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How to Get More From Startups (First You Have to Show Up)

Nick Pahade Explains How Agencies Can Learn From VC and Tech Companies

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Nick Pahade, who was named North America president and CEO at Initiative just in March, has a deep background in digital marketing and entrepreneurship that stands out among media agency leaders. Brands and agencies could learn more from venture capitalists, he said. But first they've got to actually show up for their meetings.

Here's our Q&A, lightly edited.

Nick Pahade
Nick Pahade Credit: David M. Russell

Advertising Age: What can agencies learn from the venture-capital industry?

Nick Pahade: Agencies need to be able to move faster, be willing to take chances, not be afraid of failure and to invest.

Investment could be buying some of these startups, but is also being a filter and figuring out who is the right partner for our clients among all the me-toos that come up in the industry. The issue, though, is how to create business models that last longer than a three-year exit strategy.

Ad Age : Specifically how do you encourage that sort of risk-taking for big brands?

Mr. Pahade: An example would be some of the work that we did with Dr Pepper and the mobile startup Kiip. It was an early-stage company and trying to engage with a pretty established brand, but sometimes you don't need a case study to validate a good idea.

When you look at the notion of rewarding gamers for achieving milestones, that 's brilliant, so we created a program for Dr. Pepper earlier this year. About one-third of gamers overall redeemed the rewards, and that 's a 30% higher redemption rate than other mobile gaming programs, and we are featuring the work center stage in Cannes.

Ad Age : What tools could the next generation of buyers and planners build into their jobs based on how Silicon Valley operates?

Mr. Pahade: To use their playbook as a way to validate businesses as fully and comprehensively as possible, and not just their media strategies.

As an agency, there are a lot of things we can impact for brands. We can deliver better outcomes through allocating more to branded entertainment, as an example, and these are challenging things that buyers and planners need to get their heads around. The other is audience-based buying and how real-time platforms play a significant role, and that 's only going to increase. What I don't like is you might be thinking about short-term methods as the best mechanism for brands.

Ad Age : What did your experience working at digital startups and technology companies teach you that 's useful for your job now?

Mr. Pahade: On a personal level in my past jobs, it was very frustrating at times to actually get media supervisors to return my calls and sometimes meetings would be rescheduled three times. Then the meeting happened and the person you were supposed to meet with doesn't show up and brings someone with no background instead. Given that I have spent time on both sides, that was something that did annoy me and I made it well known.

Now, I tell people, if you are going to take the time to set up a meeting, then show up. And if something happens ahead of time, let them know.

The companies you're meeting with are looking for opportunities and you never know if one will hit or not and you'll want to be a part of it. Along those lines, someone I was connected with on LinkedIn in real estate asked me to interview a friend of his. It wasn't connected to media, but that doesn't mean I have to hit delete. You can address it, and say "Sorry, I don't have the time, but if something comes up I can forward it." He said "Thank you at least for responding." And at times in our business sometimes it's that basic.

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