4A’s CreateTech 2019 Recap

Cory McLeod and I had the honor of presenting the story of Perkons VR in New York this week at 4A’s CreateTech, the annual conference focused on exploring the challenges facing creative technologists and the opportunity of combining creativity with technology.

Here’s the recap of our session from the team at 4A’s

Rock & Roll: Fallon’s Story of In-House Innovation at a Global Scale
Did an ‘80s underground rock band from Latvia set the stage for the collapse of the Soviet Union? Fallon’s Creative technologist Cory McLeod and Director of Digital, Social & Innovation, Greg Swan, felt the unlikely story of the band Perkons (motto: “Live the truth in an untrue time”) was vital to tell to an agency audience a generation later—and that the best way to tell the story was through a VR experience.

That was easier said than done: creating the inspiring “Perkons: A VR Rockumentary” required an ad-hoc team at Fallon to raise their hands and commit to a project without funding, without clients, and without (at first) the technical expertise to pull it off. But seeing their job as pioneering creativity, Swan and McLeod saw the project as an opportunity to teach themselves VR.

4A’s CreateTech

The event was a massive success, and it was a pleasure to share the story of this project and the talented team of 20+ who helped it come to life. You can see more about the project and sign-up for email updates here.

The entire day was packed with super smart speakers. Chick Foxgrover and the 4A’s team did a tremendous job pulling it together.

Here are the key takeaways I pulled from the day…

Digital Transformation:

  • Change seems fast now, but based on the changing factors in marketing, it will never be this slow again.
  • We are actively creating the future with our decisions every day, whether wittingly or unwittingly.
  • Changing a culture to adapt to technological advances comes with a lot of complications and takes a lot longer than you would expect.
  • The change agents in your company have a job to make people feel uncomfortable, which can be a thankless job and often pretty lonely. You need to support them at a senior level. The speedboat versus ship analogy is shitty if you’re a speedboat. Give speedboats a target and let them race.
  • Often your change agents are put in a position of “innovation theater” which can have value but really trying to figure out what you’re going to create and getting everyone on board to create that is the key. And often because of misaligned incentives and organizational design, it’s going to be tough for them to advance big programs beyond stunts or one-off pitch bait. Support them.
  • In the old Gretzky quote “Skate to where the puck is going” isn’t hard to know where the puck is going, but it’s really hard to get there with what resources you have. Ask leadership, “What are we building?” which is a rational question they can understand. Then you can tackle “How do we build it?” – you will need a coach, therapist, tackle differences across departments all the way down to the individuals and their job descriptions. And an acknowledgement from everyone in leadership that change involves loss and pain.
  • Your agency is an Innovation Biome. It has its own ecosystem, structures and variables. “Biomes with a longer growing season will be more productive than those with shorter… Unless innovation is woven into the fabric of a company, your innovation will be fruitless…” to understand what is soil, water, light and then build around that. Create a preferred future and then work with leadership to remove all impediments to getting something tangible done to get toward it.
  • The existential threat to change within agencies is “short-terminism.” If you’re focused on right now, or having a meeting about yesterday, you’ve already lost. “Short-termist” is becoming a negative label for someone at an agency, especially leaders.
  • Labs can be an external way to go fast in digital transformational, but must have a plan to have them re-integrated back into the company. Labs can be a cop-out for leadership not having a 3-5 year plan. Instead, accept that change means loss and hardship and embrace it. Those are the agencies who will win. So labs aren’t bad, but you need to do more than give a few smart digitally-savvy people a lab.

Notes from Presenting Companies:

  • McCann NY has a 4-person innovation team who sits in the production team, and anything “non-traditional” goes through this team. As a broadcast agency, they’ve found that anything labeled non-traditional is labeled novel. But hopefully with the success of Fearless Girl they will eventually have a mix of broadcast and non-traditional producers.
  • Mini’s CMO told his team, “By 2020 I don’t want any marketing dollars behind classical broadcast marketing, which means we must be thinking of storytelling and cultural relevance and non-traditional as if it’s our priority. Because it is.”
  • Amazon’s innovation culture has developed an “institutional YES” that seeks out and rewards innovation. Amazon requires a new idea to be shared from the bottom up – write a press release and FAQ about the new idea to test how it would come to life. Keeps things out of the philosophical and ethereal.
  • Mozilla has a “lean data practice” where they won’t take more data than they need and will tell you what they take.

CMO Innovation Spotlight:

  • CMO’s aren’t just thinking in channels now – they have to think “geometrically.”
  • Digital-minded CMOs are going to start taking over and won’t accept the same old metrics or ideas.
  • 62% of millennials want brands they interact with to take a stand – Forrester. Americans expect brands to solve public problems, not government (or don’t trust government to solve). This may increase exponentially after 2020 election, depending on result.
  • This is where Substance Marketing – building something so relevant it can spread – comes in. And it rarely starts with broadcast.
  • But marketing isn’t a side piece to substance marketing. It will still need to drive impact.