There has been much discussion recently about how agencies should behave like startups—agile, iterative, and product-oriented. In the same breath, many startups, brimming with engineering smarts, covet the pure marketing skills of agencies. Pilot.is, a new technology company spun out of TBWA\Chiat\Day, brings the two disciplines together in a design-driven development lab that focuses on building products that create efficiencies within large organizations.
The brainchild of David Lee, ECD Digital & Design for TBWA Worldwide and now CCO of Pilot.is, the company grew from the simple need to find a way to unify the individual agency websites across TBWA’s 250-office network. Lee says the plan was to create a better solution than just a one-off rebranding of tbwa.com. From that thinking, a content management system called Projeqt was developed as a "sandbox for our network to play in." During the private beta stage, however, Lee says there was an a-ha moment: "We thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to let anyone in the world use this platform to tell their stories. That’s when we decided to productize it."
The process resulted in the launch of Pilot.is as a standalone company with a staff of eight, able to service both TBWA’s parent company, Omnicom, and any other organization in the marketing and communications space looking for productivity solutions. And true to the iterative nature of product development, Projeqt morphed from its initial incarnation as a CMS product to a real-time presentation system, and spawned Spotlites, a second, more focused web publishing platform.
Lee says the impetus to hang a shingle specifically for Pilot.is came from an intimate understanding of how inefficient large agencies can be. "On any given day in any network, people are building the exact same thing 20 times," he says. "If we can find a way to help with that and to reduce costs or to be more progressive in terms of how we share assets and platforms, that’s another way that we can help different entities and networks."
He points to Projeqt and how it addresses challenges around the lifeblood of the agency business: presentations. "How many presentations are done every day in our industry? Our currency is presenting to clients, so we wanted to solve that problem," he says.
The problem, as Lee sees it, is that presentations haven’t changed since they were conceived. Static information is plugged into presentation software, crafted for a specific purpose and rendered largely irrelevant after the first time it’s presented. This idea of irrelevance is specifically true in this era of real-time information and cloud computing. Projeqt allows users to pull real-time information from a variety of online sources, such as feeds from Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, Google maps, Pinterest, SoundCloud, Flickr, and Instagram. Each time a presentation is revisited, it’s updated with up-to-the-minute information. The platform also addresses the changing nature of information in its organization, which can be presented linearly or non-linearly with a function called Stacks. "You can have the Cliff Notes version of your presentation in one line on top, or you could put stacks within stacks. Think about all the non-linear formats you can do and drill in deeper in a presentation," says Lee. "The beauty of it is that you can take your dynamic presentation that is constantly bringing in real-time topical data and you can put it anywhere into the social ecosystem; you can put it on a blog, embed it in a dot-com, you can even create a Facebook app out of it. And it’s all turnkey." The innovative platform garnered Pilot.is a 2012 SXSW Interactive Award in the category of Educational Resource.
Spotlites, the second product to come from Pilot.is, meanwhile, offers real-time web publishing accessible through mobile, tablet, and desktop screens. Content of all sorts is packaged into a Spotlite, which is easily embeddable anywhere online and content creators can control and update the material in a Spotlite from one place.
Lee explains: "For example, to update a digital campaign right now, it’s a mess. You have micro sites, features on a dot-com, a Facebook app, rich media banners, and you want to create something shareable. It takes a small army to do all that. What Spotlites does is allows you to create the campaign once and tick all those boxes off at once. It creates a Facebook app for you, a rich media banner, a shareable campaign that you can put anywhere out there in the social ecosystem."
Additionally, analytics and listening tools allow a Spotlite creator to respond in real time to a campaign that might not be working well, replace or remove content when licenses expire, or add new content, no matter how many times it’s been shared or where it’s embedded. "You only have to update it once and it shotguns the update everywhere," says Lee. "So its complete control over your brand messaging and your campaign, no matter who’s shared it and blogged it."
Pilot.is launched its first Spotlite for Remedy Games’ third-person psychological thriller Alan Wake this week.
While both Projeqt and Spotlites address the changing needs of creative professionals in a real-time, cloud-connected world, Pilot.is itself represents the need for agencies to evolve and seriously commit to new business models in the face of flux.
The launch of Pilot.is as independent from TBWA was a way to expand its potential market, but Lee says it was also a necessary decision if it was to become a credible business built around creating ideas that are "born to live, not campaigns that are built to die."
"We didn’t want to become another agency claiming to create products. And I think the reason a lot of agencies claim they can create IP is that they do it as a hobby," he says, adding the experimentation comes with the recognition of the need for a more "forward-facing and bulletproof" way for agencies to be remunerated than billable hours. "A lot of the digital products you see are digital toys, they’re like little experiments. What we want to do is actually create real business and revenue-generating IP that will help our network, Omnicom companies, and other companies as well."