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'Digital products don't fail because they're broken, they fail because nobody needs them'

Anna Ibbotson, CEO, Edenspiekermann
Anna Ibbotson, CEO, Edenspiekermann

Anna Ibbotson has just joined Edenspiekermann as CEO. She talks agility, creativity and how to find that fresh agency sweetspot

What attracted you to join Edenspiekermann?
Talent, talent, talent. It’s that simple. Aside from Erik [Spiekermann] and his incredible vision, contribution and leadership within the global creative and design community, Paul Woods (Chief Creative Officer) is a leader in the field of user-centered design and it’s an honor to partner with him and the team. We deliver genuinely outstanding creativity in digital transformation for our existing and prospective client partners.

Why does the US market need an agency like Edenspiekermann?
The US market overall is extremely advanced when it comes to realizing design, user interface and experience, including data integration and analytics within digital transformation initiatives; however the traditional creative agency model here in the US hasn’t been able to keep up with this transition (at least in my experience). Adopting an already effective agile-working model that our European counterparts successfully operate on, along with European design thinking and methodologies is what sets us apart.

What makes the Edenspiekermann approach so different from other US agencies?
Our agile approach to projects isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a proven methodology and process that we can successfully implement here in the US, as we are small and nimble enough to do so without suffering the consequences of a giant shift in change management.

Our sweet spot is at the intersection of brand, technology and content, so to deliver on this, we adopt a technology and enterprise-first approach with our clients (depending on the nature and overall scale of the job of course), working and collaborating with the CTO and CMO together.

Bridging the gap in this way, during this aggressive digital transformation phase, is key to both ours [Edenspiekermann], and our client partners’ success. It’s not enough to just go in with "The Big Idea" and execute across different digital platforms and channels. The idea for today’s successful marketing model can, and often does, come from a technology first standpoint.

How does Edenspiekermann’s sweetspot differ from a "classic" branding or a digital ad agency?
Great digital products and services experiences take a long time, the right methodologies and specific resource allocation to develop and execute, often with an incubator program informing the development cycle. The more traditional digital content and ad agencies struggle with this because the resource and tech stack capabilities are simply not available in-house, or fully functioning yet. Having come from the big agency world, I’m not saying they won’t get there, in fact we are seeing a general shift in this direction already, but the pain points in this process often come at the cost of doing consistent business at scale, so their commercial risk evaluation is far greater than ours. Our offices in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles are being built to this model vs. adapting, which makes it that much easier to implement, and scale accordingly.

As more and more companies take design and creative in-house, there’s a lot of questions about the relevance of the agency model. What attributes does a modern agency need to have to remain relevant?
Be comfortable with that in-house shift. For us, our true partnerships and an agile operative approach allows us to place "pods" of talent and teams relevant to our client partner business in-house for 9-18 month periods, often longer. Not only does the team gain a deep understanding of the client business, process and output; this project based approach vs. AOR annual retainer model is, in today’s fast-paced project world, more commercially viable and risk averse than stacking and layering multiple roles attached to one piece of business for a two-to-five-year period. This also allows for our teams to work with many different clients across a broad spectrum of industry, category and product specific verticals, which is also key for talent attraction and retention.

What methodologies do you find are most effective in producing great design work?
Paul [Woods, CCO] has a clear and simple answer for this. Creating great design starts with two simple questions: "What is the unmet user need and how can we solve that business problem"? Our Edenspiekermann methodologies center around gaining an understanding of what the user need really is, and then the organization benefits with data and analytics on the back end help drive the ROI discussion in the boardroom. Digital products don’t fail because they are broken, they fail because nobody needs them.

Edenspiekermann has a reputation for its sustainable work practices. How do you maintain this in a busy agency environment where you need to keep your clients on board?
Communication, transparency and partnership. Don’t forget we are in a people business at the core. Behind every AI platform, Deep Data program, and AR/VR initiative for example, is a human being, and at the forefront of running a successful business, are the people, the talent, and the teams throughout the organization. In-person human connections and relationships are priceless; especially in such an advanced state of digital transformation, and after all, aren’t we in the business of connecting people, places and products? There is life outside of a screen. The device, content and channel consumption simply just gets us there, and for those who know me and have worked with me in the past, understand that I am a true people person at the core, which is why I am in this industry in the first place. 

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