DDB pushes services for innovation with new hire

DDB Group Asia Pacific has appointed Anthony J James to the newly appointed role of chief innovation officer for the network.

Working closely with Tribal Worldwide Asia Pacific, James will spearhead the commercial success of innovative digital solutions – from mobile apps to web-ordering-systems to e-stores to interactive retail assets – as well as enhancing client revenue streams and customer engagement, said the agency.

David Tang, vice chairman of DDB Group Asia and president of DDB Group Singapore said that digital innovation had become a key part the agency’s marketing solutions for clients over the last three years, with the agency now looking to take the technologies across its client base in Asia Pacific. “AJ is key to this strategy”, said Tang.

The new buzzword: innovation

In the recent years, companies have been seriously investing in innovation, with the likes of Unilever, Diageo, Microsoft amongst those who have started dedicated innovation divisions within their company. Marketers are increasingly talking about making room for innovation.

However, several marketers have said that this leaves agencies out in the cold – agencies can’t innovate, many say. For example, in one earlier interview, Microsoft Advertising’s chief innovation officer Jonathan Oliver said that traditional agencies are fast becoming disintermediated and brands are coming directly to companies such as Microsoft as they see these companies as providers of tech and innovation. (Read the interview here: Microsoft Advertising’s Oliver: Agencies fall behind when it comes to innovation)

Can agencies innovate?

Speaking to Marketing, James said: “The perspective that agencies can’t innovate is not only driven by their own traditional processes and approaches (aka “the pitch”) but it is also driven by their clients. This is not a one way, agency side, issue. With clients “briefing” agencies in the traditional manner the behaviour is perpetuated and innovation takes a back seat to pitching a “more creative idea than the next group”.

He added that it is also often the case that the client does not want innovation, “but as heap of ad ideas to compare to the other three agencies who have also been invited to pitch. Sometimes the client is not aware of an agency’s capabilities – providing ad briefs rather than sharing business problems.  They may see innovation as expensive or risky."

“It is true that most agencies use “innovation" more of a buzzword that using it to drive business growth - and for the agencies that do not understand this, the future has a time-limit. The traditional model needs to evolve to become more of a partnership, consultative engagement,” he said, adding that they need to get involved at a business level.

“So, agencies can innovate, but they fundamentally need to change their thinking and approach – and become partners with their clients, in order to co-create innovative (creative, digital or tech) solutions to complex business problems.”

According to Tang, the agency already has a team of over 40 technologists and a 90-strong digital creative team.

James was previously managing director of Trinity Consulting Services, a consultancy working with large and small digital start-ups to go to market. Prior to that, James was group CEO of Sample Central and was also executive VP and chief creative officer of marketing premiums and promotions agency Creata, one of the world’s largest. He also has experience in management consulting and was vice president of marketing for Fujitsu Consulting.