STARTUP WEEKEND: Wayne Brown: They’ll lose a weekend, but what will we gain?

Wayne Brown is the managing director of Grey Possible and a judge at Startup Weekend London, which is challenging teams to come up with new startups business in just 54 hours. It takes place at Google Campus from 12-14 July.

Wayne Brown

“This Sunday I have the pleasure of judging at the London Startup Weekend – Creatives Edition.

At the event, teams of designers, developers and entrepreneurs will get together to answer a brief: ‘How could a startup change the advertising industry?’ Loose and liberating, if also a bit daunting.

In one sense, the last thing this industry needs is another identikit start up. Does it need more high-profile senior executives departing big jobs at large agencies with a view to getting rich quick by, ultimately, selling their lean and hungry startup to a holding company?

In this case, I think we’re talking about a different type of startup; one that could bring something genuinely new to an industry that at its core looks largely as it did in Don Draper’s era (barring the ubiquitous proliferation of Apple branded technologies and lack of pre-lunch time whiskey).

This weekend could be the chance to see some genuine innovation.

Although innovation on our core product is hard to achieve, it has often puzzled (if not entirely surprised) me that an industry with creativity at its heart has found it difficult to use these creative powers to transform its business model.

Whilst there are some rare examples of agencies doing things differently, in the main the agency model is a simple business, and pretty much universally charges its clients based on the time they put into solving their problems.

Ironically, a big area of opportunity for innovation for the industry is the process of delivering innovation itself (in this instance, I’m defining innovation as business transforming ideas, beyond communications). Especially in the more traditional agencies.

Digital agility leads agency start-up culture

Having recently jumped from a pure play digital agency to a more integrated set up, I think one of the core reasons digital agencies had a healthy future was based on their superior ability to innovate and deliver transformative ideas, particularly in technology-based products and services. Most tend to have established cultures of innovation that communications-focused agencies struggle to rival, both because of the technology skills gap and because clients pigeon-hole communications agencies as producers of advertising.

Image of Google offices

Google adopted 20% time for innovation

It will be interesting to see if anyone tackles this challenge at Startup Weekend: can  they show ways in which agencies can innovate on their clients business problems, away from their core business of creating their advertising?

How might they do this? Is it in the structures or approach? Or will they suggest that they need to forget about their clients altogether, and start using their undoubted creative and strategic firepower to invent solutions to meet needs that their clients haven’t even thought of yet?

Maybe they’ll simply identify that agencies should lift the whole startup model, to see if their staff can invent ideas when their minds are encouraged to wander from the important client work that pays their wages.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many agencies that are as cash-rich as someone like Google with their famous “20% time” rule, which means employees spend one day a week on projects outside of their job descriptions.

Commercial pressure in agencies is constant, so innovation will more likely be cultivated after hours. Which is why borrowing the Startup Weekend idea might be just the trick. I’ll order in the beer and pizzas now!

Find out more about Startup Weekend here.

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