MITX awards and the “digital” agency

Happy Ice Cream Machine, from a pure digital agency, won Best of Show, but lots of other awards

went to hybrid or integrated agencies, including Mullen.

Last night MITX put on its annual award show ceremony, celebrating the best digital and interactive work in New England. It’s always fun to be there as the show attracts everyone from ad agencies to digital shops, production companies, start-ups, VCs and social media agencies. Boston has a big, healthy and still growing digital community and folks come from all over the region. All the way from Burlington, Vermont, in fact.

Besides being the oldest interactive marketing association in the country (I think), the MITX awards is definitely the largest regional show in the U.S. It’s been held annually for 15 years – since the days of CD-ROMS – and attracts well over 1200 attendees who either pat themselves on the back for winning or applaud politely as their competitors walk to the stage.

I was obviously pleased to watch the Mullen gang take home numerous honors, including Best Brand Campaign, Best Cross Media Campaign and Best User Engagement (all for Olympus); Best Mobile App for Lumber Liquidator (the second year in a row we grabbed that one); and Best Use of Mobile (for Timberland, which also won Digital Marketer of the Year.)

As is often the case at these events, more than a few people asked how it is that Mullen, once a traditional advertising agency known more for ads than digital ideas, managed to “transform.” Once upon a time the companies that won at award shows like this were the digital pure-plays.

But clearly everything is digital now and every agency needs to be (and can be) digital (and social). Not just in its tech group, but in creative, planning, media, production and account service. So my answer is simple.

  1. Change your mindset. Tell yourself that it’s time to make things that are useful rather than craft messages that people will simply consume.
  2. Put technology and IA and UX in the middle of the creative department so that they’ll learn more about storytelling and creativity and creatives will learn more about technology.
  3. Start every idea session with the question: what do consumers need from this brand in terms of content, functionality and utility?
  4. Make ads last. First come up with something more experiential that in and of itself might be worth advertising.

Granted it’s easier said than done. As this week’s Fast Company piece suggests, you have to change your DNA and make some tough decisions about everything from staffing and processes to clients and compensation.

And admittedly we’re not totally there yet and don’t always get it right either. (Few really do have it all figured out.) But when we do, it’s actually good for everyone — our clients, their customers, and even the egos of the teams that walk up to the stage at MITX.

Congratulations to all the winners and all the agencies. Especially all those who’ve had to work extra hard to get there.