Sunday 22 January 2017

Marketers could learn a lot from Irish start-ups

Irish marketing, advertising and media companies should study the ideas coming from our thriving community of business innovators

John McGee

Published 02/10/2016 | 02:30

Irish marketing, advertising and media companies should study the ideas coming from our thriving community of business innovators. Stock photo: Getty
Irish marketing, advertising and media companies should study the ideas coming from our thriving community of business innovators. Stock photo: Getty

Several years ago, Ronan Smith, a seasoned entrepreneur, spotted an important trend that was developing amongst viewers of linear TV. Not only were people fiddling around on their mobile phones and tablet devices while watching TV, but many of them were googling for information about a brand or product they had just seen on their screens.

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In Smith's view, advertisers who had invested heavily in TV campaigns were missing a trick by not targeting these viewers online at the same time, particularly those who might actually want to buy something off them.

That light-bulb moment for Ronan Smith led to the creation of TVadSync, the start-up he co-founded with business partner Peter Oonk. The company now specialises in delivering cross-platform targeted advertising solutions that bridge the gap between TV and so-called second screens. While its HQ is still in Dublin, the company is busily chipping away at the biggest TV market in the world - the USA.

TVadSync is just one of many innovative Irish start-ups that are nibbling away on the fringes of the traditional advertising, marketing and media industries. As we all know, these are industries that have been the most impacted by the digital disruption that has been unleashed on the business world in recent years.

Some of these start-ups may well be very successful, others may be acquired by bigger competitors - while some may be less fortunate and simply fail. But on that sobering note, let us not forget that once upon a time Google, Facebook and Twitter were all start-ups.

The current Irish start-up ecosystem is thriving at the moment, with more than 30 accelerator and incubation programmes operating throughout the country (according to a recent report by AIB). Many of these are temporary homes to start-ups operating in the media and marketing space.

Given that they operate in knowledge-based and digitally-driven sectors, where the barriers to entry are not high, it's not surprising to see so many Irish adtech, e-commerce, data and social media start-ups. Within the most recent crop of Enterprise Ireland's high potential start-ups (HPSUs), for example, 20 of the 105 companies fall within the media, marketing and advertising sectors.

What many of them have in common, however, is that they are at the cutting edge of innovation and new product development, and some (though not all) are uniquely positioned to help their more established marketing, advertising and media colleagues with the different daily challenges they face.

This is particularly true in advertising and marketing, and a number of big brand marketers and agencies are now turning to the start-up community for help.

The FMCG giant Unilever, for example, runs the Unilever Foundry, a global initiative headquartered in London. The Foundry taps into the start-up community by engaging with founders operating in a wide range of businesses - digital marketing, e-commerce, content, sustainability, data and mobile.

The company's venture capital arm, Unilever Ventures, has also taken an equity stake in over 40 companies around the world and was one of the early backers of the Dublin-based mobile marketing firm Brandtone, which is headed up by Donald Fitzmaurice. Brandtone now employs over 120 staff, operates in 12 different international markets and delivers campaigns for brands like Heineken, Pepsi, Kellogg's and Unilever. Advertising agencies are also turning to start-ups for ideas and inspiration. Earlier this year, the French agency giant Publicis Group launched Publicis 90, a global initiative to foster digital entrepreneurship amongst the global start-up community.

The group received over 3,500 applications from start-ups around the world and this list was finally whittled down to just 90 companies, which will now receive a range of supports from the group. In the final shakeout, however, no Irish start-ups made the cut.

But Irish agencies look to follow suit.

Core Media, for example, has developed informal links with the start-up community by inviting a company to present to the group once a month. Over the next two years, it aims to create a start-up incubator within the group that will foster and nurture digital companies that complement its main business.

"We are keen to deepen our relationship with the start-up community," says Alan Cox, CEO of Core Media. "We intend to build strong connections with start-ups in the communications and related industries in the years ahead. We will select businesses based on their fit with our proposition. We want to build a new kind of full-service consultancy that helps to solve business problems for our clients. Technologists and innovators will play a key role in that."

In the meantime, more Irish marketers and their brands should take the opportunity to spend time with start-ups. They may operate on the fringes of their sectors, but more often than not, this is where some of the best ideas and product innovation throughout the world is currently coming from.

Contact John McGee at john@adworld.ie

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