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Digital Ideation And Intellectual Property: Richie Grantham

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Welcome to part three of our digital conversation series!

Digital agency Sarkissian Mason is one of those 21st Century type of shops that is making up new rules as they go along. The New-York based agency, with offices in Los Angeles and Phoenix with a staff of about 50, holds clients such as ESPN, Boeing and Imax.

We thought that we would talk to the very sharp Richie Grantham who has recently been hired at Sarkissian Mason as VP strategy and invention, to find out what the shop is all about.

In this part of our digital conversation series, we tackle what Sarkissian Mason is all about and get to the nitty-gritty of digital ideation, as well as the hot topic of intellectual property. Without further adieu…

Sarkissian Mason covers so many bases as and seems to be a mash-up of several models. How would you describe your shop’s practice?

Get the more after the jump…

“Inventive. We encourage and embrace experimentation. Experimentation continues to redefine and push our agency into new spaces – organically. Being in digital and technology assumes an appreciation and appetite for change. As the marketplace changes and technology evolves how we experience content and introduces new behaviors, we see new opportunities for growth.

Our footprints lead back to digital, but where we stand now is as an agency of invention. We want to be the agency that continually invents new ways to experience content and invents new products/services for a constantly changing marketplace.”

Sarkissian Mason tapped you to drive innovation and “agency invention.” The shop pro-actively engages in ideation for clients. How often are the clients open to these outside ideas?

Our clients and prospective clients have been excited about this proactive approach to innovation. But it’s all about finding the right audience.

There are things you see in-field when you do research with consumers… or things the developers come up with, like new technology applications that don’t fit a specific brief… and they inspire new off-table ideas. Feels foolish to sit on game-changing concepts. And it becomes an opportunity to demonstrate our new or “hidden” capabilities – whether they be conceptual, graphic/industrial/interactive design, or strategic… while also providing outlets for new revenue.

How do you charge a client for an “idea”? How do you assess its value? This is a notorious stumbling block for agencies from big to small.

I think it is all contingent on the client and the idea. It’s something we continue to experiment with.

One approach is more about valuing relationships, I think. It’s a long-term approach – working out a solid retainer-type model, following an idea from inception to market. Our goal is to take a strong idea and have a consistent role in its evolution from concept to design to marketing.

Another approach has been to charge a premium for conceptual work and to be incentivized for your idea(s) making it past different approval gates in the process, with the ultimate pay-off for an idea being a percentage if it launches successfully in marketplace. This seems to work better for work that is less risky/conceptual – and more for closer-in ideas that extend a brand or product enough to generate growth and buy-in internally to produce and launch it.

In our case, we are also keen on developing our own IP. Check out The Contrarian for something we have been working on. And this viral piece for it: youtube.com/watch?v=sA7co8Jn6c8. We also have our own subsidiary industrial design group that focuses on creating hi-design, ecological home products that we will be bringing to the market in the future.

When we assess an idea’s “value”, there are times we will invest in it on our own. Or we will partner with companies or clients to bring these ideas to fruition and assume an equity stake.

Sarkissian Mason has been around since 1998, which means that you guys have a wealth of experience in the digital space. What do you think are the biggest mistakes that brands are making when engaging consumers online? Are there any chronic mistakes you can point to?

The biggest strength of having been in the digital space since 1998 is really having been pioneers. We saw the future and we went for it. There was a sense of fearlessness, open creativity….
I believe the mistakes or weakness of the digital space are tied to its strength.

As digital moves from a “new” medium to a more “traditional” medium, agencies have lost that pioneer spirit. They lean towards the familiar and more risk-adverse. It dilutes the creativity that could and should be emanating from this space.

Another mistake would be in not recognizing the adaptability of the mass market to the digital medium. We have progressed from the days where Amazon taught us to shop or iTunes put 1,000 songs in our pocket. The training wheels are off for consumers. To engage them, you must deliver relevant content to them in a way that is experiential and not static/one-way in its presentation.

Another mistake is thinking that “digital” means staying tethered to the web. We believe any channel where digital content can be consumed and expressed is an opportunity to create a relevant experience.

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