Tim Hanlon spoke with AdExchanger.com regarding his new role at Catalyst S+F. The Former VivaKi Ventures' exec, will be joining the marketing firm as a partner and be "responsible for the firm's venture investment and advisory strategies, as well as the lead consultant on advanced media issues." Read the release.
AdExchanger.com: How will your experience with VivaKi Ventures help inform your new role at Catalyst S+F considering its venture focus?
TH: My "venture" experience actually dates back to around 2006 when my Publicis Groupe Media colleague Rishad Tobaccowala was putting the idea of Denuo (Publicis Groupe's media futures consultancy) together. He let me pester him into creating and contributing a practice that would focus on connecting with and translating the raw innovation in advertising/marketing/media from the "edges" for the (preferably early and representative) benefit of the various agencies and clients of the Groupe. Not the typical stuff of agencies or holding companies (at least then), and not necessarily driven by pure financial/strategic investment. The idea became to help well-intentioned, engineering-dominated, entrepreneurial firms in or around the business of advertising/media/marketing better understand the realities (and sometimes unrealities) of the marketing/advertising/agency business - and in return, use them as visceral prods for innovation inside the walls of our agency brands and clients. In the process, we found ourselves also aiding the investors behind the companies, who were looking for industry guidance and insight for their portfolio firms and themselves. We ran it as Denuo Ventures for about three years, and bumped it over to the VivaKi corporate unit in late 2008.
As a startup itself, Catalyst S+F is in a unique position to help such firms, their investors and, increasingly, innovation-starved brand marketers without the legacy biases of traditional agency/holding company structure getting in the way. Don't get me wrong, there will always be a need for big, scaled agency solutions for large brand marketers, but scale tends to water down innovation into defensiveness, protectionism and, at best, incrementalism. My real sense is that marketers have quickly recognized that smart, innovative - and faster - approaches to reaching an increasingly complex assortment of the right people with the right messages is now mission critical - and that legacy agencies as classically defined/structured may not necessarily offer the nimbleness or "digital completeness" they need. Folks like Catalyst S+F are starting from a completely different perspective - including the notion that venture-like activity can be a valuable part of the equation,
Do you think new agency models should include (if funds are available) a venture or investment strategy?
All investment is an exercise in financial risk, and the typical agency or holding company is not set up to handle the inevitable ups and downs of such activity. But I do think the general skills associated with investment: value-creation, due diligence, corporate governance, business growth/development, strategy and positioning, etc. are important elements of what marketing services companies ("agencies" or not) need to embrace in order to survive and thrive in the increasingly sophisticated activity of marketing. The legacy business models of classic agencies - full-service or specialized - will probably not survive intact in the next few years (read Bob Garfield's "The Chaos Scenario" for a raw taste), and I do think new approaches are crucial for survival. Marketers needs are changing rapidly, and not everybody who services them are moving in parallel lock-step. Some incumbents will evolve and survive/thrive, but my sense is that a great many "outsiders" - specialty agencies, tech firms, media sellers, etc. - will effectively start to offer similar/better services and, in the process, re-shuffle the industry deck. It's already happening - exciting and daunting at the same time.
Why is Catalyst S+F a good fit for you? Why would you say Chicago is a good fit for Catalyst S+F?
John, Cory and the whole team here are amazingly focused on creating something new that helps multiple stakeholders in the marketing activity food chain. Some of that is traditional services, but with a more modern/nimble focus. But a lot of it is increasingly non-traditional - approaches to creating value and success from multiple directions. Whatever our "ventures" activity evolves to will be a good example, if we do it right. I'm honored the folks here think I can add value, and I'm looking forward to the challenge.
As for Chicago, I can't think of better place in the US to "reality check" some of the mania that happens around media and tech in places like New York and Silicon Valley. The city has always been a strong marketing town and is, in my opinion, an excellent filter for the best ideas that are emanating from the coasts. (Although I would definitely vouch for Chicago's surprisingly dynamic tech innovation scene - small, humble, but pretty impressive and definitely underrated). I've always found it to be an advantage when vetting innovation - it's closer in mindset (and geography) to the representative thinking of marketers and it's an excellent barometer of how innovation will or won't translate into the bigger world
By John Ebbert