Matt Williams; what do Katie Price and Robin Wight have to do with YouTube’s teenie pioneers?

A couple of weeks back I gave some thoughts on how to get through the festival and conference season without losing all hope in the industry’s future.

One piece of advice I gave was to avoid any panel sessions that involve random celebrities brought in to shamelessly attract star-struck delegates looking for a decent selfie opportunity.

So when Advertising Week came around, I naturally took my own advice and enjoyed a productive week full of insight and hardcore industry tech sessions, right?

Of course not.

That’s why I ended up in a lecture hall with Katie Price talking about the power of an individual’s brand.

But I do have some sort of an excuse, because joining the artist formerly known as Jordan was Engine’s President Robin Wight.

Katie Price and Robin on the same panel (below) – what on earth could go wrong?

Of course, in many a column this would be the point where I disown my old comments and say that Price changed my perception of celebrity panels by neatly articulating the future of the industry.

OK, not quite.

But what I will say shone through from the discussion was a shrewd observation from Robin, which pointed out that Price (and Robin himself) had thrived in their careers by staying true to themselves. By putting themselves out there and not being afraid to take risks in the public eye.

Of course, bravery has been a hot topic and a number of industry conventions in recent years.

And it occurred to me that, really, Price is an absolute pioneer for what we like to call today’s ‘influencers’. The YouTube stars who made it big with little more than a webcam, some basic video editing skills and something to say.

People like Zoella – 7.7 million YouTube subscribers and counting. Or Miranda Sings, with a slightly more modest 2.6 million subscribers. They’ve become stars – no, cultural icons – by doing things on their own terms, in their own way. No compromises, no half-measures. Their energy and honesty in what they do makes genuine connections with millions of people.

And they do it in ways that most brands really struggle to do.

I say this because it’s actually something we’ve been looking at in quite a lot of depth as part of a new report on the age of freedom. In this report we consider a thesis from Harvard Business School Professor Michael L. Tushman on what he calls ‘Open Innovation’. This considers the audience playing a more active part in both generating content and filtering the ideas that really grab the eyeballs.

It means the implications for agencies are clear and far-reaching. It moves the ad agency role from content generator to a combination of strategist, curator, producer and brand manager.

It means that agencies must address the question of identity head-on. And it means that as agencies, we’re free too. Free to get closer to customers than ever before. Free to make ideas that are relevant to customers in new ways. Ideas that respond to micro-changes in location or what the weather forecast is; who customers are with and where in the world they’re headed; how customers are feeling and whether they’re looking for help, or looking to help.

Most of all, we’re free to co-create eye-popping, heart-warming, belly-laughing content that previously unimaginable numbers of people can enjoy and share and recommend and augment and reshape and make their own. You don’t need Jordan to tell you how exciting that is.

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