News & Views

Don't DIY: Partner with a Startup

by Contagious Team

The IPA and start-up accelerator The Bakery in London teamed up to present a day about why agencies and brands should be engaging with young tech companies. They summed up the benefits as allowing clients to trial new applications and communication techniques, while helping agencies to diversify and potentially change their business models.

Alex Dunsdon, co-founder of The Bakery, introduced the day. ‘Agencies can survive and thrive by partnering with existing tech companies rather than trying to build the technology themselves,’ he said. He claimed that partnerships between brands and technology companies are crucial in order to utilise expertise from every field. ‘In the world of abundant information only the best experiences matter,’ he said. 

Unilever’s marketing strategy and new ventures director, Jeremy Basset, shared the client's point of view. He explained that the benefits of working with start-ups for companies like Unilever are access to new technology, affordable experimentation and adopting a more transformational mind set. Basset believes as the world is moving from an industrial to a digital age, there is a need for companies like Unilever to adjust to a model based on economies of scope, not scale. A new, partnership-based model that works with tech companies are using contract manufacturing for short production runs, embracing ecommerce and low-cost digital marketing. Basset claims his four key learnings from working with small tech companies are:

1. Partnership matters, not ownership
2. Embrace the new and different; don’t defend
3. Build agility
4. Be prepared to invest

Piers Taylor, managing partner at Vizeum UK, wrapped up the morning talks with the agency view, having worked with tech companies via The Bakery on brands such as BMW and Heinz.

‘It’s been a learning process,’ he said, ‘and at times it’s taken us out of our comfort zone. But on the plus side we have acquired new skills and it means we are having real business conversations with our clients and taking on challenges over and above communications.’

The next few hours were spent meeting some of the tech companies that work with The Bakery, including Chirp, Crowd Emotion, Mo’ Joes and Flocker. Eight more companies gave two minute pitches, including Provenance, Ensygnia, Live Guru, Evrythng, IDX Labs, Digital Genius, Yossarian Lives and Play Captcha. This was followed by workshop-style group discussions on how to apply each of the new technologies to a brand.

Finally, The Bakery co-founder Andrew Humphries rounded off the event by asking the audience to design an action plan for change. 'How will you go back to clients and take a different approach? How are you going to re-imagine your soles as solution providers?’ he asked, ending the day on a practical but reflective note.