IDEO is a poster child for many agencies. Although they are 30 years old they are cited as the future of the advertising agency. Something that tells you all you need to know about advertising agencies. Hell, even we've got them posted all over our website. So excitement and nervousness mixed in equal measure when The Mission rolled into their Palo Alto HQ. There was always the nagging worry that it would be like meeting your favourite footie hero in person - a crashing and crushing disappointment at the discovery of their mortality.
Well here's the news - it was a not quite experience. They are very good. But they are human like us. Like us they try every day to turn out great work. And guess what, great work does not end up being turned out every day. Sure they command lumpy fees, but boy do they have a lumpy overhead machine they need to feed. Because they are trying to good work. (Any procurement guys listening?) The result is they have the same boring fiscal stresses as us. And like us, they face the same struggle with clients to be allowed to find solutions to source problems rather than being invited / instructed to wallpaper over cracks through all surface execution.
That doesn't mean we have nothing to learn from IDEO. Far from it. We could start with managing our own agency brand in the same classy way as they do. (On average they show over 70 people around their studios every day and they have requests for many more.) Their solutions are compelling because they have compelling confidence in their solutions. Maybe in our rush to avoid the accusation of arrogance, we are too apologetic about what we do. A manifestation of this is the confidence to charge clients (a lot) for what they do rather that charging them not a lot and then giving a tonne of stuff away on top for free.
We also shouldn't be afraid to position ourselves as a multi specialists which is subtly different to being integrated. Because we are. IDEO is a management consultancy, design company, branding agency, organisational change company, industrial design company, a product invention company (toys are their thing) and watcht out chaps an advertising agency. We all know about their famous T Shaped talent strategy (something that was pinched from IBM by the way), but hey most ad agencies have people like that as well! See our website for details.
They walked us through one of their case studies for a mattress brand in the States. It was great stuff. However, the most exciting thing that struck me and I could tell pretty much every other agency from The Mission in the room is that we all could have done that. In fact we do do that. Yet there remains one fundamental difference between us and IDEO - we are deemed to be selling executions so we are 'downstreamed' from the CEO to the execution manager who is not interested in, experienced about or bonused on the bigger picture. So I guess we left having learnt a lesson we already knew. Swim upstream. Fast.