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**This post originally appeared on The Drum**

Everytime I go to an agency, the first word out of their mouths, 90 per cent of the time, is ‘innovation’. Either I am speaking with the head of innovation, or the head of mobile has dropped the I-word in the first few minutes. They have embraced it in their vision, but are trying to figure out how to bring it inside the organisation.

One way agencies do this is by holding ‘innovation days’. A handful of startups are brought into the agency and asked to pitch their ideas to a room full of account managers eager to hear exciting new tech ideas from the startups. The account managers at best go away with something new to talk about with colleagues and maybe clients, but it rarely goes beyond ‘that was interesting’.

For a company that has less than 10 employees, the cofounders will usually attend an event like this. They think it’s a quick way to get in front of people in agencies who they believe will lead them to the brands and a commercial deal. The founders give up their very scarce time to come and meet them and go away with nothing – not even feedback on the product/pricing – really valuable insight that agencies have.

Often the startups don’t get the opportunity to discuss the key challenges facing the account managers/brands and how best their tech can solve them either. They aren’t given the opportunity to work on their products and make the necessary changes to get the right product/market fit. Without a dialogue, the best startups will not bother coming back to the agency – and we are already seeing this happen.

Innovation should not be thought of as an event. These ‘innovation days’ are the beginning of the process, but they aren’t innovation, nor can you ‘do’ innovation in these days. What can you really learn from a startup from 10-minute pitch anyway? Just the very nature of the set-up ‘pitch’ means that it’s a one way monologue, not a dialogue.

There must be next steps in place for startups to keep coming back. You, as the agency, must initiate the follow-up. Set the expectations on your staff to take action on what they have seen in just a few hours. Open up a dialogue, introduce them to others in your agency, or recommend them. Your colleagues might have ideas you haven’t thought of. Because if there is no follow-up, believe that the best startups will not be coming back. They have a million other things to be getting on with, another showcase is not on the top of their list.


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