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Inspiration Back Chat Creativity

Back Chat: Karmarama's Lawrence Weber on learning lessons from startups

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By Gillian West, Social media manager

April 3, 2015 | 5 min read

As part of The Drum's regular Back Chat series, we touch base with Lawrence Weber, managing partner of innovation at Karmarama, to find out what’s on his radar, including startups, Bob Greenberg and creativity v technology.

So, how are you and what’s been keeping you busy lately?

A couple of things have been keeping me busy in terms of Karmarama. We recently acquired mobile software business Nice and part of what’s been keeping me busy has been working out how we take its amazing engineering and software skills and sit them within the wider business. Another thing that’s been keeping me busy is the part of my role that’s focused on innovation and what we do with Unilever Foundry. Over the last few months we’ve been on an amazing journey helping it to find its startup of the year.

What’s your biggest gripe at the moment?

We have lots of amazing people in the industry doing lots of great work from an innovation point of view, but we have so much to learn from the startup world in terms of its focus on quality of product and long-term goals. In our industry, innovation can become shorthand for doing the next interesting thing with a piece of technology, which is fine, and seeing creative coming together with technology is brilliant, but there’s room for us to think longer term and bigger than we often have time to do.

What have you been enjoying at the moment?

The best agencies are starting to give creativity and technology equal billing at the ideas stage. The really clever agencies are beginning to work out how technology is a channel to reach new people that you wouldn’t reach by doing a TV ad, or it gives you an interesting way of interacting with consumers. I didn’t make it to SXSW this year but what I gleaned from those who went was that there was a huge amount of talk about the internet of things, wearables and embeddables.

Who inspires you most within the industry?

Because I started life in digital agencies, and I’ve always been a bit of a geek at heart, I would say Bob Greenberg, who founded and still runs R/GA. He’s always been ahead of the curve at determining where digital agencies should go and helping define what role technology plays in great ideas.

What would you say inspires you?

I’m really impressed by the startup community, and what impresses me, apart from the fact that some of them are annoyingly and impossibly young, is its ability to focus on one product. It’s not very often that you get to focus on one idea for so long and constantly iterate it, pitch it and make it better. The problems some of them have decided to tackle is awe-inspiring. Just speaking with them has made me re-energise what I’m trying to achieve around here with clients.

What would you change if you had unlimited power or resources?

There is a diversity challenge, not only in terms of people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds but also in terms of skillset. The first thing I would do is make a real push to convince people that our advertising and general creative industries are places that should attract the brightest people. The biggest threat to us is people going to work in startups to realise their dreams. If I had unlimited resources I’d allow people to spend less time on client work and more time on their passion projects, whether they’re art or technologybased. I’d support more internal entrepreneurs than we already do as an industry.

Who inspires you outside the industry?

The best people I’ve heard speak recently have been Peter Teal and Fred Wilson, who are both quite prominent venture capitalists from San Francisco. They’re very interested in the founders of the businesses and its products rather than constantly thinking about where they’re going to get profit from. Fred Wilson in particular is extraordinarily good at foreseeing the future and the types of things consumers are going to want.

What’s your last word on the industry?

There’s a good debate the industry is starting to have about what is more transformative for a business; whether it’s the big creative ideas, like the Adam&EveDDB John Lewis Christmas ads, or whether it is led by technology and people doing massive digital projects. It’s the creativity v technology battle and agencies need to be part of that discussion.

Lawrence Weber joined Karmarama from The Brooklyn Brothers as head of digital in 2012. Now managing partner of innovation, he is also the co-founder of the agency’s internal product incubator and co-chair of the IPA’s Digital Business Group.

This feature first appeared in the 1 April issue of The Drum.

Inspiration Back Chat Creativity

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Karmarama is the UK’s most progressive creative agency, now part of Accenture Interactive.Its services include advertising, direct and digital marketing, digital...

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