SXSW: Do ad agencies need to think like software companies?

Simon Mainwaring / Advertising / 8 years ago

I sat in on the SXSW panel entitled ‘Do ad agencies need to think like software companies?’ This topic could not be more timely as brands and ad agencies find themselves increasingly caught in the squeeze between storytelling and technology demands. On the panel were Allison Mooney (Google), Ben Malbon (Google), Matt Galligan (SimpleGEO), Rick Webb (Barbarian Group) and Rob Rasmussen (TribalDDB). As you can see from the photo above of the crowd in the room this was a hot topic. Here are some highlights I heard:

Agencies need to be honest with themselves as to their tech savvy and what they need to learn.

Agencies have to be careful of rapid delegation to the ‘digital guy’ who codes. All should collaborate and creatively contribute across disciplines.

Agencies have to stop obsessing what they don’t know (new technology) and focus on exercising what they do know (storytelling, strategy, ideas).

Think while making as fast as you can – aim to have a product on Day One and then fix and iterate as you get. getting it right first means arriving to market late.

The technology guys need the marketing guys to know how to take their products to market so ad agencies are still relevant and important.

Knowing who you are as a brand in the first place transforms how well you engage technology as it gives you a jumping off point for execution and platforms.

Funding should go to the building the platform first so you can create and launch off it rather than always waiting for the idea and then building the platform.

The days of forcing a big ad through multiple media channels is dying. The channels will take more of a lead now and dictate content specific to them.

If a platform experiment fails, trim the problem and launch concept two off the same platform. Experimentation is all.

Marketing must be built into every aspect of what you do, rather than be seen as an unnecessary accessory to a good product.

Software companies need ad agencies to distil culture, to understand who your buyers are and to offer untethered creatives who can inspire, create and launch.

Innovation happens at the intersection of skill sets. That’s why software and ad agencies need each other.

Ad agencies have to teach the next generation of marketers how to as agile as the market itself.

It was a great panel and I’ll be sharing videos from speakers and thought leaders over the next few days.

Do the soundbites above resonate with you? Which ones stand out to you?


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  1. Avatar Shaminda says:

    Hey Simon,

    Thanks for sharing these terrific insights you captured. I hope that SXSW has been filled with these kinds of insights (I one day hope to be there so I can experience them first hand!)

    The greatest concept I drew from this post was the idea of platform building when it comes to marketing. I think the brilliance about really great companies (that are primarily software based) are that they build off platforms. I think a great example of a marketer who has built a platform and is beginning to launch off it is Seth Godin with his new publishing platform The Domino Project.

    I would love to hear your thoughts – given your years of agency experience – on whether agencies have historically considered building platforms in order to offer sustainable value as opposed to one-off campaigns that offer temporary value.

    Thanks again,


    1. Thanks, Shaminda. I think agencies are rising to that challenges as they
      start to embrace tech at the same time. They always looked at advertising
      through the lens of ideas and campaigns but now they must also consider
      technology. Here’s hoping more will follow suits so they can play a big role
      in the current shift. Simon

  2. Good morning Simon, the one that jumps off my iPad screen as I read this is:

    Knowing who you are as a brand in the first place transforms how well you engage technology as it gives you a jumping off point for execution and platforms.

    Many of the presos here at #SXSW seemed to ask the audience to think thi sway. I heard someone ask, “At the end of each day, what do you want to have done better than anyone else?”

    Thank you for sharing this with us…


    1. Thanks, Jason. So well put and so true. Simon

  3. Thanks, Rodney I really like the last one too. Simon

  4. Avatar Tim Letscher says:

    I wish I had seen this session but couldn’t get into the packed room! Agencies are indeed being challenged to think beyond the campaign format. Apps continually come up during brainstorms without the necessary consideration that launching an app into the wild requires care and feeding. The same holds for Facebook and Twitter – If you choose to include these in a campaign plan be prepared with either a long term commitment or a clearly communicated plan on how to sunset a project.

    Any idea if this session’s video was ever posted?

    1. Thanks Tim. I do believe SXSW posts keynotes but I don’t know about
      sessions. Check out their site maybe. Otherwise I agree. Technology is still
      about relationships. Thanks.

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