If you drove by T3 Austin headquarters in the wee hours of Saturday morning, you might have noticed all the lights on. We didn’t forget to shut down for the week, but instead to open the doors to developers competing in the official SXSW HackATX all-night hackathon competition.
Competing teams were given access to 23 enterprise-level 7-Eleven APIs developed by T3. The goal: develop new and innovative ways to provide digital convenience.
After a kick-off party at T3 Austin headquarters, a group of experienced developers settled in for a night of coding and creativity to help 7-Eleven re-imagine convenience. We provided caffeine, snacks, T-shirts and development advice. On the line were bragging rights and cold, hard cash.
The night was fueled by a creative spirit, plus lots and lots of hard work from the 27 competing teams. After a sleepless night of coding, 10 teams were asked to present their ideas to a panel of judges. Sean Devlin and Team Doo emerged as the overall winner. His SMS-centric app focused on the convenience of reaching as many 7-Eleven customers as possible. With a simple text message to a dedicated phone number, mobile customers using his app can find the closest 7-Eleven, current promotions, available services (gas pumps, Redbox, etc.) and directions.
Winners were chosen by a panel of industry-leading judges based on a combination of functionality, design and presentation.
“We want to thank everyone who participated and competed at HackATX,” says Pamela Crosier, T3 director of Creative Development. “It was exciting to see such a collaborative spirit coursing through this place overnight. Great fun, great work.”
Agencies must be set up for success when embarking on any given pro bono work. Here are questions we ask when deciding to participate or not:
• Is this a cause the agency can embrace? Before we choose to engage, we need to make sure it’s a cause we can get the entire agency behind. Do we believe in it? Can we make a difference? If the answer is yes, as it was with Fallen Heroes, it’s off to the races.
• Will this give us creative freedom? Implied in pro bono work is a degree of creative freedom you may not enjoy on everyday client work. One Fallen Heroes client remarked, “You will love us as a client, because we’ll let you do anything.” I think that sums it up. In solving pro bono challenges, you are truly free to try new things and encouraged to experiment. This experimentation can unveil possibilities for future client work, which makes it a real win-win situation.
• Is this an opportunity to develop new leaders? Since volunteers are at the heart of pro bono work, new organizational dynamics can develop that may have not surfaced before. Someone may unexpectedly take a lead role because of his or her commitment to the cause. This is where new leaders can be borne and have an opportunity to shine.
Beyond those questions, there are a plethora of reasons why pro bono work matters to an agency:
• Happy clients. Your pro bono client will be insanely happy with the work, then likely share it with unbridled enthusiasm not common in everyday work. If you’re looking for positive strokes, pro bono work is a good bet for great feedback and off-the-charts appreciation for everyone’s thinking and hard work.
• A moment to shine. Doing great work for a great cause gives creative teams and the entire agency something to be proud of, a shining moment to share with friends, family, colleagues and clients.
• Creative awards. Award shows already offer categories for pro bono work. For example, Cannes offers the “Grand Prix For Good”. Droga 5 won it this year with a terrific case. Aiming for creative rewards should be one of the goals for pro bono work.
• Self-defining. Doing pro bono work gives the agency a chance to define itself by the causes it supports. This can help the agency develop even stronger ties with partners and clients who appreciate support for causes they may also identify with.
• New teams, healthy competition. Pairing new creative teams and pitting them against each other in a healthy competition may sound cut-throat, but it often ends up being a fun competition resulting in powerful creative mash-ups where everyone gets to pile on and add their best thinking to make the work stronger than ever.
Can agencies collaborate successfully? The answer is, sometimes. I’ve seen agency partnerships fail miserably, but I’ve also seen them do magical things.
In most cases, collaboration refers to an even more fractured model than the unfortunate separation of media and creative assignments. Today, a single brand can be serviced by a traditional agency, a media agency, a digital agency, a mobile agency, a social agency, a production agency and a CRM agency.
Like any human relationship, it can be shortsighted and perhaps naïve to throw two or more parties into a room, expect them to play well and deliver groundbreaking results. I think Razorfish got much of this right in their latest Outlook Report, “A Wake Up Call for Collaboration.” On both sides of the house, ideas need to stop being conceived and contained in disciplinary and organizational silos; above versus below the line, traditional versus digital, media versus creative.
Human factors Beyond drawing up these rules of engagement, let’s consider the human motivating and de-motivating factors at play. Sometimes, people just don’t click, no matter how well intentioned their efforts. As a last resort, staffing changes can be necessary.
Most agencies “succeed” by growing year-over-year margins and winning awards. But major points are scored just by being able to staff their businesses well, which, because of typical compensation structures, was difficult even outside lean times. So behind agency doors, the pressure is on to score even more incremental funding, all while vying for the next industry trophy.
On the client side, particularly in large enterprises, responsibility for a single brand can fall to leaders across divisions — isn’t that a telling word — with each line of business director held to a unique set of performance measures. There’s a reason that the opposite of integration is disintegration.
With these competing agendas, it’s easy to see how priorities become muddled. It is said that good ideas can come from anywhere, but when “anywhere” is inaccessible because of operating lines or protectionism, we inadvertently hinder the pace and quality of creating ideas.
Reality gets in the way
The tough reality is that operational issues make agency collaborations very difficult. In some cases where agencies have managed to fully collaborate and produce great work, it’s because all stakeholders were compensated on shared KPIs and made success hinge upon the collective and business results — logos and divisions on business cards be damned.
If there’s flexibility in the system, a single client reporting line for agencies helps; all agencies are beholden to the same client organization and corporate imperatives. Agencies have the opportunity to function in a more inclusive, team-like approach, almost creating a new virtual agency in their alignment, drawing minds, experience and resources into a single think tank. Not only can this model spark ideas, but there can also be backend advantages. Overspill work from one shop can be covered by another. Agencies can leverage the output, proprietary tools and relationships that would have otherwise been inaccessible.
Collaboration can work
In one very bold, yet powerfully successful example, a global client of mine took this one step further and mixed up reporting lines across the agencies. I was the global lead at Grey, with regional leads from Bates, Ogilvy, Grey and Digit in different countries, all reporting to me. My creative partner was at Ogilvy Singapore, planning partner at Ogilvy Auckland and media partner at Grey/Mediacom in San Francisco. Their disciplinary teams were, in turn, at different agencies in different countries reporting into them.
And guess what? It made us reach out to each other constantly and turned us into good listeners. It forced us to help each other, share ideas and build on each other’s strengths. We learned from each other, supported each other and celebrated each other’s successes. Our clients marveled at how well we got along and the quality of the work.
Agencies want to be entrusted with the lion’s share of a client’s business. And clients want to entrust their business to an agency that they know and trust. But in cases where a one-agency solution isn’t feasible, a matrixed agency solution can reap big and unexpected benefits.
Agency and client teams should be rewarded for collaborating, but the incentive should not be the reason for collaboration. Done correctly, the collaboration in itself can be a reward. You can call me idealistic, and I’d call myself that too, had I not lived to tell the tale.