The past couple of years have been particularly busy for the world’s biggest and fastest-growing digital agency network - Accenture Interactive. Karmarama, Rothco, The Monkeys and most recently Copenhagen-based Hjaltelin Stahl have all joined its ever-growing list of acquisitions – helping to grow the network’s revenue by more than 20%, year on year.
With so many moving parts and cogs in the engine… how do they manage to work together when it comes to creativity?
Last week at SXSW, The Drum got together with Accenture Interactive’s Creative Council to ask that very question. What does effective collaboration, creative experiences and the world-changing power of good ideas really look like?
Accenture Interactive chief creative officer, Eco Moliterno; Karmarama chairman, Jon Wilkins; Fjord Central regional managing director, Tanarra Schneider; The Monkeys co-founder and chief creative officer, Justin Drape; and Accenture Interactive creative lead, Roald van Wyk discussed some of these themes. The panel was moderated by The Drum editor, Stephen Lepitak. This was the first time the Creative Council had spoken together at an industry event.
Freedom within a network
“As a creative person you think about ideas all the time, but you might not be speaking to the right person at the client side to make it happen,” said van Wyk. “Having access to more senior people at the client side through Accenture Interactive, means we can solve bigger problems.”
It’s true that traditionally, creative teams would be brought in at the end of the process. The audience would be defined, the product would be final, the strategy set in stone. Today however, and according to the Creative Council for Accenture Interactive, creativity is involved from the beginning and an intrinsic part of the broader business goal.
“The great thing about the Accenture Interactive model is that we can go in to our clients as a partner for growth,” explains Wilkins. “We can share in the risk and reward. We can build business models around creativity. Few of our competitors can do that.”
“Creativity and design have a seat at the business table,” added Schneider. “We're not sitting at the kids’ table. Everything we do, needs to make business sense. It's not just about it looking good.”
Data: Friend or foe?
The march of consultancies entering the advertising space has been met with a great deal of debate – are agencies losing a sense of creative freedom to data and strategy? How can creative businesses operating within huge networks, strike the right balance?
“I think data should be a friend not a foe,” says Wilkins. “I've never seen it be a barrier to creativity.”
Far from a barrier, data can often be the trigger point to help identify potential threats to business existence – which when you have a seat at the CEO’s table, is important.
“We are starting to see clients experiencing pressures that they didn't expect,” says Schneider. “They are facing issues that are much, much bigger than an app or a tool. It’s a potential threat to their business which requires new thinking, far beyond a specific channel brief.”
For some clients, a solution to that goes as far as complete organisational change. This means new platforms, new technologies, new services, new branding, new business ideas and new route to market – to avoid being cut out. “Their choices are acquire or compete,” explains Wilkins. “These are areas where we can really differentiate ourselves.”
The future for creativity
“Creativity is becoming more technological, and technology is becoming more creative,” says Moliterno. “The merger of these two worlds, which you especially see here in Austin, is the best part of being in Accenture. You have different types of creativity around the table to solve a problem.
“This interconnection of different types of creativity is for me, the future of our industry.”
For van Wyk, the best ideas still get generated in the old school ways. “You bring interesting people, from interesting backgrounds together to think about a solution, and happy accidents happen. That comes from finding a diverse mix of people who have lived different lives.”
The question of diversity is one that continues to rage in the industry – how does a global organisation like Accenture Interactive manage to promote diversity and inclusivity within its teams?
For Schneider, it is still a big concern. “If we're going to create change and solve problems with creativity, then it needs to be diverse. A lot of us sit in very protected, privileged spaces, and I worry that if we don't pay enough attention to it, no one will. Everyone's agendas around diversity and inclusion need to get stronger.”
A formula for creative collaboration
“In my experience this is the most client-centric organisation I've ever worked in. If a client wants to assemble these five people on a brief - we're going to work together. That’s it. There isn't that classic silo-ed mentality” says Wilkins.
The question remains that when there are so many players on the team, and so many potential solutions to one client brief – how do teams at Accenture Interactive collaborate on ideas and then move forwards with one route?
For Schneider, collaboration isn’t just a tool – it’s a necessity. “That's the only way this really works. It's not a how, it's a must. We have so many capabilities within Accenture Interactive globally, not just within creative. Our entire goal has to be to collaborate globally not just with creative, but through R&D, strategy, technology and research and of course with one another to make ideas work for clients.”
Great, in theory. In reality, how do you get the right people around the table?
“The Creative Exchange is a really good start,” says Drape. [This is an initiative from Accenture Interactive which helps people move around the organisation, sharing different skill sets and cultural insights around the world.]
“You don't just want it to be us getting together and talking about things, you want it to work through the entire organisation. There's nothing better than actually going and experiencing that yourself. You can talk about it all you like - but when you go over to London and start working on briefs for the Army, or learning about the culture, or join the team in Brazil - it's hugely beneficial.”
The most important thing for effective collaboration? “Leave most of your ego at the door,” says Drape. “Everyone builds on the others thinking, as opposed to territorial pissing.”
“The essence of creativity hasn't changed. It's down to imagination and original thinking. Fundamentally people just want to be moved emotionally,” he concludes. “It's at the core of what we are as people. That's why we relate so powerfully to stories - they move you. That won't change regardless of what the technology or experience is.”
Creative collaboration brief to help change the world
One in six people in Austin live in poverty. According to a 2017 report, 607 young people in Austin found themselves on the street. The rate of homelessness in Austin is growing, especially for young people aged 18-26. At The Drum, we believe marketing can change the world, so we set a brief for Accenture Interactive’s Creative Council to come up with a strategy to help end youth homelessness in Austin.
The Creative Council was tasked to answer the brief for Life Works, a local youth homelessness charity in Austin that has set a goal to end, reduce homelessness in young people.
The Council came up with the concept of 'The Universal Bank of Austin’ - a bank that would allow homeless people in Austin to shop with dignity at local retailers in Austin. The homeless population of Austin would be able to register for a card, that would allow them to purchase necessities such as food, clean clothes and toiletries and ultimately help them get off the street. The bank would be funded by rounding up purchases made by customers in partner retail outlets, that would then be matched by the retailers.
Following this discussion on the creative process of the collective group of Accenture-owned businesses, revered advertising agency Droga5 was acquired.