Why Agencies, Talent Should Seize the Space Between Creativity and Technology

Technology Doesn't Just Impact Visual Design and User Experience; It Can Drive Copy, Too

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Picture this: You're in a vibrant conference room in Midtown Manhattan witnessing something seemingly normal: two executive creative directors reviewing campaign work and debating brand attributes, customer aspirations and engagement. What's extraordinary is the fact that one of the ECDs is a gifted programmer perfectly capable of writing and compiling computer programs at will.

That's the future of successfully integrating digital capabilities into an agency. Culture and business models, not titles, are what make agencies digital. So while agencies rooted in traditional media eagerly add positions like "creative technologist" to their ranks, digitally confident agencies are doing the exact opposite. What's ironic is the scramble to add phantom job distinctions is happening at a time when technology and creative should be tied closer than ever.

Successful agencies recognize that programmers are like copywriters and designers, except that to thrive, they require a specific culture and process: e.g., congruous leadership, common vocabulary, source control, testing, quality assurance, systematic task management and special computer access. Also, like their counterparts in copy and visual, programmers require a degree of creative control.

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More than anything else, it's this second requirement that necessitates a new business model, because agencies with insular creative cultures tend to silo technology. This segregation, in turn, leads to limp adjacent offerings instead of true transformation.

A core value proposition anchored in technology and creative reflects the reality that creative decisions drive technology and that technology is a design choice. Technology doesn't just impact visual design and user experience; it can drive copy, too. For example, Twitter's haiku-like 140-character constraint derives from a programmer's choice to adhere to the 160-character short-message-service protocol (minus room for the user name and colon).

Simply put, technology is creative.

What's clear is that many gifted creative leaders also happen to be programmers. The willingness to accept this reality is a litmus test , and a good way for leading brands to spot agency partners with the culture and business model to succeed.

All great companies transform periodically: Procter & Gamble reinvents itself every 10 years and Apple every four. Our agency has reinvented itself four times since Bob Greenberg founded it with his brother Richard, and the technical/creative combination has been a consistent theme. The impetus for change is the need to seize "white space": that is , the need to evolve our business model to adapt to uncharted business territory and underserved markets. (By the way, at R/GA, "technical creative director," the pleonasm we coined in 2006, is now simply "creative director.")

It's not just agencies that have evolved; smart clients also realize that seamless cultural continuity is more important than wearing technical capabilities on agency shirtsleeves.

John Mayo-Smith is chief technology officer at R/GA.
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