SHARP CO-LABâs official launch at The Shard gathers over 100 industry leaders to Co-Create the agency of the future. | DMA

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SHARP CO-LABâs official launch at The Shard gathers over 100 industry leaders to Co-Create the agency of the future.


Something unusual happened in London last month: the exciting launch of SHARP CO-LAB from The Shard’s 34th floor; where more than 100 industry leaders got together to talk about the topic on everybody’s lips: ‘what does the agency of the future look like?’

The evening started with the introduction of SHARP CO-LAB and its newproposition around end-user Co-Creation. SHARP CO-LAB is a new breed of digital agency set to create digital experiences that are collaboratively shaped with customers and delivered by on-demand experts. The agency is pioneering a new operating model that brings together the benefits of the ‘gig economy’ with the agency’s expertise to deliver solutions to clients as needs arise.

It is a genuinely new and exciting proposition in an already fast-moving industry; one with agility, innovation and added value built in from the word go.

Shaping the future

We were keen to bring key influencers from some of the world’s best-loved brands into one room for the big launch event. With the promise of something much, much bigger than perfectly chilled drinks, canapés and great views in return.

With leading brands like American Express, Tesco, SkyScanner, Specsavers, Nissan, Samsung, BT, Google, RBS, Toyota, PepsiCo, Nando’s, Virgin Bank and Jaguar Land Rover, to name a few, one could only wonder what they would want, need and expect from an agency if they could shape the perfect partner.

One of the most dynamic aspects about SHARP CO-LAB is that it’s going to continue to evolve and shape in real time – keeping the agency firmly at the forefront. And to deliver on this promise, we asked all guests to participate in an AR Co-Create experience to help shape ‘the agency of the future’.

This not only allowed the room to see a ‘Co-Create by SHARP CO-LAB’ in action, but also sparked lots of interesting conversations about this ideal agency partner.

The results

The Co-Create revealed thought-provoking ideas and some compelling opportunities. These results were then grouped into 6 categories and analysed.

Attitudes: Behaviour

Half the entries under this category pointed at the lack of ‘human’ connections that were once so fundamental to the client-agency relationship; simple traits such as the ability to listen and act with honesty and empathy become a key differentiator in today’s fast-paced world. While trying to become a nimble and flexible partner for our clients, our relationship with them is the one thing that

cannot be rushed. We need to invest in these relationships and take pride in knowing our clients’ businesses almost as well as they do.

It comes as no surprise that key decision makers are more interested in getting results rather than in their loyalty to one particular agency. 11% of all ideas generated indicated that agencies should be ‘more open to collaboration with other agency partners’ – as failing to do so introduces enormous risk for clients.

One of the biggest characteristics of high performing brands using agency partners is that they encourage and demand strong inter-agency collaboration which leads to highly effective dynamics between all players involved. Companies just can’t afford to be slow and work in silos; they need to share information, react fast and get close to the customer.

Talent: Together we are stronger

30% of ideas indicated that agencies need to provide ‘multi talented teams’ in two ways: by ensuring that projects are resourced throughout with crossfunctional teams, and also with individuals who bring a variety of skills to the table i.e. we want a developer that understands the commercial aspects of the clients’ business.

It’s only by working as connected experts we can ensure we deliver real value for our clients. How many times have you worked in agencies where a linear approach to delivery is followed? Mr. Strategist tell us that we should do X; Miss Designer and UX consultant think about clever ways in which we can present solutions to customers; and finally we bring on board Mrs. Developer who, by this time, is too late to point out any flaws in the approach.

With complex technology projects, a varied range of skills are required from the outset. And it is our responsibility to champion a different kind of thinking where everyone takes responsibility for the end-product.

Client-agency relationship: Challenge without being challenging

A big theme found in this category is around the agency’s ability to ‘challenge the client’, its assumptions, other agency partners and even the client’s CEO (with the exact words being ‘set the CEO right’). 12% of attendees wanted their agency partners to have the strength, knowledge and expertise to feel confident enough in their strategic approach to challenge them to get the best results for the brand.

We as agencies need to understand the role and dynamic of the relationship from the beginning. Sometimes it’s just a matter of providing services to a client because they don’t have the bandwidth or just because it’s more cost effective. In this case, it’s not likely our clients are going to welcome us challenging their initial thoughts and beliefs. We should therefore provide no more and no less than the services we have been contracted for. However, when a client seeks a strategic partner, we can and should stand up and contribute with ideas and best practices. Challenge without being challenging is the mantra.

