The folks at Made by Many are some of my favorite agency folks around. They’re smart and testing different ways of doing things. Anyway, at SXSW they made a little app called Picle. It did pretty well and now they’re going to keep making it. Something about the way they’ve presented the thinking around the paths the app can take feel really simple and right:
So now that we have that initial spike of users there will be an inevitable dip, downloads have dropped off a little since we arrived back, but we have broken the 45,000 download mark. According to Stuart’s graph the app can go 2 ways.
1. We can trundle along steadily making changes in the app improving the user experience and making the whole thing a lot more polished. However, this route is doomed to fail, while the experience may get better the inability to attract new users and expose the app to a new audience will result in Picle fading away into the digital ether. This scenario is represented in the rather upsetting looking line A.
2. We stabilise the app and greatly improve the sharing features so that Picle is introduced to new audiences and users. Represented by line B.
Rei Inamoto, who’s in charge of creative at the agency AKQA, has an interesting piece on how agencies need to act more like startups. While I don’t agree with everything in there, I have always been interested by the relationship between the advertising and startup world described by Cindy Gallop:
This contradiction, and this identity crisis, however, doesn’t just exist within the ad industry. Gallop points out a core contradiction inherent in the startup space: just about everyone in the tech world hates ad people’s guts. They all believe that advertising is a very bad thing and that ad people are very bad people. Yet, their entire business model in many tech ventures is built around advertising. Take Facebook, for example. The bulk of its $3.7 billion revenue comes from advertising. Google, a company that shunned advertising for many years, built its business around advertising.
This FT Magazine article about McKinsey seems to be floating around the web (haven’t read it yet … added to Instapaper). But speaking of McKinsey, I’m reminded of another FT piece about the firm that makes a really interesting point about the business of consulting:
Indeed, one of the main reasons companies hire consultants is to make sure they do not fall behind what their competitors are doing – in return for parting with their own secrets, they gain access to their rivals’ suitably disguised “best practices”. The consultant is a broker who attempts to amass so much knowledge that each company has to hire him, no matter how uncomfortable that feels.
This is true of the advertising business as well. When an agency is asked whether they have relevent industry experience, in some ways they’re being asked to take what they know about a competitor and apply it to the brand.
Left this in the comments of Neil’s post about the possibility of agency APIs: “The real data in a creative agency probably lies somewhere in ‘ideas’ (thoughts, sketches, designs, presentations). Starting to think about how an agency would build an API on top of that is very interesting (more for the agency itself than clients). But the problem there is one of structure: To build an API requires starting with structured data. The reality is that most of what agencies do is still mostly soft and not-so-easy to arrange.” I then went on to talk about brand APIs a bit, which I still think is a really interesting concept but haven’t put enough thought around to understand properly yet. Go read the whole thing and feel free to skip my comment.
I’m out of the agency game now, but I still think about it and obviously still have a ton of friends spread across the advertising world. One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately (for the last two years really) is the rise of the “creative technologist.” In theory, at least as I understand it, creative technologists were meant to bridge the gap in understanding between the advertising world and technology, as well as help to elevate the position of engineers within agencies to the pedestal that the creative department is held at. This was all nice in theory, but there are lots of things wrong with this, not the least of which is that changing titles hardly ever actually has the deeper effect of understanding and respect that it intends. But that wasn’t all, the other big effect of the new title was that schools started creating programs that taught people to be “creative technologists,” except those people were far more creative than technologist.
And so it became that there were a lot of creative technologists around who couldn’t write a lick of code and that made me sad because there are plenty of technologists, even in agencies, who are very creative. They were creative even before they got the title and then, after they got the title, absolutely nothing changed except they got more competition for their jobs from people who couldn’t actually do their jobs.
All of this is a long introduction to Igor Clark’s long piece about how you shouldn’t hire creative technologists that can’t write code, which made me very happy inside. He talks about a lot of stuff, some micro and some macro, but generally his point is that it’s the ability to make things, really good things, that matters and hiring someone who can imagine, but not execute, is besides the point. As Igor notes (and I agree), agencies are going to struggle for awhile to figure out how to attract engineering talent, especially in the current startup climate, but to thrive they are going to have to figure out how to acquire and retain the sort of people for whom being creative and being a technologist was never a thing they needed a fancy title for, but instead was a thing they followed out of passion.
Basically I’m glad someone wrote this.