Sally O’Dowd has written numerous articles for the Social Media Week blog since 2011, reporting from Paris and New York. The following blog post was published on SMW in 2013.

Big data, technology, ads, and everyday people: They are all converging in our multiscreen world.

Such was the concurrent idea at least week’s event hosted by the Art Directors Club, which is soon changing its name to ADC to reflect that creative ideas now come from anywhere, not just artists and creative directors at ad shops.

“There is no difference between an advertising agency, a production company, a tech company or a graphic designer,” said ADC Executive Director Ignacio Oreamuno. “We all build beautiful things that mean something.”

Oreamuno — who travels around the world to meet with the ADC’s ad-agency members, espousing the embrace of new ideas and technical innovation — told the crowd at the group’s New York headquarters that advertising is “the only industry that doesn’t learn. People can climb the ranks from a junior designer to a global creative director without any training.”

On that note, he introduced the evening’s panelists and encouraged an open conversation on the topic of “Art and Tech: Welcome to Tomorrow.” Panel moderator Jimmy Levin, director of graphics company CTI Metropolitan LLC and chair of the education committee of the Advertising Production Club of New York, kicked off the conversation with a question about big data: Good, bad or indifferent?

“Dynamic creative optimization, fueled by big data, enables brands to do test runs of creative campaigns and see which versions perform best with a typical audience,” said Britta Hoskins, creative director at Collective, an ad-tech company that helps big brands and their agency partners to launch highly targeted, multiscreen campaigns. (Big data) does make the user experience better and more relevant. We use data to optimize campaigns on a test basis before they go full scale.”

The importance of data and measurement capabilities was echoed by other creatives from three powerhouse agencies: Sune Kaae, technical creative director at R/GA; Sung Chang, executive creative director at AKQA; and Ben Palmer, CEO of Barbarian Group.

From using data and analytics to inform product development (R/GA), to creatives sharing offices with analytics teams (AKQA), to treating brands as “lab rats” (in a good way, Barbarian), big data and big technology are forever changing advertising. “We are constantly inventing new ways to get our ideas executed, and brands are the patrons of the new,” Palmer said. In our highly digital world, where every interaction can be tracked and measured, “Consumers can choose to engage with you, or not, which forces us to make our creative more compelling, in a visceral way.”

Keeping Ad Land Alive in a Twitter Universe

Brenda Barozzi, director of production at Pipeline/DraftFCB, noted that traditional agencies are still trying to catch up with the digital revolution but harkened back to a golden age when TV commercials and print ads were “magical.”

“Technology has devalued the creative process in a sense because it is so ubiquitous and everyone can publish. It makes the creative insights that ad agencies are known for even more important.” — Brenda Barozzi

Indeed, as technology invades every aspect of society, many creatives are tempted to skip their ad-agency careers in favor of hot jobs at Twitter and Facebook, which offer substantial financial perks.  Ad agencies need to compete to attract and retain top talent, and they are.

It’s often about career experiences that emphasize both creativity and technical knowledge, Palmer said, noting his company’s Cinder initiative, an open-source library for professional-quality creating coding. “We have to go above and beyond because Twitter gives stock options. We have to think ‘What else can we give?’ But if you work at Facebook, it’s boring to tweak pixels on a single site. People will tire a little.  Butat an ad agency, you could work on 15 different and far-reaching campaigns a year.”

Meanwhile, at R/GA, recruiting and retention of top talent means giving creatives and technical employees the chance to work on groundbreaking projects such as Nike Fuelband, which uses a universal metric called “fuel” to measure all sorts of body activity. “If you can offer creatives enough opportunity to be on the cutting edge, they will stay,” Kaae said. “We’re offering more than typical agency work.”

At AKQA, management emphasizes mentoring, with the acknowledgement that its corporate reputation can be made or broken depending on how well people succeed when they move on to other companies. “We are people who are responsible for other individuals,” Chang said. “Our job during their tenure with us is to ensure they’ve learned certain skill sets and if they go off to another job and don’t know how to do it, we’ve failed.”

At Collective, it’s about ongoing learning about the capabilities of each device to reach consumers and a chance to be recognized by the leadership team, Hoskins said. “One tactic we’re proposing for next year is half-day or full-day creative hackathons, where people can take some time away from work and explore new ways to use technology creatively.  We’ll take the best ideas to the board. Andwhen the whole company sees it, they will feel heard and motivated to stay.”

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