The startups and change-makers, unafraid to step away from the flock, and inspired applications of technology that encouraged us to think differently.
Players to watch
2016 was the year of the media agency transparency debate, but also the year Blackwood Seven rose to prominence. Founded in 2013 by Danish advertising executives, the artificial intelligence agency claims to be able to automate the media-buying process for marketers, allowing them to have more control in how their money is invested and how media inventory is bought, especially digital.
An additional strength of companies like Blackwood Seven is they are technology companies, not agencies. Its founders are set to prosper in the longer term versus the agency model because they are dedicated tech experts at their core and operate a different, SaaS-based commercial model that is not financially dependent on how much an advertiser spends, instead taking a fixed monthly fee.
The Marketing Group
The Marketing Group is the first ‘agglomeration model’ to come out of parent company Unity Group. The idea is to bring together independent businesses to form a unit that can go public on a stock exchange, giving it the ability to scale and build in a way they couldn’t on their own, and without having to sell to a big network.
The company listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in November and now counts 23 agencies as part of the group. By offering independents food for thought as an alternative model to selling to a big group, it’s set to disrupt the market in 2017.
Brand-side marketers are asking vendors to cut the jargon around measurement, and show them results. And in such scenarios, simplicity can take primacy over high-concept chicanery.
SoPost’s product-sampling platform helps brands get samples into the hands of genuine consumers with a whole chunk of data and analytics to prove the effectiveness of their spend. The company advanced this proposition significantly in 2016, carving out its place as a template for the UK's advertising and tech economy post-Brexit.
In June – days after the EU referendum – three of Grey London’s top management team announced they would set up shop on their own. It surprised the industry, not just for the trio’s decision to leave a rumoured £2m remuneration package, but for the balls it had taken to venture into the unknown.
So it’s with bated breath, along with a lot of encouragement, that the industry is watching what happens next for Nils Leonard, Lucy Jameson and Natalie Graeme. Little is known of what they are setting out to do, but plans are expected to be revealed next summer.
Talker Tailor Trouble Maker
As some of the biggest personalities in marketing make their way towards the exits, there is a growing belief 2017 will be rife with marcomms startups. Let’s hope so, because there was a dearth of new blood in 2016, and the market is crying out for some upstarts to threaten the status quo. Credit, then, to Gary Wheeldon and Steve Strickland, managing director and executive creative director respectively of M&C Saatchi’s PR division, for having the gumption to go it alone. It is early days for their comms startup Talker Tailor Trouble Maker, but snaring the English National Opera as a launch client bodes well, as does their bullish call to arms: “We’re looking to partner with client brands that want to cause trouble,” said Strickland. Here’s to a few more troublemakers joining it on the scene in 2017.
FastPay provides working capital loans to players in the industry, and when the adtech sector is seeing new players fill emerging roles, the fragmentation of the space is still one of its notable market dynamics. In an industry where ‘cash is king’, and with payment terms increasingly difficult to come by, FastPay has advanced its offering to the market, pairing with Hitachi to help ease the flow of liquidity. Such entities are not new, but their growing importance is crucial, especially as uncertain economic times continue.
With cloud-based tech and video on every marketer’s mind, it’s hardly surprising that a startup which combines both managed to raise $7.5m in Series A financing in April. The round was led by Sequioa – a good omen as the investor has previously plugged cash into the likes of Apple, Google, YouTube and Airbnb.
Launched in 2010, 90seconds gives brands the chance to ‘order’ professional video projects from anywhere around the world. It distributes briefs to a bank of 6,000 freelance filmmakers, while the client has the ability to direct edits in real-time via 90seconds’ cloud based platform.
The 90seconds format has worked for a multitude of brands internationally. Uber, McDonalds and Google have come on board for ad-hoc campaigns, bringing in the dollar for the startup to launch offices in London, Sydney, Toyko, Singapore, Auckland and San Francisco. It hopes to expand into New York and Berlin in the near future.
R/GA and the Los Angeles Dodgers
Everyone loves a good accelerator. And there are thousands to choose from. What’s most interesting and unique about the R/GA and Los Angeles Dodgers programme is that it was the first one focused on sports and entertainment technology. Launched in 2015, plenty of others jumped on the bandwagon, like the Philadelphia 76ers.
The second iteration from R/GA and the Dodgers continued to build massive momentum but these burgeoning companies don’t just get a pat on the back, it’s about partnerships and pilot projects – and all who make it through get full support from R/GA’s services team so that they can scale and become legit category leaders sooner rather than later.
You can read more New Year Honours here.