One of the things I’ve been working on with my colleagues for quite a few months at PHD, and Omnicom at a larger level, is a process to get interesting new media technology companies seen by senior stakeholders in the business. As anyone who has interacted with a big business will know all too well, there can be multiple entry points and a lot of wasted effort in just trying to get seen by the right people, forget the next step which is getting some business. The second step can’t happen without the first, so I’m glad to finally be able to say that the forum to make that happen now exists at Omnicom Media Group in the UK.
If you are a technology business that is involved in new ways of bringing content or creative to life, if you can add something useful to insight and analytics teams, or if you have a compelling e-commerce offering, then get in touch. We’d also like to hear from you if you don’t fit into any of the above categories and have something truly innovative in the media space to offer big and small businesses that help them improve their efficiency or bottom line.
Can’t promise all applicants will be seen but I can promise that your application will receive proper consideration by people who work with clients day in and day out. If the proposition is compelling enough then you’ll get face time with us to tell us why, and we’ll do all we can to help.
I want to make clear that one thing we are not looking for is businesses involved in re-targeting or programmatic buying as this is not the right forum for that.
Some of you know that I recently started a newsletter chronicling interesting projects and technology companies from parts of the world that are not the UK/US/EU regions. Maybe you’ve even subscribed.
That was an outcome, in part, of a piece I wrote for the Guardian Media Network a few weeks ago that has just been published. Here’s how it starts:
We’ve heard the statistics, we know the facts: on digital platforms banner blindness is on the rise, ad viewability is becoming an issue, and on TV, according to a recent report by TNS Infratest, simultaneous second screen usage results in the impact of advertising being adversely affected by nearly 60%. No doubt there are similar numbers, for those so inclined, that track the impact of other forms of media.
We live in a media-saturated world. Declarations about the number of advertising messages people are subjected to every day range from 500 to 5,000. I came across this interesting quote by J Walker Smith, executive chairman of the Futures Company, from an old article investigating the myth of 5,000 advertising messages per day: “If we really want to do good marketing, then we have to get out of the clutter business and stay solidly in the communication business. It’s tempting to try and address our challenges by adding more weight to our media buys, but this only raises the cost of doing advertising, and it never goes down in this arms race.”
Last year when I heard about the launch of CentUp, I raced to get the button added to this site. There were many reasons – primarily that I think good writing and good ideas should be supported in some way beyond advertising. I’ve been a contributor to CentUp-supported blogs over the past year so I’ve had the satisfaction of recommending work I like beyond just tweeting about it.
Till now, you haven’t seen CentUp itself on this site because WordPress.com didn’t support it. That’s all changed as of today – hurrah! If any of you like the things I write about going forward, you have the opportunity to donate to charity and support me simultaneously if you have a CentUp account, by simply clicking on the button you should see at the bottom of a post.
By way of background, CentUp was created to do good and pay content creators for their efforts at the same time. It smashed its 2013 Indiegogo goal, and launched soon after. It’s a great way to discover content appreciated by others in the ecosystem as well (read their Creators + Tech series and subscribe to their email if you’re interested).
I had a quick chat with Len Kendall, one of the founders, earlier today. Here’s what he says about their journey over the past year:
Over the course of the last year, the CentUp has refined who our core customer is. Instead of trying to help content creators across all platforms, we’re hyper-focusing our attention on writers. Unlike Youtubers or Musicians who can more easily sell goods or run ads, writers specifically have a really hard time monetizing their work. People (all of us) simply aren’t used to paying for writing anymore. As such, we decided that writers were the people CentUp should work hardest to support. We’ve evolved our platform in the last 6 months and tie every single donation not to a person, but to a specific piece of content. So unlike a PayPal donate button that’s used to contribute money to a person or team, CentUp lets readers financially support (or tip) the one piece of writing that truly inspired them. By tying donations to individual articles (versus overall publishers), we’re also aligning with how modern day readers use the web: they jump from site to site, and don’t commit to any one publisher.
Glad to see the CentUp team going from strength to strength!
Many years ago, I worked at a film festival in New York. That’s where I met Payal Sethi, fresh from her time working with Mira Nair and who then went on to be a key part of the Tribeca Film Festival, and Pooja Kohli, who previously helmed the IFP Market. They both went on to launch a company to market independent South Asian cinema called Film Karavan. Grant St. Shaving Co., shot in New York, was their first short film, released in 2010. It went on to win a few international awards, including Best Film Over 5 Minutes at The Smalls in London – and I was lucky enough to be the one picking up the award for Payal as she couldn’t be here at the time.
