This is “The Digiday List,” which profiles stars in the media and marketing industry who have contributed to solving real challenges. First up: a handful of agency rising stars who have faced a big challenge head on.

Agencies face their share of obstacles: from the talent and diversity challenges to staying ahead of the innovation curve. But every once in a while, there is someone who takes one of these challenges head on, sidestepping outmoded ways of thinking and instituting new initiatives.

Often, those people aren’t executives, who end up with the bulk of the laurels and honors, but those in the trenches who are leaving their mark.

Here are five making a difference in critical areas.

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Kevin Skobac

The one taking on innovation
As the co-founder of SS+K Labs — the agency’s in-house incubator of creative technologies — Kevin Skobac has been instrumental in leading SS+K’s tech initiatives. But more than that, he has also helped turn the lab into an important business tool that has propelled both worthwhile causes and the agency’s business.

Moving Through Glass,” for instance, is a wearable technology app that works with Google Glass to provide movement therapy to people living with Parkinson’s disease. The lab has also launched “Shakie,” a mobile app that generates GIFs when a person shakes his or her phone, and “RaceFor,” a mobile app that lets you create your own virtual charity races and raise money for a cause.

Skobac is also SS+K’s svp of digital strategy and innovation, and has guided the strategy behind several recent brand campaigns, including HBO GO’s “Awkward Family Viewing” from last year and “Amazon-killer” Jet.com’s recent “JetSpree,” in which Skobac’s team created celebratory videos for Jet.com customers based on the contents of their carts.

“Digital is an ever-changing landscape — if you’re not working hard to explore, you’re not going to be good at it,” Skobac told Digiday. “As a digital strategist, I do a little bit of everything: from creative tech and user experience to marketing and communications strategy, and all that fuels innovation.”

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Jones Krahl (left) and Milton Correa (right)

The copywriter-art director duo that’s transforming creative
This Brazilian copywriter-art director pair may have been brought together by a mutual love of both soccer and advertising, but this Ogilvy & Mather New York duo also means serious business.

A team for over seven years, the pair has been behind some of the agency’s most well-recognized campaigns, including IBM’s “Smarter Planet” campaign, which expanded the brand’s market potential by 40 percent globally. They’ve also worked together on a variety of other brands, including American Express, Grey Goose and Philips.

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Most recently, they worked on the drinkable billboard commercial for Coke Zero as part of the brand’s sponsorship of the NCAA Men’s Final Four earlier this year. They have also been awarded for their work at the Cannes Lions, D&AD and the Effies, to name a few.

According to Krahl, what makes them a great team is that they don’t stick to their conventional roles. “Things in Brazil are not that segregated, and you have to learn your craft at a lot of different levels,” he said. “He doesn’t mind my input on the art, and I don’t mind his on my copy.”

Allison Ciummei
Allison Ciummei

The one who figured out the big problem with rotation programs
Many agencies struggling with talent retention have launched mobility programs that let employees move around offices and within networks to nurture their employees. But at Havas, Allison Ciummei, director of global talent, figured out one major flaw with these programs: They were too long.

“We wanted to create a program and initiative to give employees the opportunity learn from each other and encourage collaboration, but people went off for a year or two which didn’t make the payoff worth it.”

So she created Havas Lofts, a monthlong program that picks 20 participants and sends them to a “host agency” across the network. Two “classes” have already gone off, and Ciummei says she has already noticed how much collaboration has grown within the network. The third class is set to leave later this month. “My next big thing is to maybe go on one of those trips myself,” said Ciummei. “But I can’t go and lead the project at the same time.”

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Steve Thompson
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Joe Zoltek

The ones transforming prototyping
When new hires join Philadelphia-based indie creative shop RTO+P, they’re welcomed in a decidedly weird way — the agency uses its 3-D printer to create Pez dispensers in their likenesses. That kind of wacky welcome is the brainchild of the agency’s Maker Studio, a three-person operation created by Steve Thompson and Joe Zoltek.

Both Thompson and Zoltek’s official titles are “Makers,” although they started in creative and production, respectively, 13 years ago. Back then, RTO+P had one of the first internal production arms, which was then turned into a separate department that does everything from create sets to play with that 3-D printer to tinker with VR or even solder some iron. The studio has, according to CMO Hilary Craven, become an integral part of the agency especially in client reviews where it has used to support proof of concept to potential clients.

Lindsay Lichtenberg
Lindsay Lichtenberg

The one solving the native-at-scale problem
While advertisers are increasingly turning to editorial-like native ads to cut through the clutter, getting enough distribution for those native ads has been one of their biggest challenges. Lindsay Lichtenberg, svp of publishing platforms and partnerships at the Starcom Mediavest Group, tackled this problem by leading the creation of “Content@Scale,” Starcom’s custom programmatic platform that lets clients do display, video and native advertising at scale in real time.

The platform also gives clients access to a library of more than 200,000 pieces of content from more than 36 publishers, including CBSi, Popsugar and AOL. According to Starcom, the real-time content-amplification platform generates on average four times the engagement of rich-media benchmarks and has also resulted in increased awareness, higher ROI on display and mobile ad spend and positive shifts in perception for its clients. Brands including Kraft, Samsung and Mondelēz have used the platform.

“We saw a missed opportunity in that brands were producing content but not optimizing it through paid messaging,” said Lichtenberg. “This is a step into ensuring that your message is meaningful and is being delivered to the right audience.”

Shareen Pathak contributed reporting.

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