Why can't creatives and technologists be friends?

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While the industry embraces data and creativity, it often leaves the tech team behind, write Possible's global chief technology officer and vp of emerging solutions.

Killjoys, buzzkills, the "no" guys—meet the unofficial titles brand leaders sometimes give to technologists. The reason is fairly simple. Often, a creative team comes up with an idea based on a loose understanding of what they think is possible. And then they hand it over to a tech team, as a done deal. It’s not.

While our industry breaks down silos and embraces data and creativity, it often leaves the tech team behind. In many agencies, technology has its own place, sometimes physically separated from the rest of the agency. But nonetheless, they are vital to great work. Without them, creatives could never bring their cool ideas to life.

This modern-day disconnect does not have to happen. But to understand how we can improve the situation, let’s look at how ideas grow within an agency.  

It begins with a challenge presented by the client. The data team then uncovers a great consumer insight that it passes to the creative team, who then comes up with a creative idea. Often, this requires a technologist to execute it. At that point, the creatives see all positive facets of the idea, while the technologists focus on the negative. Very often the creative sees a perfect user journey, while the technologist looks at it more holistically, with the understanding that it must support the user experience. Unfortunately, the tech team has little ownership of the idea, and little investment or real desire to support it.

It’s important to note that this is not a natural—or necessary—state. Industrial design firms don’t operate this way. And at many smaller, higher-end digital firms, technologists are always at the table. For example, creative agencies that serve retail often make bespoke technology, like touch walls, projected experiences, or machine-to-machine interaction. Because such projects have never been done before, they usually involve pushing boundaries with technology.  As a result, you need technologists to be on board to create prototypes and serve as a core part of a multidisciplinary team.

In fact, the lack of technologists at the ideation table in many agencies opens up new strategies for some. That’s because technologists know not merely what can be done, but what new things can be made. As a result, brands and agencies that bring them to the table could go a long way in improving their innovation efforts.

In addition, technologists can also help get ideas off the drawing board and into reality. Rapid prototyping can be used not merely to speed development but also to sell and explain new ideas. Rather than trusting an agency’s gut instinct or studying wireframes or video simulations, brand leaders could have a micro-version of a project in their hands within days or weeks. That way, the entire team, creative and technology, could get fast feedback and rapidly innovate to a better solution.

Doing this, of course, requires getting over some deep-seated cultural issues. Most large agencies today use technologists to execute ideas, which means that the technologists haven’t been developing their strategic and creative muscles. Separated from many aspects of what makes an agency and gives it a personality, they have some learning to do. They have to be willing and ready to learn the rest of the business.

In particular, they need to learn how to think strategically about brands, assess data insights and turn them into good experiences, and create things that connect on an emotional level. Some will likely be better at this than others, and some won’t embrace the role at all. But nonetheless, agencies must evolve the status quo as technology is creating more and more experiences and opportunities for brands.

The holy grail would be to find and nurture true advertising creative technologists—ones able to use their insights to bring effective ideas to brands—collaboratively with colleagues from other disciplines. Having this capability would deliver a serious advantage to any agency. Right now, only a few agencies are dabbling in this area, so the upside potential is huge.

To get there, we should all do what technologists have long done: prototype and iterate. Agencies need to invite their tech teams to the table, do a trial run, assess the results, and iterate and improve their processes until great work results. Great creative technologists may sometimes be born, but they’re also made. It’s time to bring them to the table and let them grow into everything we need them to be.

—John Cunningham is global CTO and Thomas Stelter is vp of emerging solutions at Possible.