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Building Bridges in Europe

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Creating a partnership between agencies and clients where risk taking, innovation and experimentation can thrive is the way forward and untested innovation can blossom without fear is a destination many of us are attempting to reach, says John O’Shaughnessy.

Picture it. Prague in early September – in between the gawping tourists and the Wes Andersonesque architecture, 25 seniors from live communication agencies from across Europe are taking a food tour of the city. It’s 10am and we’re sampling the local paint stripper with some curiously gelatinous meats; I’m trying hard not to be a squeamish Paddy.

Verve has been a member of 27Names network for six years now and despite the diverse sizes and locations of the member agencies, I’m still surprised how much we have in common. We share more or less the same challenges to constantly reinvent and reposition what live communication means, the same pressure to deliver more creative, at increasingly faster rates – the same ever evolving opportunities with technology.

Fuelled by a herbal liquor, the conversation turns to pitch conversion rates. One of our agency partners talks about their pitch rate over the past 6 months – it’s been a bloodbath. A prestige agency with an enviable stable of clients in their market, they’ve lost one pitch after another to a motley band of freelancers, online fixed-price service providers (“think Uber for communications”) and freewheeling collectives. The group shivers and nods in recognition – the gig economy is upon us.

What’s clear from the conversation is that the established agency model needs to evolve to embrace and learn from this brave new world of nimble micro entrepreneurs. And fast. Whether you see it as a battle of plucky Davids and Goliaths – or simply as a reaction to the unpaid internship culture that so many millennials face in agencies –one thing is certain, it’s changing the landscape.

What do clients experience when they move beyond the safety net of an established agency to a collective of freelancers? Perhaps it’s bravery. Without the fear of failure or no guarantee of delivery and without a job to lose, are the chances of creating something new, disruptive and with real-cut through higher?

Creating a partnership between agencies and clients where managed risk taking, experimentation and untested innovation can blossom without fear is a destination many of us are attempting to reach. Agencies putting ‘skin in the game’ by sharing the burden of the financial risk with clients – as well as reaping some potential fruits of success – certainly helps. It’s not for everybody or every brand, but a little thrill seeking makes us all feel more alive. ‘We grow fearless by walking into our fears’ as someone once said.

It’s incredible what you can learn over a bracing Becherovka at 10am, with a dead iPhone battery and no distracting emails.

Back to the cobbled streets of Prague and with iPhone batteries draining quickly, the conversation turns to e-mail. “The ultimate time suck” and “productivity killer.” We all agree. “E-mail is dead” says one of our Nordic friends fiercely. They’ve managed to cut their email count down to “roughly 10 or 11 a day” by using Quip – an app that allows for greater client collaboration through sharing mails, documents, task lists and chats in one place. Given the Nordic reputations as early adopters in technology, I make a mental note to put it on the agenda back home at Verve. It’s incredible what you can learn over a bracing Becherovka at 10am, with a dead iPhone battery and no distracting emails.

John O’Shaughnessy is creative director, Verve the Live Agency

Verve is a member of 27Names.com

First published in Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ September 2017)© to order back issues please call 016611660