Digital innovation: some reading

Serendipitously I stumbled across a couple of great articles about digital innovation in the advertising space recently which dovetail neatly with some of the thinking and writing I’ve been doing.

Following on from Adam’s comment about the diffusion and adoption of innovation within the PR sector (which warrants some analysis and a further blog post in its own right) it’s equally interesting to see how the same issues are being played out in the advertising space.

According to Digital Planning Director at BBDO/Proximity, Vincent Teo:

“This shift toward creative innovation and product development will be a continuous evolution in the agency space and one in which I believe will form the foundation of the digital agency of the future. There is a real synergy between product innovation and what agencies are currently doing and this looks like the next evolution in extending what agencies can offer to their clients.”

What this looks like in detail can found in Vincent’s great survey of the current ad/digital/innovation landscape, The Digital Agency of the Future. And following Vincent’s vision and line of questioning, a number of other posts and article’s further explore the same issues, including Rei Inamoto‘s Why Ad Agencies Should Act More Like Start-ups and .net magazine’s Inside the Labs of the World’s leading Digital Agencies.

Although there are some distinct differences between the ad and PR industries, both are rapidly converging around digital. Some level of comparative analysis will undoubtedly be useful to see where each industry is succeeding (and not succeeding) and looking for clearer paths to innovation, adoption and sharing/commercialisation. Hopefully more to come on this.

 

PR needs to solve problems to stay relevant

Something I’ve been thinking about recently is the scope and pace of innovation in journalism and the wider media industry. Just take a look at the multiple posts on Journalism.co.uk about using emerging digital tools for improved and innovative news-gathering and reporting. Or take a look at The Times’s Digital Experiments blog where the paper’s digital types talk about their “‘not quite finished’ projects and products […] share some best practice tips and tricks as we learn and try our new platforms and features.

In a great post on the Poynter Institute’s blog about mobile disruption in journalism, Cory Bergman argues that “News needs to solve problems”:

“A study by Flurry in November found that the news category only accounts for 2 percent of total time spent on mobile apps. Social apps gobble up 26 percent. Facebook alone accounts for 23 percent of all time spent with mobile apps, according to Comscore in December. That beats every news organization’s app combined by a long shot. As Facebook (and Twitter) grow in time spent – and since both are populated with plenty of news – they’re increasingly competitive with news organizations’ mobile experiences by sheer volume. As a result, simply extending a news organizations’ current coverage into mobile isn’t enough. We need to solve information problems for our users and drive measurable revenue for our advertisers. Mobile is not merely another form factor, but an entirely new ecosystem that rewards utility.  Flipboard is a classic example of solving a problem (tablet-based content discovery) while The Daily is an example of a product that did not.”

Such problem solving is an issue which I believe the media and news industries are embracing whole-heartedly but that the PR industry is failing to address adequately. I could be wrong and have just missed great examples of problem-solving and innovation… but my instinct (and experience) tells me that a) generally speaking PR is not adapting to the social or digital space as fully as other marketing industry sectors (see Jed’s recent post for macro-level issues) and b) where it is adapting it’s doing so reactively to the current challenges faced by the news or media sector. Thus as the sector innovates rapidly PR risks finding it practices and norms outmoded very quickly. Again, I could be wrong and it’d be interesting to see inside and study some examples of PR agencies that are – or consider themselves to be – innovating.

What’s missing as far as I can tell is what Cory Bergman refers to as a ‘startup mentality’:

“The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It’s to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself,” explains Y Combinator’s Paul Graham. “By far the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has.”

There are some interesting and potentially powerful examples of great start-up ideas emerging for PR practitioners, such as Adam Parker’s Lissted – but not enough in my opinion.

And I guess this highlights two further questions: 1) who is responsible for this innovation and 2) where does innovation lie. Firstly, Lissted is developed by Realwire, the online press release distribution service. It’s not developed by an agency. Why is this? Clearly a number of factors come into play but considering the structural challenges faced by the PR industry mentioned earlier it could be argued that while PR agencies operate with tighter margins than other more ‘business strategic’ players in the marketing service sector, such as media and advertising agencies (the result of PR’s historical legacy as a tactical media relations discipline) there’s no capacity or desire to invest in innovation. And such a reality is surely set to worsen as digital increases the cannibalisation of the sector.

Secondly, if we accept this reality then where does potential innovation lie? In-house innovation – if it happens – may well be retained as proprietary to justify investment (although you’d hope that open sourcing, transparency and sharing would be remain the spirit). The news industry has think tanks to help identify problems and spur innovation in a way that the PR industry doesn’t have. Perhaps we should look to other areas obliquely involved in the PR industry where people have time to step back and analyse the industry, its practice and future direction and spend time developing solutions.

What I’m thinking about is the potential for universities with PR courses to lead in this space. It’s something I’ve been starting to do with my students through assessing student’s ability to identify communications problems and using tools such as IFTTT to create solutions. Similarly, industry bodies, such as the CIPR’s Social Media Panel should be steering industry leadership through innovation. As a member of the panel this is something we will be seeing more of through out 2013.

Such independent and collective groups can surely help build solutions and bridge the innovation gap. Forward thinking agencies could pool resources – financial, creative, etc – and and collaborate with the groups mentioned above to help drive innovation and help PR stay abreast of wider digital and social developments.

Arts Council England podcast: social media and UGC

Arts Council England are currently funding a potentially exciting series of digital projects that connect arts organisations, researchers and technology providers to form, in its own words, ” collaborative relationships” that will hopefully create knowledge and practical innovation for people and groups in the creative sectors to improve engagement with audiences and/or explore new business models.

Projects are themed around a number of areas, including:

  • User generated content and social media: harnessing the power of the internet and social media to reach audiences and to give them a platform for discussion, participation and creativity
  • Distribution and exhibition: using digital technologies to deliver artistic experiences and content in new ways in online and place based environments, including exploring international distribution and exhibition
  • Mobile, location and games: developing a new generation of mobile and location-based experiences and services, including games
  • Data and archives: making archives, collections and other data more widely available to other arts organisations and the general public
  • Resources: using digital technologies to improve the way in which arts organisations are run including business efficiency and income generation and the way in which they collaborate with each other
  • Education and learning: developing interactive education and learning resources for children, teachers, young people, adult learners and arts sector professionals

In response to the current projects being delivered – and to showcare some of the interim results – the Arts Council are producing a series of podcasts to discuss the key themes listed above. I took part in the inaugural podcast covering social media and UGC along with Charles Beckett from Arts Council England and Spencer Hyman from Artfinder. You can take a listen via Soundcloud…

The next round of funding for potential projects is now open so if you’re interested head over to the Digital R&D website or take a look at the case studies of current projects.

NHS innovation through digital networks

I’ve been deeply busy of late and have a wealth of reading and blogging to catch-up on.

My first post, however, has to be this simply inspiring presentation from Dan McQuillan:

NHS innovation diffusion – from Deleuze & Guattari to Digital Movements

Dan is possibly the only person able to invoke Deleuze & Guatari and not only get away with it, but make it absolutely appropriate and insightful.

Beautiful stuff and serendipitously linked to some other thnking I;ve been doing of late regarding networked social movements.