The collaborative economy at work

Being Connected – from a Digital Agency point of view.
by Martin Dower.

Sharing and Openness is changing everything. Digital agencies used to be highly competitive entities, burning energy fighting others with a “Business is war” attitude. Not any more.

Digital agencies are now starting to collaborate in lots of new ways to create sustainable solutions and organisations. They’re losing the short-term focus on (pointless) growth and moving to more sustainable models.

When we founded in 1996, we chose the name Connected because it signified a new way of working – The digital era is all about the seamless flow of information, ideas, content, trends and technology without old-fashioned boundaries. This was, to us, what Connected meant.

It’s kinda strange, working in the digital agency space, watching companies come and go as they strive to win and adopt a “growth is everything” approach that, mostly, ends up drowning them. This drive “to win and grow” creates “feeding machines” that are single-minded and focussed on winning and pay little more than lip-service to sustainability or retention.

At it’s core, this generates a culture of fear and distrust – so it’s no surprise that clients change their digital agency every couple of years.

Conversely, a more contemporary approach rids the short-term mindset, rewards creativity, liberates margin and builds trust and a balanced quality of life for all the participants. What strikes me as obvious is still, it seems, an anathema to many digital companies.

So, why is competition not the key?

Historically, you used to be to get what you needed from “Big Company A”, some of what they provided might have been excellent, much of it maybe less so. But the insular nature of theses organisations means they only supply what they have to hand and that’s rarely a 100% fit.

It created that primary driver (and fallacy), “growth is king”. Unfortunately, this defined the culture and operational structure of many businesses – and hamstrung them at the same time, usually when they wanted to branch out and provide other services.

In the digital space, to avoid becoming a pre-pubescent dinosaur that never gets past the age of ten, companies need to evolve quickly and provide new services. And that’s a challenge if you’re carrying the baggage of mistrust and fear.

How does collaboration make it work

The new breed of collaboration-based companies starting to appear (and evolve) employ a wholly modern and open approach. Clients relationships are built by creating innovative solutions to problems, often not necessarily in the best interest of the agency – and frequently using external teams, organisations and even traditional agency competitors.

The collaboration is usually open and loose as clients’ problems evolve allowing collaborative companies to prosper and evolve easily over time. Legacy is better managed as the traditional fear of the gravy train is replaced by trust-based relationships that stand the test of time.

Idealised? Of course it is, not all agencies are ready to give away their secrets, resources and crown jewels but, from my personal experience, the liberation far outweighs any tactical salesground defeat.

However, I attended a private WordPress briefing last week and around the table were pretty much the agency heads from the top 10 WordPress agencies in the UK. There was no animosity, no bitching and lots of open discussion about the challenges and how best to address them.

It was quite liberating, I can tell you.