Tech viewpoint on adland's role in start-ups
A view from Charles Armstrong

Tech viewpoint on adland's role in start-ups

Advertising has always been connected with innovation. There’s the constant search for fresh approaches to communicate a familiar brand or position a novel product. In the past, the connection between advertising and innovation has mostly been indirect. However, they now have a much more direct link.

The ad industry is in the middle of a generational shift. The transition from conventional media to digital has torpedoed the economics of the postwar agency. At the same time, many brands are also going through a generational crisis centred on innovation. It used to be that an industry leader could maintain its position through investment in internal research and development. The chief executive would have a clear picture of its main competitors. However, a combination of new technology and globalisation has lowered thresholds to entry and accelerated market cycles to the point where this is no longer the case.

Corporate R&D can no longer keep pace with the new ideas pouring out of start-ups, any one of which could erode an established market almost overnight. A CEO can no longer be sure from which direction a competitor might come. A growing number of brands are realising that the solution lies not in turning their innovation model inside out but embracing start-ups in the outside world.

Brands are realising that the solution lies in embracing start-ups in the outside world

But it’s difficult for big companies to collaborate effectively with start-ups. Their cultures, timescales, approaches to risk and worldview are so diametrically opposed that collaborations often result in acrimonious failure. Consequently, there’s a vital role for intermediaries that can provide the necessary hand-holding to help all parties achieve the results they seek.

There are many professional services sectors that are experienced in working with large companies. However, hardly any has the familiarity of working with start-ups. The ad industry is unusual in that it has long-standing experience working with small-scale emerging creative talent. I believe this puts ad agencies in a unique position to help bring brands and start-ups together.

The Trampery has been working with start-ups and innovators since 2009, when we opened the first shared workspace. We’ve just opened our seventh facility. In October 2014, The Trampery announced a partnership with Publicis Worldwide to bring brands and start-ups together. We are working on our first brand-led projects.

Other agencies are also experimenting with hands-on innovation through initiatives such as Wieden & Kennedy’s Portland Incubator Experiment, R/GA’s Internet of Things accelerator in New York and The Bakery in London. Alongside the start-ups, could it be that such initiatives are also incubating the next generation of the ad industry?

Charles Armstrong is the founder of The Trampery