I’ve been at MEC for little over a month now with the aim of helping ourselves and our clients (EE, Visa, Morrisons and Public Health England, to name but a few) to partner with early stage companies and new tech.

In the last year, it’s become apparent that advertising and media agencies want a piece of the startup pie but I’m yet to hear anything significant come out of the various initiatives that have been set up.

Certainly, from a startup perspective I’d heard complaints around the slow moving nature of agencies and how ultimately they just ‘get in the way’   up until now, startups have found it easier to work with individual brands. That being said, agencies hold the key to a huge portfolio of clients, so the potential for startups is great. I was therefore intrigued to see how startups featured on the prestigious Adweek agenda last week. 

After attending a number of events I came away from the week feeling a little underwhelmed – I felt I really hadn’t learnt anything significant. For me, it was ‘the how’ that was missing.

Many of the talks were centered on brands and agencies that had set up new programmes or departments to work with startups. This really is encouraging to hear and confirmed my suspicions that agencies are taking their role in the startup ecosystem more seriously. However, after each talk I came out feeling none the wiser as to HOW big companies are working with startups.

What did your startup partnership look like – content creation, insights, ad-tech?

How did you structure the deal – revenue shares, licensing deals?

What was the outcome – client satisfaction, revenue, education?

What were the challenges – unfriendly payment terms, bureaucracy or faulty tech? 

I know from previous experience that trying to partner startups with established brands can sometimes be excruciatingly slow and frustrating. Just trying to get all the key stakeholders in a room can take months, so it would have been good to hear real life examples of these challenges and peoples' ideas on how to tackle them within an agency.

Another ‘how’ that was left unanswered was: how do we get these new business models or technologies to no longer be ‘innovative’ but more ‘business as normal’?

It is relatively easy to tinker with startups on the peripheral of a big organisation but how do you actually make an impactful difference? How do you integrate new technologies or systems so that the innovation runs through the lifeblood of a company? How do you get all agency account managers to use a piece of new technology across all accounts? How do you convince the trading and investment teams to add another vendor and for the majority of your workforce to concentrate more time on something new?

It is really encouraging to see so many more companies collaborating with startups and the fact that startups feature on the adweek agenda at all is an achievement. However, I’d love to see the focus shift to a longer term plan. Let’s bring the conversation down from the heady PR lights to the dirty day-to-day requirements of what it really takes.  

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