Before I joined Cheil as Head of Innovation, I asked a number of friends to give me their views of the role of innovation within ad agencies. Well 18 months later, and to celebrate the fact that our next CS Sessions is about Innovation stories, I thought it would be interesting to see how things have moved on and again got a little help from my friends, who have a role in Innovation who are (thanks guys):

Lawrence Weber (LW), Head of Digital Integration, Karmarama

Scott Cooper (SC), Head of Innovation Lab, The Sandpit

Nick Constantinou (NC), CEO, Collective

Rohan Tambyrajah (RT), Global Innovation Director – PHD/Unilever

Francesca Ronfini (FR), Partner on Jumptank

Amelia Torode (AT) – Head of Venture Strategy and Innovation, Chime

Nadya Powell (NP), Client Partner and Chief Innovation Officer, Dare

Damian Ferrar (DF) Innovation Director, Imagination

Matias Palm-Jensen (MP), Chief Innovation Officer McCann

Faris Yakob (FY), Chief Innovation Officer. MDC>kbs

While we have no idea how long the role is here to stay, the number of people with the title does appear to be growing. Of those above, most have had responsibility for innovation within their agency for between one and two years. However despite this the definition of innovation is still not universal and included:

  • Changing behaviour, process and people to produce work that is either a) new enough to get noticed or b) truly goes beyond advertising into utility (LW)
  • Smart experiments that make a difference (AT)
  • Entrepreneurial response to change (SC)
  • Doing things differently to get cut through (RT)
  • Challenging clients on how they communicate and challenging marketing to take an active role in defining what they market – innovating the product (NP)
  • A new idea or method (DF)
  • Not doing what you did before. Picking at embedded assumptions. Finding solutions to unarticulated problems, creating new things and ideas that people didn’t know they needed or wanted, unlocking new markets and new business lines to sustain economic growth (FY)

While the definitions above may seem very different, I would say that they are all rooted in delivering new and better ways to solve problems.

It is worth noting that while many carry the title of innovation, very few of us are fully dedicated to innovation, which I suppose reflects the fact that the advertising world has not yet fully been able to justify the dedicated innovation role fully. Other responsibilities vary between Head of Digital, lead client status, new business, digital strategy, venture strategy and Chairman of the Nordics (you might be able to guess who that is). It is worth noting that the common consensus is that you have to have someone dedicated to innovation to be innovative. You do however need someone who has board level responsibility for innovation and the time to dedicate to making sure it happens, something a dedicated role helps hugely.

It does feel like change is happening although there are still some clear barriers at both an agency and client level and the people I asked listed the following:

  • Fear in terms of both change as well as failure
  • A business model, operational capabilities and client relationships that reward and specialise in channel-specific and messaging focused outputs
  • Budget – its a new budget line and no-one is used to including it
  • Politics
  • Process. Not recognising the pace of change and it’s impact on the world we live in.
  • Reconciling innovation with scalability.
  • Time pressures – innovation needs time; and
  • The cult of the creative

It does feel that the most prevalent barrier seems to be the business model, which is no surprise given that it is a new discipline and it is sometimes hard to attach immediate revenue to the role. Especially if you then consider that everyone who was interviewed felt that it was their responsibility to actually develop and monetise IP. I personally am a little conflicted on this one as having started a couple of new businesses at Profero, I still think that the industry’s core focus should be that of a communications industry and where we do develop our own product, I think it should be more about becoming part of the Ecosystem and learning from being part of it. (e.g. it is amazing what you learn when you develop you own app).

This brings us on to measurement and the key KPIs for those responsible for innovation. These again varied and included new business and new product revenue, revenue growth, increase in ROI for clients, types of projects delivered, culture change, digital advances, a wider scope for the agency, awards, reputation, thought leadership and inspiration to the wider team.

Finally to finish off with a little inspiration, here are the things people I asked thought had been the most innovative thing they had seen in the last 6 months: