I can't stop listening to this. TIMJ tells me my jam needs renewing but I don't want to.
I can't stop listening to this. TIMJ tells me my jam needs renewing but I don't want to.
Joi Ito, director of MIT's Media Lab recently spoke at a Dentsu thing in New York that I couldn't go to, but heard a lot of good things about, so I looked up some of his talks.
One of them referenced two models, talking about propensity to risk-taking in business. (His original graphs are here, I've just re-scribbled them below.) They're a nice shorthand for the things that have preoccupied me in the first year or so of a new business, trying to define new ways of working, and new kinds of business models in communications that prioritise cultural value.
The first - the Traditional Sales Model - refers to bigger companies with established revenue streams, profit and production modes.
In the context of communications, this translates (to my mind) to medium-to-large advertising or design agencies who've been operating for at least two or three years. They might not classify themselves as Sales Companies, but they are: their business model is predicated on selling a certain product, made and delivered in a certain way, by certain people. The driving focus of these businesses, and much of their spend goes into "new business", by which they mean large accounts: one of an established agency's most significant costs - often running into the tens of thousands per quarter - will be pitching for three of four pieces of business a year.
This model militates against innovation, or any kind of new approach, in terms of - more modestly - the type or size of business you might pitch for, or - more adventurously - the nature and form of your business model itself, the work you make, and/or how money is spent, and earned in trying these things.
Simply put, the bigger and more established your business is, the greater the potential downside of any risk or trial, and the smaller the potential upside. It takes so much to divert attention and funds from the known way of doing things that it will literally - fiscally - never be worth trying something really new.
The second, Venture Investing model, is based on trial and error. Investors typically float numerous projects, constantly assessing the potential in each, culling those that show little promise, and responsively backing those with growing potential until one or a few of them take off. It's almost all upside with this model, as risk is inherent, and managed, not a negative.
Dentsu London's business model is not something I'd anticipated being a big part of my job on the strstegic and creative side of the business. But I've realised more and more that this stuff is at the heart of it, because it's the context that allows interesting forms of creative work to happen. Or not.
The question in this area that I get most of all, is how have we been able to experiment with our work, on any kind of project, but particularly those that didn't at the outset involve a client or an outside budget.
Projects like these are inexpensive and with a purpose - either for communicating what we're about, exploring ways of working that we can apply to other areas, or in the case of Suwappu, substantial new long-term revenue streams for the agency. They're essential efforts, made for less than the average agency's entertainment or traditional PR budget alone.
We've chosen to prioritise the work, and the way we make it and this is one of the ways we do so. Not because it's fun (although it often is) but because it makes business sense. It doesn't if you're working with preconceived ideas about starting a creative business in this market, and if those are based on the tradtitional advertising agency model, but that's exactly what we've tried to avoid.
I spend a lot of time talking about hybrid communications. The idea that, effectively, Dentsu London (and any agency that wants to be) is in the same field as Coke, Google, Burberry, Amazon, in that we're all diversifying, because our "remit" is recently everything from product or service, to advertising, to experience; hardware and software; familiar and emerging media.
It's no longer simply the case that on one side of a divide you have companies needing to advertise products or services, and on the other agencies paid by those companies to advertise them. There's a very real sense in which we're all just companies now, in the same predicament, trying to make good stuff, with cultural and commercial value.
That's a different thing to saying any of that's easy, but I do say it, and I mean it. Not just because it's a more interesting way to run a business, but because there's a commercial imperative for any company (and especially advertising agencies) to find new value - and cultural value - and new definitions of "ROI" to go with it.
iPad Light Painting was an example of trying to make something of cultural value, to express and share some ideas behind a new business. The Canon sound sculptures were examples of advertising that tried to earn cultural value of its own, beyond advertising - to do more than just be effective in facile way for Canon. Suwappu (and to a lesser extent Wallpaper Scissors) was a first venture into product - both the hardware product of the toys and the software product of the technology.
Russell makes a good point, that these things are hard, and hard to get right. And I'm not yet speaking from a place where I can say I've got a product on sale that brings value to people's homes and lives. But I can say it's worth doing, and worth trying.
And it doesn't always take that long. Taking Suwappu from conception to prototype was a month of actual making, and from concept to prototype app was about two. Getting the characters right before any of that, just on paper took more time than either. Obviously there's faffing about in between, finding the right people to work with, coordinating everyone's time and attention, and other projects that delay things, but in reality so far that's been it. From here to sale is unknown, but with the right partner this could take anything from two months to a year.
The brilliant Little Printer didn't take five years, as some people are saying in reference to Matt's post in 2006. The germ might have been sown then, but the actual thing of Little Printer, and Berg Cloud, took about a year from starting to physically work on the project to now. Suwappu was about the same in total.
It's a different matter, which Berg are also quite clear about, to set up a business where Little Printer is possible. And that's what I find interesting: creating the conditions to furnish these kinds of possibilities - not for any business, or the ones for whom product, hardware and software are bread and butter, or the massive ones who can throw money at it - but for companies who are trying to do something for the first time and where every project is significant to their survival as a business. That's the hard bit. Working out how to make it work with a business model that's set up around something else, or on the other hand keeping your model nimble enough to stretch to a different output on every project.
None of this is to say that everything should be fast, or can be. There's a place for fast and slow products, and fast and slow development of pretty much anything. Some things are hard, and many parts of many projects, including Little Printer, are only possible for a very few special human atypicals (great code being one of them, the vision to even do it in the first place, and then in the way it was done, is another).
So while it's right that agencies can't do this stuff in their sleep, I'm not sure any of them would attempt that. I think you probably have to wake up to even try. And if they do try, would it be such a bad thing? I'd quite like for more people to try to make good stuff. The worst that could happen is that, you know, it's shit, and fails, and some people learn something. And the best thing to happen is something new and brilliant comes into the world.
Chris, Margot + Greg at planning tea.
It's been a heads down couple of weeks since last time, steering a few projects we're in the middle of into the right place for before and after the holidays.
Creative development continues on lots of Canon briefs, which occupy a good half of the building, and began on a new film for a new client we can't talk about yet.
Chris and Camille are working on a Christmas project due next week. Ida, Paul, Angus and I had a couple more promising new business meetings between us.
I had a great meeting with Alice Taylor, founder of the awesome MakieLab, a brilliant time speaking at Creative Mornings this morning, and began a stint of working at home for the weeks leading up to Christmas before maternity leave in the new year.
And the Christmas tree arrived!