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Opinion and Insight

Innovation Invigorates Agency Growth

DDB Group Asia Pacific, 2 years, 5 months ago

DDB APAC’s chief innovation officer, Anthony James, lets LBB in on the five key elements that contribute to transforming a stagnant agency into a thriving one

Innovation Invigorates Agency Growth

As we head full-steam ahead into the second-half of 2015 – under a cloud of plummeting share prices, post-earning tumbles, mass agency consolidations, and the shift to digital being blamed for mass job losses – now might be the time when our industry leaders consider how to invigorate a possible stagnant (or worse dying) agency to reach its full potential, and set the right goals and strategies for growth. 

I am passionate about innovation, and I believe agencies that consistently explore culture and innovation, as a part of their business strategy, will realise significant returns.

Too often, agencies are using ‘innovation’ as a way to do something cool. In some cases underselling its capabilities. Instead, they should be thinking: how can innovation service a client’s challenges and make the agency partnership much more valuable?

Having come from a different world, my definition of innovation is about seeing the dots and connecting them. It’s about understanding the client’s business problems and together developing solutions that solve the problems to generate growth. Obviously different, but however you see innovation – to succeed and achieve growth – the fundamentals need to be put in place. 

From my experience, there are five key elements that contribute to transforming a stagnant agency into a dynamic, thriving, and evolving place to work. If you are prepared to start now, then there is no reason these cannot be achieved before the start of the New Year.

Create, Fail, Learn, Repeat

If there is one quality that deeply impacts innovation within all agencies, it is the ability to learn. Many lack this quality in spades, chasing or waiting for the next brief from the client and diligently and carefully responding point-by-point. Innovation simply cannot exist in an environment that is not receptive to idea sharing and open discussion – ensuring natural ideation to take place. This learning goes hand-in-hand with a willingness to fully embrace collaboration. 

Agencies that have become stagnant may have fallen victim to a resistance to change, sit within a siloed structure, and may have forgotten it’s ok to make mistakes – as long as you learn from them, and be willing to share this learning across the agency – then innovation can flourish. At DDB we call this the ‘Freedom to Fail’.

The Attitude Adjustment

Any attempt by management to create change must come through a culture that presents an open, honest, and collaborative work environment and that encourages sharing and the exploration of new ideas and concepts. The most detrimental thing an agency can do when it is stagnant is more of the same! Cultures can be incredibly hard to shift, but a culture can also change from dormant to energetic and innovative overnight, literally. Being fearless has driven some of the most creative innovations in our time. M&C Saatchi and it’s Optus ‘Clever Buoy’ saw the agency ranked second in BRW’s ‘Most innovative Companies list’, demonstrating that opportunities abound if an agency thinks beyond an ad and moves towards creativity and innovation for good.

Trust Culture

For any kind of innovation to exist, staff must feel as if they are part of a culture in which it is safe to share their ideas and where they are valued for their perspective. We all have different approaches, needs and personalities – trust comes when your teams feel that their needs are being met and their voices heard. Once trust is established, the ability to experiment and communicate, move across boundaries, and create a highly dynamic environment will be imminent. At DDB we call this the ‘Freedom from Fear’. 


In order for any agency to experience innovation, there must be a fundamental importance placed on employee recognition – to reward and recognise those that have put in the effort. This does not always need to be money and bonuses. The new employee of today wants their “15 minutes of fame”, and simply recognising them in front of their peers at the next staff meeting might do it. Wins should be celebrated, the added benefit is that it generates healthy competition to encourage others, and it also generates greater knowledge and awareness in the broader team. 

Experiment, Experiment, Experiment

Experimentation and failure are key contributors to innovation. Failure can be just as much of a learning experience as success. Any agency that is looking to innovate, especially as it focuses on the year ahead, will need to give their staff the freedom to try new things and shoot for the stars. “No” needs to leave the vocabulary now! The most successful people are those who are not afraid to fail and find excitement in learning, growing and developing as a result.

These are just the first five simple steps to invigorate growth for agencies through innovation. However, it is important to remember that there is no magic formula for innovation. Agencies should always review, fail, learn and repeat, with a view to identifying what will work best to achieve business goals and objectives. Doing it the way it’s always been done, not collaborating, telling them how and what to do is a sure receipt for failure. 

Let me know below what other core values need to be embedded in your agency to have a more innovative culture driving growth in the coming year?

Anthony J James (AJ) is chief innovation officer, Asia Pacific @ DDB.  Before joining DDB in April 2015, AJ was managing director of Trinity Consulting Services (TCS), a consultancy working with large and small digital start-ups to go to market and succeed. 

With a career that spans nearly 20 years, AJ has lived and worked in four continents and has extensive experience across many industries including IT, FMCG, banking and finance, sports media & entertainment and travel.