Ahead of his appearance at today’s IAB Engage conference, AKQA chairman and co-founder Ajaz Ahmed spoke to new media age about how businesses must adapt to a world gone digital.
Explaining quotes taken from his business Velocity, a title he co-authored with Nike’s Stefan Olander that was released earlier this year, Ahmed revealed how he intended to hold true to these ideals post AKQA’s purchase, for $540m (£335m), by WPP.
“There’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur with a disruptive idea…”
Where do you see the real disruptive elements coming from in the digital industry right now?
At AKQA we say that the interface is the brand. What we mean is that a digital interface, whether on mobile or other platform, is the way most people engage with media, devices and services. The organisations that create the most simple, accessible interfaces, combine that with quality and scale - in a way that’s relevant to their audiences - tend to be the organisations that win.
With this in mind, if you were starting out all over again, what area of digital would you focus your efforts on; mobile, social, retargeting, etc?
People have an expectation that technology can make everything friction-free and painless. Achieving that goal is where many brands should put their energy and focus.
AKQA started as an idea to help clients embrace the digital revolution by contributing great work to audiences. Hopefully that’s a purpose that has longevity and will endure for decades. We are and will hopefully always be about looking ahead and collaborating with our clients to create what’s next.
“Despite all the real-time information, none of us has a clue who the world might change in the next 24 hours.”
How do you position an agency to rapidly listen and respond effectively to these changes, especially in an industry like digital?
We don’t tend to do naval gazing at AKQA. We look to the areas where we can make the biggest impact on behalf of our clients and the community and we focus on that. AKQA was founded with four core values which are innovation, service, quality and thought.
The spirit of our company is found in our motto ‘The Future Inspires Us. We Work to Inspire’. We have had our values and our spirit from day one. It’s now an intrinsic part of our DNA, our cognitive tissue and not something that we retro-fitted later.
The combination of our values and spirit guide the way we work and are the timeless characteristics that have defined the company since its inception. Ultimately, we have values and an ethos that remains fixed, but our business strategies, practices and ideas relentlessly adapt to the changing world.
“Achieving the goal of consensus from the team, is very different from the goal making the right decision.”
With the above statement in mind, how do you intend to balance the need to make the ‘right decision’ with the need for ‘consensus’ now that AKQA is part of the wider WPP Group?
Everything starts with people. What we look for in our teams at AKQA are people who have had a variety of experiences and are independent thinkers. We have a strong culture where we aim to make the right decision rather than a decision based on consensus. To do this you need a team that’s asking important questions and looking at a challenge from a different point of view, rather than just going along with the flow. If the consensus is that there is unanimous agreement then there probably needs to be more questions in search of the right decisions. The best cultures in any organisation are those where people are able to set aside their disagreements and work together for the success of the organisation or in our case, the success of our clients.
We were attracted to WPP because Sir Martin Sorrell and his team are very entrepreneurial – more so than any of the other networks. This is reflected in their success as a business and the fact that at Cannes for two years running, WPP was the world’s most awarded network. We’ve been working together as partners for about five months now. Martin has spent valuable time with us and we’re enjoying being part of his team - but I still have not managed to figure out how he manages to reply to emails faster than anyone I have ever met.
Momentum is stronger than it’s ever been. This year alone we have launched new offices in Paris, Atlanta and Portland. That makes 10 offices in our international network. We are tremendously excited about giving our all to the present to unlock the opportunities and adventure ahead.
Ajaz Ahmed will be taking part in the ‘Trail Blazers’ stream at this afternoon’s IAB Engage conference.