Making Innovation An Operation

How do you create a balance between understanding and enacting the newest technologies in a way that matches their emergence without throwing the baby out with the bathwater? It's a very real problem in our industry, one that balances what our clients perceive to what is realistically possible.

This article was written by Malinda Gagon at Group M, and is a simple explanation of one aspect/application of Lean Management Strategies that applies to both advertising agencies and production companies:

“The rate of change in our industry is staggering and exciting. The big question is, how do we take new technology and apply it to our agency’s business? In other words, how do we operationalize innovation?

Finding the sweet spot among technology, client need and opportunity, agency business objectives, and marketplace trends is a function that requires a dedicated team. I raised my hand for the task about a year ago for my agency and proposed a product development team. The team is responsible for selecting our technology partners, stitching technologies together for our solutions, and developing our service offerings and internal tools.

Stewarding the path from ideas to technology to development to operational execution allows us to find new shiny things that actually help our clients. But, as important as it is to discover and implement those innovations, we need to be smart about what we choose to bring to clients. It’s critical to make sure those shiny objects are used well and they grow our clients’ bottom lines. After all, how many times have agencies wowed clients with that next great thing and then failed to figure out how to execute it to the clients’ advantage? Or worse, they execute the innovation but end up with a project being a severe drain on client teams and resources?

That’s why it’s important to provide an operational framework for introducing and applying innovation. Whether you are a business in the agency selection process or an agency, here are a few steps to be aware of and follow in order to operationalize innovation.

1. Establish a dedicated product team: As a client selecting an agency, consider this: Do you want to go with a one-hit wonder or a firm that’s at the top of the charts month after month? One-off innovative success can happen outside of a dedicated team, but the agencies that perform well consistently do so because they have a dedicated product team. Ask the agency (or ask yourselves) some key questions (Who creates offerings? Who selects your technology partners? It’s important to dig past that one amazing case study or client example and figure out how this is operationalized in the organization.

2. Have a clear charter for the team: The success of our product team depends on knowing who we are. We are a technology-driven media and services company. We have a roadmap of development efforts that are prioritized based on client opportunity, competitive analyses, technology and marketplace developments, and how we want to grow our business. Our job is to create offerings that allow us to execute on our clients’ objectives.

3. Collaborate! Facilitate and encourage thought diversity: Product development is a collaborative process. The product team understands technology and how to build solutions; it is the steward on the path from idea to development to operationalizing a solution. The strength of this function comes from diversity of thought within the agency as a whole. Product teams have to be the conduit for shared ideas. They have to bring subject matter experts together to brainstorm, tackle tough questions, and get feedback.

4. Balance your roadmap: Clients always want to see the fresh offerings that use brand new technology and give access to new media or new media efficiencies. This is key to building your capabilities. While the new should always be in your roadmap, this needs to be balanced with improving existing offerings as well. This includes re-evaluating current technologies and tools to ensure you’re using the best, and developing internal tools to drive efficiencies. Improving existing offerings needs to happen to ensure your teams are delivering the best work and doing so in the most efficient way possible. While clients may simply recognize this as table stakes, it’s critical work. An agency that doesn’t do this will fall behind.

At the rate of technological change, this model helps agencies stay at the forefront of new opportunities and forge a new way forward. Clients expect more from us. We can’t only parade new shiny technologies in front of our clients. We need to figure out how to use them reliably for our clients’ benefit. Our agency business requires us to deliver in a way that is operationally sound to ensure consistent quality and needed margins so that we can sustain great work from great team members—and continually delight our clients.”