“It’s a Shitshow’: Barriers to Agency Innovation

All agencies are trying to modernize. But the new watchword among agency leaders is “invention.” This is a twist on the innovation mantra of years past in that it leans heavily on the notion that modern marketing need a healthy dose of product to go along with clever ads.

“We have to become better at solving business problems,” said Winston Binch, chief digital officer at Deutsch LA, at the Digiday Agency Summit in Miami yesterday. “Sometimes the best answer is a product, an app or a partnership.”

Easier said than done. Binch detailed the day-to-day challenges to making this vision a reality. Here are a few of the biggest:

Brands aren’t there yet.
Agencies can only move as fast as their clients. Not everyone is Nike. Most are barely getting up to speed on the nuts and bolts of digital marketing and aren’t yet ready to embrace a product mindset.

“The reason is it hurts,” Binch said. Still, he said, “You have to accept pain.”

Failure is part of the deal.
For both agencies and brands, failure is tough to stomach. TV ad creation is a fairly linear process. Products are different. Something regularly goes wrong. On behalf of PlayStation last year, Deutsch LA rigged a gigantic machine gun in the desert to allow gamers online to shoot up an ice cream truck. Great idea, but it didn’t always work. The client wasn’t pleased.

“Things fucking break,” Binch said. “That’s a reality.”

Art and Tech don’t always get along.
In the final analysis, it always comes down to culture. For agencies like Deutsch LA, the challenge is combining a storytelling culture that was built around TV commercials with new digital tech expertise. The meshing isn’t easy. Binch takes heart in the fact that even at Pixar, probably the preeminent example of a company that’s blended art and tech, it isn’t easy.

“It’s a shitshow,” Binch recalled the Pixar exec saying. “It comes down to personalities. You have to embrace it.”

Watch a five-minute clip of Binch’s talk on agency innovation below.