Since I’m never sure if stuff I link to will be there when future generations (?) click on it, here’s an article by James Hurley that ran in The Telegraph (online):
Geeks to inherit the Mad Men legacy
Jason Goodman is taking his ad agency from Silicon Roundabout to Silicon Valley – but where can he find the geeks he says he needs to get ahead?
When Goodman heard Basem Nayfeh, an American technology and marketing entrepreneur, claim that “advertising is becoming an engineering discipline” it struck a chord. “The third person I ever hired was an advertising planner who had a double first in maths from Cambridge. Most ad guys are well presented, they know how to dress, they’re a bit Don Draper-like. This guy was a mess. But he was in the business for four years and made an amazing contribution. Now I’m constantly look for people in his image.”
The 41 year-old, himself a history graduate, believes the days of the advertising industry being dominated by arts and humanities graduates are numbered. “The next generation [of marketers] won’t look like it used to, aesthetically, or in terms of their CVs. Everyone in my business should know how to write [programming] code, in the same way as 50 years ago they all knew how to draw. Mashing up all forms of data gives you the insights which enable you to develop much bolder creative propositions. The craft skills to do that are those of mathematicians.”
Unfortunately for Goodman, the type of person who can build websites and analyse and interpret data – to ensure the right consumer is being targeted, for example – is more likely to be attracted to financial services or a web business than they are to an ad agency. “That slightly socially awkward person who’s comfortable writing code barely exists in my industry. My job is to attract that talent because the way they think can inform more relevant marketing.”
To access affordable talent and start bringing in employees with maths skills, Goodman wants his £6m turnover company to start building formal partnerships with universities. “It’s not enough to do a milk round, just visiting the universities at the relevant time of year. It needs to be more collaborative than that.” One idea he’s toying with would involve forming a group with sympathetic businesses in his industry and organising work placements, lectures and, ideally, research and development partnerships between companies and interested universities. “Together we can provide really interesting, useful guidance about the modern business world to universities and in return we can access the best talent. It feels like an obvious transaction.”
Albion has already started with Southampton University and its senior academic team, including Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web. “They are mashing together the maths team with the business faculty and creating this new breed of data-led marketers. “The advertising industry can be fearful of technology which is ridiculous. We’re going to create an internship around their programme, but we’d like to open it up to any universities looking to do something similar.” However, Goodman does admit to a certain amount of trepidation about trying to weld the culture of a small business with that of a university, and knows he should probably look outside his sector for advice. “What other industries can we learn from? And how do you get into universities and pull the right talent out?” Investing such resources into a hunch could be risky, but then Albion owes its existence to a knack for spotting trends.
Having developed a taste for the embryonic internet marketing industry in the 1990s, Goodman launched digital agency Tribal DDB in 2000, as part of the DDB group. By 2002, clients were becoming increasingly frustrated at having to work with two distinct parts of the business for the offline and online aspects of their campaigns, Goodman recalls. He created a business plan to bring his division together with the main business. When the idea was rejected by his bosses, Goodman quit and, together with three former colleagues, started Albion with a bank loan secured against his house. “It was a hard transition from employment. It feels lonely because you’re suddenly in a very unsupported environment. I didn’t take a salary for two years. But I wanted to prove to myself I could build something from scratch.”
Their chosen location, in the area of East London now known as Silicon Roundabout for its concentration of web start-ups, looks prescient in hindsight – but was in fact simply driven by the need to be cost-effective. “I’ve always found some of the dressing around advertising a bit daft and I haven’t found clients asking for it. Our first office was a shop in Shoreditch’s Great Eastern Street. Most people would have started in Soho, paying £40 per sq ft. We were paying £9. [The area] wasn’t very cool then, but it was cheap.” The company found itself taking over premises vacated by an internet company which had failed in the dotcom crash, but Shoreditch’s new cluster of web businesses are proving to be ideal clients .
Integration of almost every marketing discipline at creative agencies is commonplace now, but nine years ago, Albion’s ability to create everything from websites to packaging and TV ad campaigns set it apart. “At that time, people could barely believe a company could produce packaging for Innocent Drinks, an ad for Epson and a website all in one place. Now it’s taken for granted. But for ages we were a fish out of water – which meant entrepreneurs gravitated towards us.” An early customer was Skype: “[Founders] Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis came in when they were sleeping on someone’s floor. We became seen as specialists in building a brand [and] growing it fast .” That reputation has seen much larger clients use the company to launch new divisions, with O2’s giffgaff network being a recent example.
In March, Albion made a move many of its nearby peers would like to copy, to Silicon Valley. W inning an account with Air New Zealand for its North American business precipitated the move. “Our strength will be West Coast entrepreneurs who come to us because we can take their business beyond North America. The first place they’ll come to for the European market is London, which we can help with.” The American adventure has re-energised the business, Goodman adds. “The optimism there is contagious. In the days Mad Men [portrays], clients would feed off the optimism of agencies. Now UK agency culture is cynical and negative .”
While Goodman welcomes the Government’s attempts to nurture technology businesses in East London, he suspects Silicon Roundabout’s emergence would have been market-led anyway and businesses would be better served with more general support . “Government has nothing to do with [emerging sectors] – it’s capitalism. I’d like to be able to bring more people in from outside the UK when I can’t find the talent here. But immigration laws are getting worse rather than better for business. They should focus on other things rather than PR fluff.”
What do you think?
I have some thoughts, but would like to hear what other people think first. However, I will say that it makes me crazy when people try to make things seem more scientific. I think it’s like using Jacob’s ladder in the back of laboratories (look, electricity moving across space – it’s science!). My point is that if you look closely at the chalkboard in the picture you will notice that the formulas are random – they don’t go together (look, formulas on a chalkboard – it’s science!)
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