Innovation. In - no - va - tion. It is a word that is bandied around, sometimes for better or for worse, and woe betide those who overstep the mark. Luckily, my interviewee this week is an expert in such manners. Step in, Sarah Salter, Director of Innovation for MEC Tonic.
Wait, what does that actually mean?
Sarah’s job title means she ensures that the brands who work with MEC (think Netflix, Compare the Market, BMW) are using the latest services and technologies to innovate. With so many new ideas out there, Sarah is the one who decides what is worth pursuing, and what’s not. In her words, the role “at MEC means looking at a problem, or a brief with a different lens, and in my role particularly, a startup and technology lens.”
Seems simple enough, but Sarah takes it next level. “In a day-to-day job, everybody would get a briefing and attack in a very similar way, and we’d look at the data that drives it, we’d pull it apart. I look at how we make sure that we drive relevance for the brand and find cool and new interesting tech and startups that are approaching a problem differently.”
How can I get that job?
Sarah has come from a background in marketing - but she certainly never played it safe. Her career started at P&G where she was a marketing assistant. When everyone wanted to work on the big, exciting brands, she went for the new brands that were yet to be launched. That was then followed by almost seven years at Casio where she naturally gravitated toward G-Shock “it’s the only watch brand you can quite happily throw on the floor; every other watch brand is a piece of delicate jewellery”.
This taste for adventure led to adventurous places, and a job in New York City at the then little-known fitness club, Equinox, beckoned. Here, Sarah helped create a lifestyle brand like no other “they are probably the only gym in the world that never features pictures of a gym - nobody cares what you do with your body inside the gym, it’s what you do with it outside that matters.” But then she traded it all in for a startup back in London, Vrumi, which has revolutionised the way we use workspace. This gave her a unique insight into the inner workings of startup life, before bringing all of her experience to MEC: a culmination of big brands, start ups, and always, always, innovating.
So what does ‘innovating’ involve?
In her role, there are three prongs; there is of course learning; learning from venture capitalists and startups about what’s going on and what they’re bringing in. Then, there’s the partnerships with the huge innovators such as Amazon, Google and Facebook to be the first media agency to try things out. Finally, there’s the educating; educating the clients so they know what’s coming and how best to use it.
What this all amounts to is trial and error, success, and failure. “There’s a museum in New York City dedicated to innovation failures, we’ve got to celebrate the failures because we’ve tried and it didn’t work, let’s move on to the next thing.” She continues “For me, innovation is too readily used by brands to drive short-term relevance, but it’s about building a future and making sure these brands are around in five years’ time.”
Wise words indeed.
... And The Famous Last Words
Phrase you wish everyone would stop using? Apples to Apples.
Three things you need to work? Myself, my phone, and my key card.
What are you obsessed with? Anything new and interesting.