Startup-agency courtships are tough. For the most part both sides really want to work together, but a lot of startups don’t know how to deal with Madison Avenue and the same goes for marketers teaming with early-stage tech companies.
That's according to Darren Herman, founder and managing director at Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners’ investment arm kbs+p Ventures and chief digital media officer at The Media Kitchen. So Herman, Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer, 360i vp of emerging media David Berkowitz and Anthem Worldwide svp of emerging platforms Mark Silva have joined together to form the Technology, Advertising and Startup Council (TASC).
Next Monday at New York’s Soho House the group will hold its inaugural private event, which will convene a who’s who of venture capital investment firms—VCs from Greycroft Partners, Union Square Ventures, Physic Ventures and Lerer Ventures are scheduled to attend—and nearly a dozen steeply rising startups, such as social content aggregator RebelMouse, hyperlocal ad targeter PlaceIQ and Twitter-favored social analytics firm Topsy.
For the first half of the day, each startup will get five minutes or so to run Herman, Schafer, Berkowitz and Silva through what their business is. That may sound like demo day, but “we’re not The X Factor judges in this,” said Schafer. “This is meant to be a conversational event with knowledge shared both ways.” Budgets will be off the table, said Herman. “It’s not a pitch meeting. We’re not there to buy 300 x 250 [ad units] or sponsored stories,” he said.
After each startup finishes its non-pitch pitch, its team will sit down with the council to talk about things like positioning and product market fit so that the startups have a better idea of how to work with agencies and pitch brands as well as differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Schafer said there’s “tremendous inefficiency” in how brands, agencies and startups work together because often a startup doesn’t know who in an agency’s org chart is responsible for what and sidesteps them entirely to go straight to the brand manager…who then pass them back to the agency.
Berkowitz said startups “tend to get either too much attention from brands and agencies or too little.” And sometimes the attention isn’t even on the startups. At SXSW this year David Tisch, who until recently headed the New York arm of startup accelerator TechStars, put Madison Avenue on blast for parading startups in front of clients with the aim of making the agency look dialed in versus getting the startups involved.
Bay Area-based Silva said “a lot of my venture buddies out here in the Valley will qualify meetings” between their portfolio companies and agencies or brands to weed out “looky-loos.” Though he added that those “Valley-tooers end up becoming the $10 million that got [a startup] to the next [fundraising] round.”
As the face-to-face meetings wind down, the VCs will show up for a roundtable that will go over the investors’ needs for their portfolio companies and an exchange of what trends the VCs and agency execs are seeing in the marketplace. And then drinks. “The networking opportunity is pretty great,” said Herman.
Like the companies it aims to help, the council itself is very much in its early stages; it only came together within the last couple months. Herman described this first rendition as the “minimum viable product,” startup-speak for an initial effort good enough to be rolled out to see what sticks and what slips but by no means finished.
Possibilities in the pipeline are expanding TASC to other cities, bringing other agencies/startups/VCs into the fold and holding category-specific gatherings, such as one for e-commerce startups.