at 10.30am on the Experience Stage (as part of the Innovation Festival. More details here.

However if you did not make it to Cannes, don’t fret. Lawrence is also one of the speakers at the next Innovation Stories on the morning of Monday 6th July. You can buy tickets here.

Eventbrite - Innovation Stories 2015

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