Refining collaboration

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(Photo courtesy John Fowler via Flickr)
(Photo courtesy John Fowler via Flickr)

The premise of collaboration should rub shoulders with the promise of community

A recent confluence of industry events and announcements has me writing this. The theme — if I can muster one — has to do with collaboration because we talk a lot about collaboration in adland. In fact, the desire for improved collaboration must be touted as one of those Top Three ways for agencies to improve both creativity and profit alike.

But I don’t mean to write about how people can brainstorm better together or share resources more wisely or create economies of scale. Rather, the sort of collaboration I want to write about lies at the heart of our business — or at least the immediate future of it. So let me give you a few examples … and maybe by then I’ll be able to figure out a conclusion to all this.

The first inkling of how collaboration must evolve struck me while judging the Effies (North American Finals and the GoodWorks category, to be exact) in New York a few weeks ago. The Effie is the only major-league advertising award that mixes agencies and clients together on the judging panels. This fact alone, to me, makes it an indispensible award to covet on both sides of the aisle.

Agency heads and top creatives who hear, understand and appropriate the decisive elements that clients seek in the work they commission can establish a profound collaborative effect among teams. And clients who intrinsically understand the human impulse to create original thought and expression will collaborate beautifully with their agency partners. This quid pro quo on collaboration should be set up quickly and transparently when establishing a working rapport between agency and client.

A second portent of progressive collaboration: last week’s announcement of Lori Senecal’s appointment to global CEO of CP+B. The agency’s press release portended a novel level of interagency collaboration: "Ms. Senecal will continue in her role as president-CEO role at MDC Partner Network but is leaving her post as global executive chairman at KBS, a sibling of CP&B." We also learned that "Ms. Senecal's appointment comes after CP&B won the global Infiniti account back in October... Anomaly, another MDC agency, is helping CP&B on Infiniti marketing in China for now."

Whoa. That’s pretty cool. Seems different. Feels big.

The fact that large egos and larger responsibilities can be channeled in a collaborative way within MDC Partners is a testament to a more enlightened approach to holding companies and networks. And the greater fact that an agency can entrust its (arguably) largest client to the hands of a sister agency is not just a testament of a collaborative ethos; it’s a paean to the simple notion of trust. And trust isn’t an abundant commodity within most holding companies’ top floors and executive suites.

A third instance of this new collaborative spirit : Alex Bogusky’s return to the ad industry in the form of an entity called Fearless, which he launch with Dagny Scott and Leslie Freeman (both former CP+B executives). A collaborative joint with ABC/Univision’s content brand Fusion, Bogusky and company’s Fearless is a "full-service social impact agency platform" that "will work with companies, foundations and nonprofits looking to court Fusion's millennial audience through socially minded campaigns that span TV, digital and social. The agency will execute everything from concept to media planning to measurement."

Whoa. That’s pretty cool. Seems new. Feels right.

Maybe, just maybe, we are at a subtle but important inflection point in how we esteem, measure and steer true collaboration. And perhaps this inflection point in agency collaboration is being launched from an atypical agency ecosystem in Boulder, Colo. Allow me to explain.

In the last fours years, Boulder has seen a robust and vibrant boom in advertising, design and digital agencies. Joining the likes of CP+B, TDA Boulder, Sterling Rice Group and Anthem Branding are leading-edge shops like Victors & Spoils, Made Movement, Grenadier, Match Action, Movement Strategy, Mondo Robot, Good Apples Room 214, Moxie Sozo, Human Design, Young Jenkins, EVB and School. These agencies, and the people that populate them, are developing a vibrant ecosystem of cooperation and collaboration.

To put a parenthetical point to this, EVB moved into Made Movement’s old office, and now that same office will hold Bogusky’s Fearless shop; School moved into "the cottage" after Bogusly and the Climate Reality Project moved out. This summer, all these agencies will host the second-annual charitable Agency Block Party for our growing community of shops — because oftentimes collaboration should be rewarded with free beer and dancing into the night.

More concretely, Victors & Spoils shares the JC Penney client with EVB. A number of agencies have come together for "hack days" benefitting nonprofits like FoodCorps. School will be piloting software developed by V&S. Small start-up agencies are welcomed to share office space at Made Movement, and we are host to a UX consultancy, a PR firm and a non-profit organization at the School office. Collaboration is accomplished not just in spirit but in proximity as well.

Physical proximity naturally drives collaboration. For instance, Project: WorldWide’s New York office has a number of its agencies together in one space, creating a dynamic that encourages collaboration and camaraderie. Belonging to a network like PWW has certainly affected my agency’s outlook on partnership and accordance within the network and also outside it.

In this same vein, Boulder agencies are happy and eager to work together and share knowledge and resources. But perhaps more importantly, the people who work at these shops genuinely want to see success for their friends and peers. Here the premise of collaboration rubs shoulders with the promise of community.

I want to bottle the Boulder vibe, because I am sure that its ethos is evident within other agency cohorts in places like Austin, Portland, Madison, Chattanooga and Milwaukee. It’s this new take on collaboration that will continue to drive creativity and scale outside the ad bastions of New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

And that’s pretty cool. Seems timely. Feels good.

Max Lenderman is co­-founder of School, a purposeful creative shop based in Boulder, SF and NY and part of the Project:WorldWide family of agencies.

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