“Leeches is the story of 16-year old Raisa in Hyderabad who searches for a forgotten old wives remedy that will make her a virgin again, so she can take the place of her younger sister in a contract marriage to an old Sheikh. It is based on my visits to Shaheen, an NGO in the slums of Hyderabad’s old city, who work to empower women who are victims of the archaic practice of contract marriage.”
I’ve contributed of course. There’s a twist in the tale that Payal promises will make everyone sit up, so it promises to be not only informative but crucially for any good film, interesting. You can read more about the film on the site, follow the project on Facebook and Twitter, and if you’d like to be a part of it, then you know what to do, it will be much appreciated! The crowdfunding site Wishberry, like Kickstarter, operates on an all-or-nothing basis, so fingers crossed they hit their funding goal.
I often get asked what the main information sources I read are. While most of them are pretty standard for anyone working in media and technology in this part of the world, lately I’ve been feeling a gap in my own knowledge when it comes to information from other parts of the world in these areas, especially given my personal interests in that region.
Over the last year or so, a number of interesting sources of information have launched online: The Next Web’s Jon Russell has an Asia-focussed newsletter, Bill Bishop’s Sinocism newsletter paints a valuable multi-hued picture of China, Quartz now has an India edition (and their Daily Brief email focussing on the region), and Your Story publishes news stories from across Asia and South-East Asia, to name a few. Of course there are also the more mainstream outlets like the Economist, Time, Harvard Business Review and so on. But what I was looking for was something beyond just the big news stories of the startup and communications industry outside of the West – it was information on the lesser-known companies and projects, albeit rooted in tech, that are disrupting markets across the world (and outside of just India/Asia). And also, information on companies in those parts of the world not founded by men (refer to Ada’s List).
So a while ago I started creating a list of these companies. And then I figured that writing a weekly newsletter would not only help me keep track of the most interesting non-US/UK/EU projects across the world in a more memorable way, it might also be useful for some other people (five of you, maybe ten, I don’t know).
So if you’d like, pop in your email address and see if what I find is interesting to you. It won’t be more regular than weekly (I only wish I had the publishing proclivity of the brilliant Dan Hon or the detailed perspectives of Frederic Filloux and Jean-Louis Gassée, but you have to go with what you have eh) so you won’t have to worry about me spamming your inbox.
I figure short and sweet is a good way to start – so each Wednesday expect a list of no more than a handful of companies that are interesting to me, based in or focussed on areas outside of Silicon Valley and Silicon Roundabout – you know, those Other Valleys.
This evening Ada’s List got together with Undercurrent, visiting from New York, to stage a conversation about future-facing organisations. I will probably sound biased but whether or not I was part of the organizing team, it was one of the most inspiring evenings I have been to in a while. I have long paid attention to Undercurrent’s work in re-defining what businesses are and should be paying attention to in the digital age. But beyond this, I am also fascinated by how they have been using Holacracy and other tools to create an organization that is truly of the 21st century in the way precious few are today, as one of the attendees said.
On the responsive OS
Clay Parker Jones began by speaking about the responsive organization (well worth subscribing to their blog on the subject). Businesses today in any industry have more or less similar concerns and problems as their competitors, so it is important to think about how they can distinguish themselves in a fairly uniform scenario. All supermarkets have similar challenges for example, whether it’s Walmart, Wegman’s, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose or Reliance Fresh. OK, so different market factors in each part of the world will push and pull those in the same market in slightly different ways, but by and large, supermarkets all struggle with standard things like selling more product, proving they care for the environment, making sure they take care of their employees and customers and so on. So how do they equip themselves with competitive advantage? By thinking unlike a supermarket, and paying attention to market shifting opportunities the way Uber or Airbnb did.
On inclusion health
The second thing, mentioned by Lucy Chung, also a Partner at Undercurrent, was how they pay attention to ‘inclusion health’ or how their work environment values diverse individuals and gives them an opportunity to thrive. Not only does this just make sense from a culture perspective, it makes them more valuable to clients by walking the talk of a responsive, open company themselves. This attention to the company’s culture is greatly aided by Holacracy, a platform which, for those not familiar with it, is about distributed teams that are given complete autonomy within each small group. Individuals from different business disciplines come together to work on issues concerning the business, such as, for example, talent acquisition, clients, reputation and so on. Make no mistake – this isn’t something that is easy for just anyone to do – it is extremely unlikely, as Clay said, that an organization bigger than 500 employees will be able to practice this right off the bat in a meaningful way. This is because in traditional companies, managers have been trained to think and act a certain way over many years, a mindset that is extremely difficult to get rid of in favour of a fairly new and very flexible way of work.