‘Understanding the client’s business’ and being ‘results driven’ included 23% of the ideas in this category. It might sound as a cliché but in my experience, we are still far from really getting under the skin of our clients’ businesses. Today, we have an additional hurdle we didn’t have back in the day. In 1984, the average

client-agency relationship tenure was 7.2 years. By 1997 that number declined by 25 percent to 5.3 years. Today the average client-agency tenure is thought to be less than three years. (The Bedford Group). Which means that our teams have to, more and more often, be onboarding new clients and absorbing great amounts of knowledge very fast. We should have a clear activity at the beginning of our client engagements dedicated to transferring this knowledge. Either in the form of shadowing our future clients for a few days, or maybe get our teams in a room to collectively raise that client’s knowledge and master their business.

Remuneration: Skin in the game

There’s a huge desire from clients to implement ‘new remuneration models’, with 40% of ideas dominating this category. Out of these, 62% would like to use a risk/reward model, with equity, shared IP and revenue share being among the top 3 models mentioned by our clients.

The remaining 37% of ideas revolved around the growing realisation that long term business outcomes should be the frame of reference for rewarding agency projects. Moving from input cost to outcome value is also up there when it comes to clients’ desire to come up with a fairer payment model.

It’s absolutely vital to have a transparent and mutually beneficial contract from the start of any client-agency relationship. With the added complexity of new channels, technologies and a constant drive to achieve efficiencies, the traditional retainer model has started to become obsolete and agency compensation schemes have become more varied. Client procurement continues to be increasingly demanding and wants to see more accountability.

As agencies, we need to start thinking about which remuneration model is more in line with our value proposition and which model will encourage greater innovation for our clients.

Delivery & operations: Done is better than perfect

The agency’s ability to ‘bring ideas to life fast’ is what stood out in this category, with 30% of entries. It’s exciting to see that clients’ inclination to believe ‘done is better than perfect’ is becoming a more accepted practice. Getting the job done is what matters the most as market and competition pressures keep increasing.

A speedy immersion into the client’s business followed by rapid prototyping (using paper or 3D prototypes) are among the most popular ideas when bringing ideas and concepts to market.

The above idea is closely followed, with 25% of entries, by the need for more ‘collaboration’; with a specific focus on ‘end-user collaboration’ and ‘employee engagement’ in the ideation/solutioning process. Embedding junior client members into the agency team is perceived as a win-win for both parties


21% of this category’s entries called out ‘flexibility’ as a key factor in every client-agency engagement. Not only operationally (by being fluid toward a changing environment) but also attitudinally, making bold and brave decisions for the greater good (not afraid to pivot).

Courage to make decisions seems to be a limited currency these days. In reality, large companies tend to be run by committees that make the tough decisions and take the risks. Committees rarely have courage; only people do. Agencies need to be empowered to support brands (both large corporations and start-ups) when introducing new products or services to change direction if enough insights or data gathered indicate a change of direction is needed.

Offering: Bring the outside world in

It’s reasonably expected that 36% of ideas in this category evidence ‘innovation’ as one of the key offerings clients expect from agencies. And it’s stimulating to see that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the areas with most client interest within this group.

What isn’t usually offered as a service, and one that our clients desperately need, is agencies’ connections and expertise as ‘relationship facilitators’. Agencies operate in a highly dynamic and diverse context, where businesses of all sorts converge in the middle. We can and should operate as an ally, spotting synergies for the big corporates, small start-ups and among clients themselves. This is what 18% of ideas confirmed.

In some acquisition-led environments, it is believed that corporations and startups can’t have mutually beneficial relationships without ultimately buying out the other. If we examine this relationship, start-ups stand out for their risktaking spirit, innovative ideas and believe they can change an industry. Larger

corporations have all the necessary resources and distribution channels to succeed. The former lacks capital and the latter lacks agility.

The start-up-corporate partnership represents an exciting and interesting route in the changing business model. And we should play a role in this newly-found appreciation between David and Goliath.

What does this mean for SHARP CO-LAB?

We know that clients seek a more productive relationship with their agency partners. Turning audience insights and information into opportunities and then quickly bringing them to life is fundamental. We need a much more pragmatic approach. The challenge for every brand is to reduce the time it takes to learn and respond. We need to be accountable, get the right insights and information, and help our clients create and defend their strategies.

While for many years agencies were able to disappear for weeks or months to resolve a problem, (without involving the client) with the excuse that they knew better than the client because they were the ‘digital experts’, today things have changed.

What we offer has completely and forever become a commodity and our differentiation comes from our ability to bring together the right person or team on a project. We might need a scientist or a copywriter; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we have a trusted network of members (or freelancers) and that we have the expertise and nimble infrastructure to form a crack-squad in less time than a client takes to say SHARP CO-LAB.

Eli Pinto

Co-founder & CEO of SHARP CO-LAB

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