AKQA founder and Digital Hall of Fame inductee Ajaz Ahmed is currently on promotional duties for his co-authored book Velocity - The Seven New Laws for a World Gone Digital written in conversation with Stefan Olander, Nike’s VP of digital sport.
Here Ahmed talks about the reason for writing the book, offers some thoughts on what the marketing community can gain as a result of reading it, and explains how it came about that Virgin founder Richard Branson authored the foreword.
Who is the core audience for the book that you believe will take the most from it?
Ajaz Ahmed: The book is aimed at anyone interested in insights, lessons and stories behind Nike and AKQA. The book also makes sense of the changes taking place in the world because of disruptive digital technology. So it will be useful to client-side managers, board-level executives, entrepreneurs. We also talk about leadership and the kind of attributes that we think leaders need in the digital era. There's an interesting juxtaposition in the book. Stefan has an innovation-led and entrepreneurial mindset leading a team at Nike. My perspective is the journey of AKQA from being a start-up to the multi-national agency we are today and values and vision we needed for the journey.
What sort of advice/insight do you feel will be taken by readers and used in their own professional lives?
Ajaz Ahmed: The book is a pretty fast read (it needs to be with a title like Velocity) but even if someone did not have time to read it, they can get a lot out of just the 7 Laws and the summary points at the end of each chapter. One of the goals of the book is that it will spark the readers' curiosity so they can go on their own journey.
How did Richard Branson come to be involved in the foreword and what does he represent to businesses would you say?
Ajaz Ahmed: Virgin was the first client that James and I worked on at AKQA together.
Richard has always been a hero of ours and Virgin a hero company. I was lucky enough to meet and work with Richard and he is an awesome, extraordinary person who I have learned a lot from because he has ideas all the time and makes every journey an adventure. In Richard's own words, in the introduction to Velocity: "“Change is often seen as a threat, but to an entrepreneur it’s oxygen.”
What direction do you see digital marketing taking and how can Velocity be used to help guide that?
Ajaz Ahmed: The laws we put forward are we think timeless. If we update the book in a couple of years or something, we will most probably only update the examples, case studies, stories, rather than introduce new laws. The idea is to stimulate change while preserving lasting truths.
Why have we not seen more books written by agency bosses and clients? The insight that the two can give is invaluable surely.
Ajaz Ahmed: Every good agency knows their best work is always a collaboration. Trevor Edwards, VP, Global Brand & Category Management at Nike once said in an interview that if you sat in on a meeting with an AKQA and Nike team, you would have no idea who was client and who was agency as everyone is on the same team trying to get the best ideas for audiences. Velocity is a celebration of that sense of partnership. It's the kind of relationship we look for everywhere we do business.
How is reaction to the book differing within each country? What's been the most surprising reaction?
Ajaz Ahmed: I asked AKQA co-founder James Hilton to design the cover. We spent hours together on it, getting details like the bullet hole that shoots through the middle absolutely right. It was worth spending all the time on it because there have been so many photographs of it that people have posted on Instagram and Twitter. So it's really resonated - you can judge a book by its cover. Readers have reacted well to the positive, optimistic spirit in Velocity and we could not be happier with the tremendous feedback we've had. We're very grateful for it because the whole idea was to share what we're learning so that hopefully it inspires people to go on their own adventure.
We wanted the book to stand up on its own merit and deliberately avoiding telling people that the proceeds go direct to youth homeless and global healthcare charities, but when we do get an email from a reader or after an event or something to say they enjoyed the book, we let them know that it's doing good in more ways. The reaction is one of absolute delight.
People feel really good about that. That's the sprit we're trying to convey: don't do it for the money, do it because you love it.
Would you consider writing a follow up in a similar style, with another client in the future?
Ajaz Ahmed: Velocity is about capturing a moment in time. We've done that and next we want to try something new.