We're living in a world in which well-established industries – banking, telecoms, news, fashion, you name it – are being challenged and disrupted on a daily basis by hundreds of new businesses.
The advertising and media industry is being challenged as much as any other, with new platforms, innovative companies and smart players offering solutions and services to help brands better understand and better communicate with their consumers.
Data and insights, distribution platforms, digital experiences, viral content measurement – everything is media. It's certainly a catalyst for change, and some may see this as a cause for concern. For others, it’s a whole world of opportunity.
A few years ago we were in San Francisco and came across an event called OpenCo – a disruptive tech conference with a fresh twist. Billed as a mix between a music festival, a tech conference and an artist's open studio, OpenCo turned the traditional conference model inside out.
Instead of filling a dark boardroom with "attendees" and having lectures in a one-too-many style, OpenCo ventured inside some of the c city’s most innovative start-ups, creative minds and high-growth companies.
It gave behind-the-curtain access to the hottest companies in the city – the energy, stories, ideas and creativity was contagious. As serendipitous attendees, we were hooked.
It was an intoxicating few days with the biggest lasting impact being the range and breadth of companies we were lucky enough to meet.
As agencies, and as clients, it seems there's a choice to make as we go about our daily business. Either try to perfectly frame the new opportunity and start laying down roots; or look at the changing landscape as an opportunity to be more nimble.
In other words, be free to continually collaborate with new entrants and flexible in how to find the most effective solutions, in an ‘open-architecture’ model of innovation.
We like to think at Mediabrands we fall into that second camp, as we believe that the power of new start-ups and innovation companies is crucial for the future of our business. We don't see the advantage in being too "fixed" or locked in at a time of great flexibility and change.
That’s why we took it upon ourselves to bring OpenCo to the UK, to ensure we gain access to and partner with the most innovative companies out there – rather than acquiring or investing in a single company.
After a successful first event in London last year, we're now working in partnership with Tech City UK to extend the event to cover London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Bath and Bristol in October this year.
We have over 100 companies taking part and expect over 2,000 members of the business, tech, marketing and educational communities to take part as attendees. And it’s all free.
So what’s in it for us? Well, as hosts, instigating and investing in this platform creates an organic, evolving, virtual lab of new products and ideas and keeps us out on the horizon as early spotters of the most relevant partners available.
It's helping us change our model from the "clients – agencies – media owners" structure into an eco-system of various players, large and small, joining forces to help solve the marketing challenges of brands we work with, and providing ever-demanding consumers with real tangible value.
We believe that as a media agency we have a crucial and important role and opportunity to facilitate such conversations and relationships.
We can build on our strategic capabilities, network and unique relationship with the most innovative companies, and use our expertise to bridge marketing needs with the partners’ technological solutions.
It’s not just about badging innovation, either. We’re embedding the culture of OpenCo into the heart of our product. An example of this is the "OpenCo Safari" we have created and made bespoke to a number of clients and their business needs.
These one or two-day workshops have proven to be hugely successful to both the start-ups (who got the opportunity to showcase their solutions to the CMO’s of some of the biggest brands in world) and for our clients (for whom we hand-pick the most exciting and relevant innovative companies to help address some of their key marketing challenges with fresh ideas).
But it's also more than just good strategy for the agency clients. It's giving our people new opportunities, helping us to attract talent from a wider pool, and opening up ways to play an active role in the local communities that we are reliant upon as a business. It's also helping us be more entrepreneurial in the way we do things inside the agency.
We're finding that by being an active part of this vibrant community and staying open to how we can achieve our clients' goals is not only good business, but also a huge amount of fun.
As a small team of essentially "OpenCo volunteers" we're also finding whole new skills as event organisers, community managers and platform developers – and we're more hooked than ever.
IPG Mediabrands' Hamish Kinniburgh and Ella Goldner are co-founders of OpenCO UK
Hamish Kinniburgh: co-founder of OpenCO UK