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What is innovation? And how do you incorporate it effectively?


By Daniele Fiandaca, co-founder

April 19, 2013 | 5 min read

When I founded Creative Social with Mark Chalmers 9 years ago, it was in recognition of a new type of agency and a new type of job role – the digital creative director. Nearly a decade on, and things have changed considerably, even in the fast-moving world of digital.

BERG innovated with the Little Printer

One of those changes is that most of the socials have lost their digital titles and are now simply executive creative directors or chief creative officers of ad agencies or production companies. Another perhaps more marked trend has been the emergence of innovation officer.

What started off client-side has inevitably migrated to agencies, and as head of innovation at Cheil UK, I’m part of what I’d like to think is a pioneering breed. I started in the role 18 months ago, as part of a team charged with building our business around creativity and innovation.

But what is innovation? And how do you incorporate it effectively?

While there are many definitions of innovation (mine is to find new and better ways to solve problems), I’m with Chris Trimble, Professor at Tuck School, when he says: “Innovation is not creativity. Creativity is about coming up with the big idea. Innovation is about executing the idea.” For those of us who grew up within digital agencies where ideation and execution were done in tandem by the same people, this notion is relatively alien. But that distinction is vital for the innovation role to be effective.

Also vital are what we at Cheil are calling the six pillars of innovation – the ground rules that are key to success.

Determine senior responsibility: I am not advocating that all agencies have to have a head of innovation, though the titles helps in granting permission to challenge the norm even with clients that aren’t wholly comfortable with it. But you do need to ensure that someone at board level has responsibility for it.

Set an R&D budget: Agencies keep on advocating to clients that they put some budget aside for research and development, so we need to do the same. So far Cheil UK has invested in a 3D printing, arduino training, and kit and prototypes for new products.

Become part of the ecosystem: As individuals, we need to invest in testing new platforms. This idea was echoed by Keith Weed, CMO of Unilever: “I believe one of the ways that marketers remain fresh and keep innovating is by living in the space.” I have no doubt that one of the things that helped make a recent Peer Index campaign we ran for Samsung a success was the fact that I was on the platform myself. I think agencies also need to become part of the ecosystem – it was interesting to hear from Mark Cridge that Little Printer was Berg’s very own probe, put out there as an agency learning tool.

Provide time for innovation: Google famously lets its team spend 20 per cent of its time on new things, as does 3M (in case you’re interested, this is how Post-It notes came about). I understand that in an agency environment that this can be tough, but the best way to innovate is to provide time to think outside tight deadlines.

Deliver clear KPIs: for innovation This is essential. It provides focus as well as determining the parameters of success. These KPIs will be a mixture of revenue, new business, awards, reputation and developing IP.

Provide the right culture: While responsibility might reside with someone senior, for an agency to be truly innovative, it needs to permeate throughout the agency. This can only happen if you have the right culture. Tom Uglow, creative director of Google Labs, describes innovation as a combination of exploration and experimentation, which equates to play, which equals fun. So if you are not having fun, you will never be able to innovate.

I have no idea whether the role of innovation is here to stay, but if it does vanish, I hope it is because we have succeeded in making innovation part of adland’s DNA, much in the same way as Creative Social has seen digital become a natural strand of a good creative offer.

Daniele Fiandaca is head of innovation at Cheil Worldwide and co-founder of Creative Social

Creative Social Sessions ‘Innovation Stories’ is on 16th May


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