How to keep your agency current with new technology

Keeping up with technology is essential for agencies — whether it’s for providing clients with up-to-date work, taking advantage of ad tech tools, or finding new platforms. But with technology changing rapidly, it can seem impossible to follow. After all, today’s ad tech tools, social media trends, and hardware might be different in a year. Some will end up irreplaceable; others will be forgotten duds.

With all these quick developments, how can agencies make sure that they’re keeping pace? More importantly, how can they tell if they’re investing in the right technology and skills?


In-house technical decision makers

One of the simplest ways for an agency to stay updated with tech is to make sure they employ and empower people who are interested and excited about it, and are able to influence the direction of the agency and the work it produces. This role is sometimes filled by the Chief Technology Officer or the project managers of development teams, but it’s also important to have tech-proficient people in other creative and leadership positions.

One example is Dario Raciti, who leads the interactive entertainment division in OMD, a global media agency. His gaming industry background makes him the point person for OMD’s initiatives for creating interactive content for clients. Even if using virtual reality (VR) isn’t ubiquitous for brands yet, Raciti’s work with Gatorade and other brands have made OMD one of the go-to agencies for brands’ growing interest in VR.

There are many benefits to having these tech decision makers handling different segments of your agency. Not only will this allow for the cross-pollination of ideas, but these leaders’ interest in tech will likely spread to others.


Self-directed tech exploration for employees

It’s also important to give employees the space and opportunities to explore new technologies on their own. This exploration is better when self-directed, since they’ll be more likely to follow their interests and the specific trends that are relevant to their work.

Consider investing in hardware that’s just for tinkering and experimenting. According to Digiday, Grey London has a dedicated space for exploring the latest technology. Some of their latest hardware include the Google Tilt Brush, which allows users to draw in 3D via virtual reality.

Keeping up with technology isn’t just about giving your employees access to cutting edge hardware. Technological innovation can also stem from software, platforms, and online tools. Kettle, a digital agency based in New York, conducts “Kettle Royale” — company hackathons that allow teams of Kettle employees to compete while developing new products and ideas. As a result of these hackathons, employees have produced projects such as Tiny Adventures, a mobile app that allows users to explore new locations, and Arsnl, a corporate intranet tool that’s currently under development.

But you don’t have to solely rely on exploratory work. A complementary path would be investing in additional training and career direction for employees who are interested in technology and internet culture. This could mean sending employees to tech events and conferences or paying for additional training.

One example is Digital Visitor, a social media agency from Bristol. As Digital Visitor told The Drum, the agency conducts knowledge sharing sessions, where people present new tools they’ve tested. Under a more structured program, team members are required to include the research of new tools and techniques in their personal development plan.


Get early client buy-in

From ad tracking solutions to new ways of leveraging social media, it can be easier and more affordable to try new technologies if your clients are willing to test new tools and techniques with you.

Grey London, for example, follows a 70/20/10 rule, which allows them to invest in experiments in client work. From their Digiday profile, the agency invests 70 percent of their resources on techniques that are proven to work, 20 percent in newly tested techniques, and 10 percent in unknown and untested ideas. As a result of this rule, they’ve created a reflective spray for Volvo and an ink-saving font for Ryman, a stationery brand.

Keep in mind that just as your agency would pitch a new strategy or concept to a client, any new technologies you pitch to clients should be aligned with their goals.


Use your agency brand as R&D

Finally, you can use your own agency as a lab for testing new ideas. When these tests prove successful, your innovations can be an easier sell to clients.

Made by Many, a product development agency, might be tech-savvy by default because most of the work they produce is software. Still, even the most tech savvy agencies need to keep their skills updated because of changing technologies and best practices. Because of this, the agency creates a lot of side projects to keep themselves learning and improvising. They often discuss these side projects on their blog, which only emphasizes their brand of innovation and creativity. Made by Many also sometimes uses these side projects to help with client work. For example, Sir Trevor, a content integration tool they developed, was used in creating a website for the World Economic Forum.

Even if your tech side projects remain as case studies or portfolio pieces, they’ll still prove useful. The worst case scenario is that your agency would learn from the experience.

Don’t get left behind

The worst thing for an agency, especially one that specializes in digital marketing, is to realize one day that they’ve been left behind by more technologically proficient competitors. Rather than scrambling to catch up with the latest trends, it often works better to play the long game. This means investing in testing, having specialists who can keep the company updated, and getting clients to buy into your ideas. As long as agencies have a long-term strategy in place, innovation will become second nature.

Post by Celine Roque

Celine Roque is an independent author and marketer focused on entrepreneurship, marketing, and creative work. Her writing has appeared in Gigaom and The Content Strategist.