What advertising agencies can learn from John Winsor

Blog posted by Paul Springer
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In this second of four extracts from his new book Pioneers of Digital, Professor Paul Springer of Buckinghamshire New University focuses on John Winsor of Victors & Spoils, the first ad agency based on creative crowdsourcing principles.

Every decade or so an original type of ad agency challenges the norm. Some become mad moments in history while others influence the way advertising is produced.

Think of Bernbach at DDB pairing of Art Directors and Copywriters or BMP’s introduction of Planners. Then in the nineties when agency staff had laptops Chiat Day New York had flexi offices, flexi hours and flexi workers while HHCL in London even introduced ROMPing (Radical Office Mobility Programme). What makes Victors and Spoils more than today’s novel way of working is that they’ve fundamentally rethought how the internet can service the advertising process. More specifically, Jon Winsor has capitalised on the web’s capacity to reach a global creative talent pool, hungry for challenges.

Others are doing it, but not as well as V&S. Harley Davidson now run much of their ad business through V&S because they know they’re getting a consistent strength of imaginative fresh input. As Bob Garfield in AdAge put it: ‘"Two expensive prima donnas in a high-rent office? How about, say, 700 hungry thinkers in their jammies all over creation?"

On interviewing Winsor it’s clear that you’re dealing with a sage of change when it comes to digital. "Don’t be fooled" he says, "by those belonging to the old ways of working".

Winsor made a splash in advertising through game-changing strategies with Alex Bogusky at the creative hothouse Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Colorado. However his passion for digital came from running a publishing company in the eighties (he developed 10 national titles in 13 years, later sold to Conde Nast).

One magazine on mountain sports had crippling publication costs, so Winsor discovered a radical solution: "I did this crazy thing – I bought this thing called a Mac Plus and a laser writer, then I bummed some prototype software off the guys at Quark in Denver. That allowed me to work on my Mac and Mac Plus... With one move it allowed me into digital technology and allowed me to be in business. (However)... the typesetters just laughed at me and said this desktop publishing thing is a joke, it’ll never happen and you’ll be paying us way more than we charged you before. It will never work. That was when I realised the power of what disruptive technology can bring." 

Winsor challenged all the conventions of practice: he questioned processes of production, distribution and even who-paid-who for services in the production of content.  On one occasion Winsor realised that top global athletes subscribed and were ‘members’ of his sports magazine, and these elite athletes were the very community that advertisers needed access to. So he renegotiated the chain of payment with his magazine ‘at the top of the funnel’.

In this excerpt from Pioneers of Digital, Winsor explains how his agency Victors &Spoils works, and its underpinning values:

Victor and Spoils was founded in 2009 on a simple principle: "That ideas can come from everywhere. There is this radical democratisation that social media and technology gives everybody the same right to participate in any kind of thing’’. For Winsor it went way beyond advertising – "You see it in the anti-banking rallies in Wall St and the Arab Spring. These new technologies allow for that kind of thing. The principle in our case was that best idea should win - even if you’re an amateur from Lexington, Kentucky. You still have the same ability to win and be awarded the prize than if you’re an Executive Creative Director from New York."

The agency’s 22-strong staff base includes creative direction, strategic direction and account direction at what Winsor calls ‘curation-level’. There’s a Chief Creative Officer, Accounts Team head and a Chief Finance Officer. Then there are teams under them including creative crowd directors, to service a V&S membership – 6,000 people from 130 countries, who keenly take on V&S’s challenges.

 "We have a lot of work on our open platform where we’ll put ideas out there, and anyone signed up to the platform can lean into those ideas".

According to Winsor, technologies have reached a point that allows sharing of all kinds to happen. "Historically, you had to go to the right school and get factual knowledge. Now kids are creating killer things and we all have the ability to express ourselves creatively, through advertising, video or writing a blog. One girl all of a sudden can become a famous writer. It’s crazy to see this happening. Democratisation is blowing up industry and I love that."

Pioneers of DigitalWinsor is aware that, in the fullness of time, creative crowdsourcing represents just one stage in digital fulfilling its potential: "Any new technology just fragments and totally destroys the old way of doing things. There are millions of new seeds which are planted that, sooner or later, will get organised in a new way. Things like Google or Facebook are really awesome but are really the plumbing of this new system. They’re not the fruits, they’re not the creative output, they’re just building the simple infrastructure, roadways, sewers and all that kind of stuff in our old way of doing work."

Next week, my co-author Mel Carson will share some of the lessons we learned from the twenty digital pioneers profiled in the book.

The book is available on Amazon & Kindle: “Pioneers of Digital: Success Stories from Leaders in Advertising, Marketing, Search & Social Media.”

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