Bits & Pieces?
Today’s post is a follow up to my post from a couple of weeks ago on agile development.
Last time I focused on a few definitive characteristics of an agile environment – many of which Sue Spaight highlighted on originally in her SxSW session recap. There are a couple of things that I’ve run into since then that have me thinking, so I thought I would share them. Primarily my muse for the past week has been a presentation on Slide Share by digital agency Made by Many, Agile Planning, Learning to Iterate.
First off, let’s be clear – the type of evolution I’m talking about is digital integration beyond what many are just addressing now. “Marketing, Advertising; please meet Technology – I think you guys should get to know each other.” Yes, beyond that. And beyond a campaign support cast of minisite, banner ads and a Facebook page. Tim Malbon, founding partner at Made by Many, in a comment to his own Oct 7, 2009 post said, “I’m certainly not arguing that everything should be digital. Rather that digital platforms are increasingly ‘the glue’ that makes the sum of the parts greater.” This means fundamentally innovating the way a brand is available for and useful to a consumer. Innovation is change, change is new, new requires development. Smart and fast development.
So I’m thinking about two basic, but big, concepts of such smart and fast development and how they would require some fairly profound changes in the way we think and act.
Basic Concept #1: At the heart of the agile methodology is the MVP – the “Minimally Viable Product,” defined as such by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup. It’s not that the product is not well planned – or just half-baked. It’s fully planned to be the product that will be the least burdened, that will meet the critical needs of a specific target market and that will be viable enough to test and learn from.
Corresponding Agency Paradigm Shift: Planning is guessing. This statement in the book Getting Real, by software development firm 37 Signals, seems to be either interesting or insulting – or BOTH, depending on your perspective. For the planners of the world – the strategists, the researchers, those of us that just value logic – this is harsh! The word “guessing” connotes carelessness. Guessing is irresponsible. Guessing is what we do when we have no idea. On the contrary, we have a lot of great ideas. Our plans are based on really legitimate fact and well-studied trends, but still we are guessing/predicting what will happen. In agile, the quicker we can develop an MVP that is based on our top 5 (or so) “guesses,” the quicker we’ll be able to PROVE IT. If we don’t KNOW, we should make our best guess and move forward so we can test.
Basic Concept #2: Iteration. So after we have the MVP, then comes iteration. Where the cycle of traditional project management/product development would go learn>make>test, an agile environment needs to embrace make>test>learn. This process MUST include iteration because an agile (or “lean”) agency would have planned (guessed, if you will) that they might learn a thing or two once the product got out in front of the early adapters (or perhaps the brand fans/followers).
Corresponding Agency Paradigm Shift: Not only do we need to embrace iteration, but our clients do as well. I think it’s not completely random that we look to start-ups when we seek the best agile performers. It’s because they started from scratch! Agile developers seek agile-friendly client? Done! But for agencies contemplating this metamorphosis while at the same time crafting campaign work with existing and beloved, I might add, clients – it is more complicated. Committing to iteration means committing to something longer term. It’s taking a bigger step. The Made by Many deck hits on the distinction between iterative and incremental. Incremental means to build “it” in parts – Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3, etc. – smaller steps to reach a whole. Each phase has a launch date and a subsequent phase rarely has anything to do with learning about or altering the prefacing phase. Iterative means to build “it” completely the first time, then build it AGAIN.
There is some fear on the part of agencies of even going there (Do we have the right people/processes? How will this change our relationship with our clients? How much does it cost? ) And there is no doubt some legitimate questions on the part of the client as well (Is the risk too big? How will we sell this to the CEO? How much does it cost?) Iterative is making a commitment together (agency and client) to the product and to the product’s responsibility to the (ever-changing) end users.
This is not a journey all agencies will choose to navigate. And it may not be the right path for all clients. Certainly there has already been a share of agency splits and start-ups over this leap within our industry.
The way we see it here though, it’s lose-lose if we worry too much about rocking the boat (both our own as well as our clients’). To stay relevant in what Malbon described as our current “rapidly mutating media convergence culture,” we’re having some tough heart-to-hearts about our digital future. If our clients aren’t demanding this, don’t we owe it to them to get them there?
A few days ago Edward Boches, one of my favorite people online, and offline for that matter, published a post about the new generation of digital natives and its choice not to go into advertising. Needless to say, recruiting and retaining young digital talent is crucial for anyone in this industry (click on the link because it leads to a great article), or at least for the ones who want to stay in this business. However, I don’t see it as a problem of recruitment as much as it is a problem of reputation and retaining.
First, digital natives have heard all the horror stories about interactive in advertising agencies: disrespect, lack of creative freedom, lack of exciting projects, small budgets, unreasonable deadlines, etc.
Second, young people aren’t stupid. We know that to start our own company we need experience and connections and working in advertising is one of the best paths to both. But what happens when after a few years in the advertising industry these young people get what they need: experience and connections? How do you create the best possible experience and environment to keep them in this industry? How do you change your reputation?
As a typical and opinionated Millinnial, I’ll share a few tips on the topic (did you really expect anything else?).
Before you start hiring any interactive professionals, make sure your agency is ready for it. Don’t just hire people and give them work only when clients come in and say they want a new shiny platform or a mobile app. Hire them because you realize the value they bring and sell it every time it makes sense (and it probably makes sense in about 95% of the cases).
Don’t isolate them. Don’t put them on a small island and engage with them only when you need them to implement something. Create a truly integrated environment and involve them in more projects. Everyone in the business is talking about being integrated. Don’t just talk about it. Live it!
Try to learn the language. At least the basics. They will be willing to teach you, but you have to put in some effort too.
Understand the process. Understand how it works and what it takes to make it work. You don’t have to know everything, but learn enough to set reasonable deadlines. Learn enough to explain to clients what is happening. Learn enough to make these professionals’ work easier so they can focus on actually creating.
Treat digital talent with respect. Sadly enough, because so many people don’t understand how they work and what they do (do they even work?), digital professionals aren’t treated with respect in advertising agencies, unless we are talking about a digital agency, and who would want to work in such an environment?
Provide them with opportunities to grow and learn. Almost everyone in this industry is somewhere because he/she had a formal or informal mentor that taught them many of the things they know and use today. But what happens to digital professionals in advertising who don’t have many people to learn from, especially in smaller agencies? How do they grow? Who are their mentors? Of course the Internet comes into play, but agencies can make the process easier by using their connections to find mentorship opportunities even outside the agency. Or mentor them in areas other than digital.
And give them time to play and explore.
Young digital professionals (creatives, developers and engineers) want to go into advertising and stay here because it is an exciting field that allows them to work on different projects every day. They go into advertising for the same reason as many creative minds: to create and receive recognition for their work. But how do you expect them to stay in this industry if it hasn’t become an embracive environment where they can be understood and treated with respect?
Photo credit: X-ray Delta One
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- advertising, advertising agency, Creatives, developers, digital marketing, digital natives, digital talent, engineers, Generation Y, integration, interactive and advertising, interactive talent, marketing to Millennials, Millennials, motivation, new advertising agency model, social marketing
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