Can an Agency of Early Adopters Learn to Slow Down?

Resource strives to innovate without leaving behind what's working

CANNES, France—From the debut of the iPhone to the reveal of Google Glass, Resource Interactive has been one of the first agencies into the breach with branded apps.

And while many envy Resource's culture of rapid adoption, the Columbus, Ohio-based shop now often finds itself with a counterintuitive challenge: slowing down.

The problem? New networks, devices and platforms continue to sprout like weeds—but the old ones aren't going anywhere. In fact, clients would often rather leverage the audiences they've already built on services like Twitter or Facebook than shift all their marketing resources and agency time into new and untested waters.

With Resource CEO Kelly Mooney and CCO Dennis Bajec in Cannes this week for the marketing industry's most high-profile annual gathering, Adweek sat down with them to ask how they maintain a healthy commitment to innovation without leaving behind the stuff that's still working.

"I do think that sometimes hurts us," Mooney said. "We sort of jump ahead and we assume everybody's moving as fast as we are, and now we have to say, 'Wait, wait, that's actually not where the clients are yet.' "

Staying Vocal on Mobile

It's not just an issue of new social networks and devices, Mooney said. For example, the agency's advisory board recently questioned the leaders on why they had stopped mentioning mobile integration and responsive design in their communications with existing and potential clients.

The reason was theoretically a good one: By the end of 2012, Resource had melded mobile strategy and practices into all its digital planning, making it seem like an archaic talking point and not even worthy of its own dedicated team. But the reality was that mobile was still an area that even tech-savvy clients still wanted to discuss specifically.

"We stepped back and said, 'Oh my gosh.' We had totally moved on, and we had assumed everyone thought that way, too," Mooney said.

One Lab, 160 Companies

For Resource, the key to balancing experimentation with responsible day-to-day client management has been its Resource Lab, a team dedicated to tech innovation and research.

"We have a small group of people who are all about emerging and what's next. They have a nose for it. They have a passion for it," Mooney said. "They're reading about it, they're reaching out and meeting the vendors, they're testing the betas while they're in early-stage development, then they're looking across our brands to try and find the activation."

In 2013, the lab met with 160 companies to discuss emerging technology and how it might affect their businesses, Mooney said.

Having a lab to handle such meetings freed up the creative teams to stay focused on the current brand landscape for each client. "If a creative director had to sit in all those meetings … well, for one, they'd never do it," Mooney said.

The lab also has an ongoing benefit for clients: it largely negates the need for them to listen to long-winded pitches from emerging-tech vendors. Instead, many of the companies entrust Resource Lab with filtering down the list of potential services and platforms to find the ones most relevant to their brands.

So while some client oversight is always being invested in future tech, Resource's creative and strategy teams are relatively freed up to focus on what's working—or could be working—right now.

A Pizza With Personality 

In fact, one of the agency's most talked-about clients in the past year has been the Nestlé-owned DiGiorno Pizza, thanks largely to good old Twitter. Clever, timely posts from the brand's Twitter feed, managed by Resource, have helped gain visibility during trending real-time events like 2013's live broadcast of The Sound of Music.

"DiGiorno had been under the radar and is outspent by all the big pizza players 10 to 1," Mooney explained, "and what we started to do is use Twitter as a communication vehicle to make the brand more relevant and interesting.

"The success is not just how many earned impressions and how many followers but more about how what we've learned in Twitter is reshaping the personality of the brand, the voice of the brand and the attributes of the brand."

Of course, all things run their course, and it's inevitable that someday client brands like DiGiorno will look to Resource to take the business into the next generation of social networks and leave trusty tools like Twitter behind. But for now, part of Mooney's role as CEO is to ensure her staff doesn't throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. 

"Kelly's one of the best leaders in terms of not letting us lose sight of that. It's something she brings up a lot," creative chief Dennis Bajec said. "She's always having to remind us, 'Hey, let's not walk away from that too quickly, whether it's Facebook or Twitter …' "

"Or even Google Glass," Mooney interjected. "We created the first consumer app for Glass for Sherwin-Williams, and it's so funny because there are all these new applications and uses we're looking at with Glass, and our team now is like, 'Oh, Kelly, that's so last year.' "