Innovation is one of the hot terms of the moment. Everyone quotes it. Everyone says they do it. But does everyone understand it?
A recent report featured in Fast Company by global innovation consultancy, Promise Communispace, highlighted the value of external partners in delivering ideas and inspiration. Philips, renowned as a pioneer in technological and product innovation, said 60% of innovations are now developed in collaboration with external partners, up from 20% four years ago.
With the demand curve continuously rising, the market is seeing some interesting developments, both in terms of new agency models and in form of new talent. A wave of new ‘innovation agencies’ are being born, more established communications businesses are bolstering their offering to meet the innovation agenda, and there is an upswing of strategic coalitions between agencies to afford more valuable and deeper client conversations.
The new wave of consultancies built on the ‘pillars of innovation’ – part business consultancy, part creative agency covering product, service, brand, communications and operations – don’t proclaim to be a one-stop-shop, rather exist to help clients answer the tough strategic challenges that impact on all aspects of business operations including marketing. Rony Zibara, Partner at leading international innovation firm Fahrenheit 212 (F212), talked about the need for a multi-faceted team to deliver on innovation and growth challenges.
“The need to solve for a company’s growth ambitions is underpinned by a rigorous understanding of how to leverage and repurpose its assets, conversely the need to solve for consumer pain points is a psychosocial exercise in understanding human behaviours. This requires talent with deep expertise from both sides of the equation – commercial and creative -, which can be invaluable when catalyzed by an integrated methodology to deliver innovative solutions”.
The amalgamation of both commercial and creative is the key to success. F212 have structured their business on two pillars; hiring in those who can converse with senior business leaders and advise them on commercial, business and growth strategy with the marriage of a team of creative thinkers who can bring new ideas to life. Ben Hayman, Global Head of Innovation at Omnicom agency Promise Communispace, recorded a similar stance on the need for a richer and more diverse talent set.
“Increasingly clients are looking for the full suite of services, and as a business, we’re reacting to this need by going beyond our core pool to hire in management consultants and creatives to offer a fuller proposition to our clients. I believe that ‘innovation consultancies’ almost need to replicate the clients business with the ability to get new products and services to market – such a model calls for a diverse skill set from research and analysis through to strategy, design and communications”.
For communications agencies, change needs to sit firmly on the agenda. Still the vast majority of communications businesses rely on the traditional model of creating, planning and handling advertising with little challenge or ability to ask, and answer the often bigger and more strategic issues brands are facing. Planning is not strategy. Creative is not design. Account Handling is not challenging the c-suite. Further, the idea of hiring in an ‘innovation director’ to cover this void is not enough – invariably these people were great creatives, planners or account handlers who sought a new challenge, not strategists who have experience in helping clients achieve commercial growth. Furthermore, the traditional organisational structure is not offering the career routes that will develop the talent that it will take to deliver for the future. Speaking with Ije Nwokorie, Global CEO of brand and innovation consultancy Wolff Olins, he hit home this point.
We are working hard to attract and hire outside of the norm bringing in a new wave of talent who are able to not only deliver brand consultancy, but also work with our clients to understand the broader business issues, be that product, service or employee engagement”.
The challenge for communications agencies is the competition, both in terms of seeing this new work and in attracting the needed talent. Added to this, how can they compete effectively against the new start ups and the big strategy consultants who already have access to the CEO and their senior teams?
Whilst there are challenges, change is no longer a matter for consideration, it is a must. Clients are no longer looking for simply a creative solution which often delivers great, but short-lived impact through a campaign or unique brand experience, but a solution that future proofs their brand, fends off competitors and fuels business growth.
So the message is clear, agencies need to take innovation integration seriously in order to compete in what is becoming an even more competitive landscape, but one that has larger client budgets and more ‘involved’ client partnerships.