TBWA Takes a Stab at Product Development

What started out as a ho-hum project for a new agency Website might morph into something much more at TBWA.
Several members of TBWA Worldwide’s New York office developed a piece of software they are not only using internally but also have 10,000 users testing out in beta. That’s the intriguing origin of Projeqt.com, the poorly spelled content managing system currently in beta from the offices of Omnicom’s TBWA Worldwide.
Projeqt began as a way to make TBWA Websites usable on tablet and mobile devices—an important consideration since one of their largest clients is Apple—has grown into something much larger. As Mashable noted in a favorable write up, “Projeqt gives creatives the ability to weave together stories dripping with style and personality from Flickr photos, RSS feeds, tweets, YouTube or Vimeo videos, and any media stored on their own computers.”
The audience it is going after is academic and creative. When it first began this January, sites such as Cargocollective.com and Indexexhibit.org were the competition. After some tweaks and listening to the feedback of their users the primary competition is now something like slideshow.com, an online sharing site.
“We’re not trying to compete with WordPress or Blogger,” said David Lee, digital ecd for TBWA Worldwide. “Projeqt is more of a tight sandbox. It’s freedom with constraints.”
Lee and a few other colleagues pitched to the top people at TBWA Worldwide including Thomas Carroll, president and CEO, and Lee Clow, chairman and chief creative officer, the idea of making Projeqt something much more than just an internal effort.
“The hardest thing was convincing them why we should do something like this,” said Lee. “It’s like pitching to get seed capital. We had a ton of mock-ups showing the work flow. After that, they got it. Once we got funding to do it, it was a matter of trying to carve out dedicated time to only work on Projeqt. We had to get a project manager to keep us hitting our milestones.”
While the effort would appear an endorsement of those who argue ad agencies need to start developing their own products and technology, Project is not without its problems. The team that built it included freelancers no longer with the shop. And there’s the not insignificant fact that all the team’s time spent on it is unbillable. This last part is offset some by the fact that Projeqt can save the company money from the start — even without additional customers.
“It would not only solve an immediate problem [re-designing the company’s web site] but other problems as well, so making the investment would pay for itself,” said Lee. By eliminating the need for any of the offices to go to a third-party vendor when they decide to re-design their sites every one or two years, a fair bit of coin could be saved given that there are roughly 250 TBWA offices worldwide.
While outside freelancers were used to help build the front end, the back end databases were done internally. “Sometimes we had to hire a shit-hot coder to help us out on one part,” said Lee.
But can Projeqt compete with a hungry start-up? Given its big agency roots the answer is no, as even Lee readily admitted.
“Start-ups are always going to be more agile and focused on getting things out quickly,” he said. “We’re trying to craft things with a little more quality, brand story telling and design quality. Where a lot of start-ups fail is they’re too engineering focused. If brand and design are brought in early the product will be more polished.”
While the endeavor smacks of being a side project, Lee insists that it is not. Projeqt is a small part of what he does on a daily basis but if it reaches a critical mass that may change, he said. This is not the first time TBWA has turned an internal product into something they could sell either to clients or the general public. For last year’s Grammys’  TBWAChiatDay created portraits of artists out of clips of user generated content. They are now selling that technique to their other clients.
“We make an investment upfront in products we can use and then sell them to clients,” said Lee.
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