Digital Essays: Building agency 3.0

Collaboration is at the very heart of a working practice being pioneered on Charlotte Street that might just represent the agency model of the future.

So there's me, the bald Northerner (other people call me worse) down the Toucan (best Guinness in London), yakking on about the three most over-used words in our industry: "creativity", "strategy" and the dreaded "I" word - "integration". I have never met anyone from any agency that says their organisation has none of the above - have you? In fact, to a lesser or greater extent, everybody says they have all of the above. In-house, out-of-house or round the bloody house.

A pint-and-a-half plus one Marlboro Light in (don't tell Mrs H), I am holding the audience: three mates from other agencies - one digital, one traditional and, err, one integrated (so they think) - with tales of how we're doing things differently here at 80 Charlotte Street. Now, these three are pretty senior, pretty respected and work for pretty decent outfits, but blow me - they are listening intently and seem captive.

Why? Because the nature of my discourse (it will become a rant after four pints and 20 Marlboro Lights) is about Agency 3.0. Not 2.0 or 2.5 or 2.87 - 3.0. What the hell is that?

Well, it's an ethos and a working methodology that Saatchi & Saatchi as a group has spent the past six months developing.

This 3.0-ness is something we believe to be the future of how all communication agencies should be structured.

So, come on then, you say (and they said) - what makes you so different?

Real difference number one: something we call Lovemarks, devised and developed by Saatchi & Saatchi, to transform our clients' business, and now an approach that has more than $1 billion-worth of proof of principle in JCPenney and Wendy's. It's based on creating loyalty beyond reason for our clients' brands - that's the same whatever channel you operate in, right? It just so happens that, according to the latest reports from the Internet Advertising Bureau, interactive channels, and primarily the internet, will top £2 billion by the end of 2007, and, by 2010, could be twice the size of traditional advertising in the UK.

Real difference number two: Kevin Roberts, Jim O'Mahony, Richard Hytner, Kate Stanners and Chris Chalk (the really senior people) totally understand what we interactive bods get up to, genuinely value our input, give us support and encourage us to lead. There is no what I would call channel ego here; none of this "Well, here's the press ad, can you make it interactive? Here's the TV ad - put it on YouTube. We've done the strategy, we need to make it digital," etc. This is actually a big deal, as the really senior people get what you say, not only in principle, but in practice, too.

They believe in, invest in and actively demonstrate a hunger for pushing boundaries technically. When he's not deep in the bowels of all things technical, my chief technology officer, Chris Walker, is educating, inspiring and collaborating with "traditional" creative teams, ensuring they are on top of their digital game. From beta sign-ups and evaluations of Joost, to the next generation of interactive desktop tools. Taking the hassle out of the "why it works the way it does", and, instead, opening up new creative possibilities. Keeping the creative juices flowing, genuinely inspiring rather than preaching.

Real difference number three: as an interactive network, we are, of course, connected 24/7, and have media, mobile, search engine optimisation/search engine marketing, technology, content and research competencies, capacities and capabilities.

But we have very much adopted a collaborative "open source" approach to working with a number of partners; from technical strategy and planning with Carrenza, and global content delivery with Akamai and Limelight Networks (the people behind YouTube and MySpace from a back-end perspective).

We're not claiming to be unique, but we have certainly transformed our approach to how we work with each other. And it's being noticed by our senior clients.

Last year, the Saatchi & Saatchi group won a big piece of pan-regional business. The work Saatchi & Saatchi Interactive was already doing for the client put us into the pitch. That existing relationship meant the client wanted us to lead the process. Internally, there was no debate; all we did was put the best team on it from 80 Charlotte Street.

So, hang on, the three mates said, but you're Saatchi & Saatchi Interactive - digital specialists - you can't run a pan-regional TV pitch. "Why not?" was my riposte. Of course we can, and of course we should, and of course we did. Interestingly, there's glue, Agency.com and now us that have been up against the bigger traditional agencies in pitches. Our difference is that we see ourselves as one agency.

So, what's the big secret in this brave new world of Agency 3.0? I would argue it is pretty straightforward, commonsensical almost. Using the football manager analogy, all you need do is pick the right team, build in passion and agility, ensure match fitness, instil pride, make sure they train regularly with each other all the time, understand the opposition (that's other agencies, not the client) and get excited about playing differently.

Clearly, you need to be mindful of the role of that manager to coach, nurture and plan how to get the best out of the players. Leadership without ego; more Ferguson than Mourinho - and this from a Liverpool fan.

- Neil Hughston is the managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi Interactive.