What My Agency Learned About Ourselves While Developing a Not-for-profit Product

Creating App Taught Valuable Lessons in the Agency-to-Consumer Model

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Conor Brady
Conor Brady
I want to share a concern that I have had for awhile: Are we only ever going to be as good as what our clients ask us for? What if they are asking us for the same thing all of the time? What if we want to try something different, and see what happens? How do you go about that in an agency?

It was out of these conversations that the Organic Product Development team was born. An internal multidisciplinary group of people focused on an agency-to-consumer model, the team would be given the opportunity to explore the things our clients weren't asking us to do, but that allow us to make real on opportunities we saw every day.

The goal was to exploit what we are good at as an agency, and when we fall short on skills, find partners to help us get it done (it's OK to admit we aren't the best at everything, right?). We have all sat in meetings where you put a group of intersecting disciplines in a room and you get great forward-thinking, nice ideas, only to see those ideas die through a lack of funding or don't fit to a pre-determined channel plan.

Here we are six months on after the group's inception and we have recently launched our first product into the iTunes App Store. It's called Broadfeed, and it's a social-reader app for the iPad that will hopefully make it easier for you to manage your constantly growing list of daily social links. It evolved out of a shared frustration with a lack of reading experience and user experience around social aggregators such as TweetDeck. Our response was to create something that presented content in a readable format but also build something reactive, so the more you read a source, the smarter the app gets about pushing that content to the top. (I know when I look at everyone I follow on Twitter, I certainly take some more seriously than others.) It will also help map your social appetite. When you want to snack you can get a quick visual of the most popular in your network. When you are ready for the full five courses you can go deeper into your lists.

This app wasn't done as a new revenue stream; in fact, all the proceeds from its sale will go to the Red Cross for the Tsunami Relief appeal for Japan. It was done to learn and expand our skills, and we learned a lot along the way about ourselves, and developing a product:

  • Thinking about user experience and the service it provides as a product made us think in a very different way than the typical marketing challenge.
  • Despite all the things we think we know about technology, things don't always plug together nicely.
  • Despite everyone saying that they offer open API's, they aren't always as open as we are led to believe.

No doubt our clients will see value from this endeavor. Also, if I think of an old music-industry model, we could white label the build and find other uses for it. On reflection I think we managed to get about half of the features we wanted into the release, but then again if we had waited until it was perfect then we probably never would have launched. We are moving on to the next one (actually two) projects. With Broadfeed, it will be interesting to see what people think of it and what they might have done differently, but either way we had fun building it and learned a lot about how to be a better agency. Surely all of our clients will appreciate that .

Conor Brady is chief creative officer at Organic , an Omnicom agency.
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