NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Trying to grow a bit "nimble, fast and digital" within its old-school walls, McCann Worldgroup is launching a tech unit called Split to create a new revenue stream for holding company Interpublic Group of Cos.
Split is an all-in-one intellectual-property incubator, developer and digital creative shop; the 30-person global staff includes developers, infrastructure and security specialists, graphic artists, 3-D animators and creatives. The shop is equipped for digital production alongside McCann, and it can also develop proprietary software and products for its own projects. The idea is to build the agency's own suite of creative tech products born from client problems or an entrepreneurial idea from anywhere in the agency network.
The model isn't exactly new; many digital shops are known for creating apps and technology outside client work. AgencyNet recently developed an iPhone app to find American-made products; and Big Spaceship has created a social-media aggregator tool Qapture, a physical computing project, and a collaborative drawing tool through Facebook Connect. But what could set Split apart is having access to an entire holding company's resources.
"Technology is playing a larger role and is critical to success in any campaign or activity," said McCann Chief Information Officer Greg Smith, who founded and heads Split. "We have to create some of those ideas in-house, so that means we have to start thinking like a software company."
Instead of licensing content-management systems or social-network architecture from technology vendors, Mr. Smith wants to build those tools once and for scale, so the agency can ultimately turn them into revenue generators.
Ideas from all over the network
Split has been operating in stealth out of McCann Erickson's New York office up until now. It has already grossed $1 million in revenue from projects such as the Nikon Online Film Festival. Split created social-media components, a website, TV and print for a contest soliciting filmmakers to submit 140-second videos to win cash prizes. The unit has also rebranded Weight Watchers' "point" system and Holiday Inn's global site.
Mr. Smith said McCann employees will be encouraged to submit ideas to Split and, if the unit decides to develop and market the idea, the originator will get a cut of any resulting revenue.
Projects in development include a Twitter app that Mr. Smith imagines could end up profitable as a media channel, and an iPhone app that uses Bluetooth to create close-proximity social networks, for example, at a conference or bar. Apps are due of the unit later this month and a social-media platform will launch within the first quarter.
Mr. Smith said any Split software revenue, from licensing fees or otherwise, would fund future projects.
Bridge between tech, creative
As for its production relationship with McCann, Split won't be the agency's exclusive digital partner, though it will liaison with the agency at large through Chief Technology Strategist Faris Yakob and chief creative Joyce King Thomas. Mr. Yakob sees Split as a valuable bridge between technology and the agency's creative teams.
"Split has a luxury of being inside the building, so technology can be integrated sooner and at an earlier stage," he said. And that's what its name implies. "It hints at the idea of a double mentality and hybrid way of thinking."
"As an industry, advertising has been quite lax in R&D," he added. "It's something we need to do more now than ever."