Agencies Open Brand Doors to Tech Startups

Sable launches Spark Plug in attempt to embrace innovation in the digital space

What’s an Israeli rock star doing at Young & Rubicam New York? Well, Yoni Bloch also runs Interlude, a startup that makes Web videos interactive.

Interlude is one of seven startups that Y&R has corralled to expand its options for telling brand stories. Each firm gets office space and access to the agency’s accounts, which include Campbell Soup Co., Xerox, Dell, Danone and LG.

The initiative, known as Spark Plug, represents the latest attempt by agencies and their holding companies to embrace innovation in the digital space. Some, like Bartle Bogle Hegarty, create internal R&D units for employees, while others, including Y&R parent WPP, take stakes in technology businesses.

Spark Plug—the brandchild of Y&R CEO David Sable—is a nonexclusive, strategic partnership that will expand to 10 offices by year’s end, with three or four startups at each office, according to agency chief of staff Jeremy Schmuckler.

The allure for entrepreneurs like Bloch and Michael Kelley of video content creator Unconventional Partners is the exposure to many brands at a single shop.

“It adds an element of excitement,” said Sable, who added that advertising has “always been an innovative industry. It’s [all about] understanding that that’s in the industry’s DNA.”

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