On recruitment and ‘fit vs. add’
This led to a discussion on recruitment and how to hire the right kind of people. Lucy mentioned how they follow a 7-day hiring policy: they meet a candidate on Day 1, and progress them through meetings with other team members, at the end of which on Day 7 a definitive decision has to be made. A match in values is a key part of this. The host for the evening, Sue Siddall from Ideo, mentioned how they’ve moved from talking about ‘cultural fit’ to asking what ‘cultural add’ a potential employee would bring to the team. Audience members piped up with a viewpoint from the other side; that HR people in today’s big corporates have no idea what a good candidate is because they go purely by job spec and box-ticking, that’s what they are trained to do. Someone mentioned how long interview processes would result in getting ‘privileged candidates’ who could afford the luxury of multiple meetings for free, and how one approach was potentially paying people to be interviewed. Lucy said that that was exactly what they did by bringing in freelancers for paid work to assess fit for a permanent role.
Back to the responsive OS
The discussion then moved back to how Undercurrent works in a responsive way, paying attention to 6 key tenets:
- decentralizing activity, rather than concentrating decisions in the hands of a few (autonomous teams do not need to wait for management approval to do something as long as the whole team is in)
- simplifying work, as opposed to making it complex
- pushing for transparency, by allowing anyone to sit in on team meetings
- generating variety, to avoid stagnation and uniformity of thinking
- encouraging divergent thinking, rather than convergent
- replicating what works
The acronym they used, which they admitted was a work in progress, was ‘SLAM’: Self-organising, Lean, Autonomous, Multi-disciplinary.
On salary negotiation
Negotiation of salary was something a lot of people were naturally interested in. It’s been mentioned time and time again that women are bad negotiators and in general men are paid more for doing the same level of work. Undercurrent are working to eliminate this imbalance through a quarterly salary review process that involves each team member working through objectives and key results that they set with their mentor (who they pick) and getting some form of a salary increase commensurate with what they’ve achieved every single time. I loved what Lucy and Clay said: “we assume that the more you stay at UC, the better you’re getting – or else why are you still here?”. Pretty enlightened way of thinking I wish more companies took on board. This also helps to make sure that it isn’t only men who get the raises, just because they’re more likely to ask as a rule.
Women and diversity
The group also discussed how businesses needed to hire more women, especially at senior levels. An Ada’s Lister who said that her company had achieved the rare goal of having more women than men even at a senior level asked how they could move the discussion on from there. In response was another nice viewpoint: that all of us owe it to each other to look at how other types of diversity can be addressed so that at some point it becomes normal for everyone. Sue (Ideo) added another point of view: when they talked about maternity policies, they realized that they needed to also think of people who had other pressing life issues, such as having to care for elderly family.
‘Blend’ is the term UC prefer using to ‘balance’, but as Ada’s Lister Suki Fuller said, it’s all just life, there is no such thing as ‘work-life balance’, something I’ve heard pop up in a few places over the last couple of months. Another question was about how to encourage employees to pursue projects outside of work such that they stayed engaged with the company. Lucy mentioned some ways they do it at Undercurrent: investing in such side projects for one, or even, where it’s requested, allowing people to take a sabbatical to work on their project and then return.
Network reach vs. size
The reach of the network as opposed to just the size of the organization was something else Clay mentioned that stayed with me. Undercurrent have alumni, friends, partners and collaborators all over the world who they tap into for thoughts and ideas, which allows them to scale and be much more responsive than if they kept their ideas just to themselves; the point being that being a large organization isn’t much use today if you limit what you do with the resources you have.
There was a lot more food for thought over the span of close to two hours. It’s clear that this way of operating a business isn’t going to be common soon, but I really really hope it does. Also, it’s worth re-reading Undercurrent’s Responsive OS thinking and actions from the recent past: this post by Lucy, this one from Clay, and this one from Mike Arauz, as well as going through these short presentations:
A huge thanks to Clay and Lucy for opening up the UC world to us on this side of the pond. At Ada’s List we’re pretty sure there’ll be more to come out of it, so we’ll stay tuned.