Why the ad industry needs to move beyond hackathons and work harder at startup relationships

As the media business becomes more data-driven and precise in targeting, technology naturally plays a pivotal role in the industry’s long term strategic future.

Although much of that innovation will come from established media partners like Google and Facebook, it won’t be that long until every media company will be seeing the same global tech inventions.

There is no doubt that the agencies and brands that have collaborated with smaller partners have gained the competitive advantage in 2015.

Even recently we have seen the promise of such partnerships, at Ad:tech London’s Next Big Thing event.

Surprisingly, startup engagement remains a space where few agency groups have really gained much traction despite all the hype.

The reason, in my mind, is because there is much more to a startup outreach programme than building “futures labs' and running a couple of hackathons. To be treated seriously by tech entrepreneurs requires investing in infrastructure and intricate processes designed for a six person business, which is quite different to the scaled business model media agencies are used to.

This, however, is by no means an easy feat and the IPA Brand Tech Group are examining exactly this – how to create successful collaborations between agencies and startups.

And quite rightly so. Too many people throughout our industry glibly talk about startup/agency/brand collaboration but the proof really is in the pudding.

That said, while I accept the industry still has much to learn, I believe that workable models are emerging.

These revolve not just about connecting clients to startups but the way an agency provides real support at navigating the often complex process from project sign off to activation.

For instance through SMG's NextTECHnow division, we spend as much time on payment terms and contracts as we do on matchmaking events.

So where next? Companies that were once startups themselves and still operate with that agile and innovative culture – think about the recent Unruly and Vice headlines – are continuing to shift and disrupt the modern media landscape.

In my mind, startups offer our world – and ultimately our clients - an almost limitless supply of creativity, disruption and cutting edge technology. We have to be realistic though, startups are speaking to many suitors in the 'tech meets corporate' ecosystem. As quickly as they have entered the agency world startups could move on to the next group that can help their fledging businesses grow.

Simply put, we have to work harder as an industry to get the startup relationship right, to convince them that the opportunities on offer are real.

And until we do, we are all on notice.

Jim Kite is strategic development director at Starcom Mediavest Group

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