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Matt Williams: why we all need a start-up frame of mind

I loathe reading PR puff pieces that masquerade as thought-pieces or columns, so I’ll do my best here to avoid this article turning into something that just promotes what Engine is doing. I promise.

But the last few weeks have seen the industry trade press awash with coverage on industry responsibilities.

We need to do more to elevate more women into senior management positions. We need to use our communications expertise to drive greater awareness of important social issues (incidentally something Zlatan Ibrahimovic and friends have done brilliantly this week, see below). And we need to encourage more youngsters from diverse backgrounds to take on a career in marketing.

The last one there has been an issue for a while, and one of utmost significance. And credit to the Ideas Foundation for all their hard work and the progress they’ve made this month.

But whilst that could be the Engine back-slapping for this week (Engine’s Robin Wight and Jonathan Akwue are founder and chairman of the Ideas Foundation respectively), it’s a different initiative that I want to highlight, and a different ‘agency responsibility’ that I want to add to the mix.

Earlier this year Engine and a handful of other agency groups – including Ogilvy and Havas – began working with Collider. This is a sort of accelerator programme dedicated to helping start-ups thrive by hooking them up with progressive brands and specialists investors. In their words: “We inject smart capital, expert coaching and forge commercial connections.”

You’ve no doubt heard a lot about London and its start-up culture recently. You’ve read about the ‘Silicon Roundabout,’ and the ‘simple ideas’ that have taken people from their bedrooms to running companies of thousands.

And you may know that some agencies have already aligned themselves with various start-ups. Shoreditch-types like Albion have grown up with start-ups sharing office space, while more established agencies like BBH have launched their own brand invention arms like Zag.

Joanna-Shields-011This, in my opinion, is hugely important. For a number of reasons. For a start there’s that issue of ‘responsibility’. London is rightly proud of its creative and innovative outlook. Our agencies are a big part of that. Start-ups should be too. Take a look at the love poured on the likes of Austin, San Francisco, even Tel Aviv. I’m not saying we’re not in the big leagues – Joanna Shields (left) has done a great job in promoting Silicon Roundabout as a thriving tech start-up hub – but if we can lend our expertise, be it pitching, strategy or our knowledge of consumers, and drive our industry’s creative prowess and passion even further, then it is our duty to do so.

But even more selfishly, agencies can benefit a lot from spending time with start-ups. There’s a lot of value in thinking like entrepreneurs – to, as John Lewis’ Craig Inglis recently wrote, “adopt a start-up state of mind…creating a culture that thrives on innovation and creativity.”

Thinking like a start-up encourages you to keep up with the consumer, to remember to think like them and not just like a middle-class Cambridge graduate that’s read lots of advertising books. There’s an energy and freshness that’s infectious.

And if you’re involved in this tech start-up world, then who knows, you may be the one to stumble across the next Facebook or Twitter. At the very least it’s as good a way as any to keep up to speed with what’s happening in the tech landscape.

Which, of course, is important to our clients, and important to our ideas.

And let’s face it, if you’re not overly interested in constantly asking ‘what’s new?’ and ‘what’s next?’ then what’s the point of you being in advertising in the first place?

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