** This article first appeared in The Drum Opinion **
During Advertising Week Europe, there was a lot of talk about how brands and agencies need to embrace innovation. And on the panel Collider hosted, moderated by Stephen Lepitak of The Drum, senior brand and agency executives from Havas, Ogilvy & Mather Group UK and Unilever talked about how one of those ways is by working with startups.
Common questions from the audience reflected how major changes would need to happen internally to effectively be able to work with startups. Here are a couple of the arguments and solutions I think people can take action on.
Argument: The agency model is fixed on business objectives, generating revenue from clients and it won’t change.
Solution: Embrace serendipity and open up the boardroom doors to collaboration
At its core, marketing and advertising is about creativity, thinking outside the box, and selling products. A huge part of that is embracing adventure to achieve unimaginable heights. Sometimes that means investing in long-term returns rather than immediate ones. And that is what working with startups can do. Start by bringing startups into your boardroom meetings. Let them sit at the table with you. Put to rest the pedantic monologues and open up a dialogue.
Don’t be afraid to try new things (meaning you might try a lot of things that don’t work before finding some things that do). Get out there and start working with startups to see what solution exist to your problems. Start small – a short trial will do to start.
Argument: The culture of agencies won’t change. And that’s what is needed to work with startups.
Solution: Empower your staff with the knowledge and tools to understand new tech and innovation.
As one of our panellists mentioned: “The cultural shift must be embraced within brands and agencies from the top." And that means educating your staff to work with new technologies. We call this becoming ‘tech natives’ as opposed to ‘tech tourists’. Give your staff members interested in new technology the tools and space to play with it. For tech natives, it’s as natural as breathing.
The company culture is echoed in business policies as well. Reflect on your business practices and make the necessary procurement changes internally to accommodate startups. After their first year of working with Collider, Unilever changed its procurement process from 90 days to 30 days, and has now made working with startups a part of its culture.
Both of these solutions lead back to creating innovative spaces within the organisations for teams to delve into new tech and ways of working. Through innovation labs, workshops led by experts in these fields, and making the necessary procurement changes, you can stay ahead of the game. Don’t shy away because it’s hard. The first step is always the hardest.