An international panel of media and advertising leaders from The Financial Times, The Boston Globe (Jeff Moriarty, Boston Globe's Head of Digital, dialed in for an ill-fated teleconference/telejudging), Contagious, and WAZ NewMedia (one of the largest media groups in Europe) signed up to gather in Dublin last week for the Grand Finale of Irish Times FUSION.
The Irish Times was unveiling the results of its five-week experiment, Irish Times FUSION, to work with ten startups to define the next wave of digital advertising inventory. None of the ten were focused on advertising before they entered FUSION. The Irish Times sought digital experiences that were compelling in their own right, but which could also become brand experiences too. The result is a radical array of digital advertising inventory that looks nothing like what we expect an ad to be.
Video: the final week before the startups pitch
"Dublin seems to have a great start-up scene and the Irish Times has created a great space at the heart of that", says Emily Hare, Editor of Contagious, a leading advertising and creative industry magazine. Hare was among the judging panel that selected the two winners. Overall winner was the fashion startup "FrockAdvisor". Fitness app "GetHealth" was runner up. The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councilor Naoise Ó Muirí, named the winners of FUSION at a grand finale event at Christchurch Cathedral. Each of the two winners will become a Startup In Residence at The Irish Times, embedding themselves within the newspaper's own advertising team for six-months. The winners were among ten new startup products/services unveiled by The Irish Times to the advertising industry at the event.
Speaking at the FUSION finale, Alastair Mackie of The Financial Times, said "It seems that The Irish Times has come up with a winning formula for this start up development process. The Startup In Residence project (the next stage in the FUSION initiative) could provide a template for other organisations to follow".
The process began in April this year, when over 100 startups applied to participate in FUSION. An initial short list of twenty was selected to enter The Irish Times to work with leading advertising industry mentors and refine their pitches. Within a week the shortlist was culled to a final ten by an industry panel of the market's most senior media buyers and by the Cannes Lions. You can read about the ten here. Steve Latham of The Cannes Lions International said "I can definitely see these ideas on stage at Cannes as a potential Lion winner". The Cannes Lions is the premier festival of the global advertising industry.
The final ten startups worked for a further four weeks inside The Irish Times, engaging with the organisation and with advertising agencies to refine their products. According to the co-founders of FrockAdvisor, Brendan Courtney and Sonya Lennon, "We know instinctively how to create fashion related content but working with the sales team at The Irish Times, gave us a new focus. It helped us to position FrockAdvisor as a business". The startups were supported by NDRC LaunchPad, the leading startup incubator in Ireland's booming tech scene, and worked with Eoghan Nolan of BrandArtillery, one of the top creative directors in Ireland.
Image: FrockAdvisor's web app
Liam Ryan of GetHealth, the runner up, said "Our time at the Irish Time's Fusion programme has allowed us to discover new opportunities to commercialise our product offering". GetHealth was also recently announced as one of 13 international companies picked by General Electric's New York-based programme, the StartUp Health Academy.
Image: GetHealth app
The view at The Irish Times is that when the market is tough, the deeper, longer term thinker has the advantage. Over the past months every single member of the advertising team at The Irish Times has had hands on experience of working with the next generation of disruptive startups. Each person has had to make the mental leap between working with the inventory that currently exists, and conceiving entirely new inventory that the market has never seen before. The Irish Times now has ten radical new offerings across mobile, physical/social, and web, and ten teams capable of delivering them for any relevant market or brand. That, in the space of two months and with a budget of virtually nil, is a good result.
Viv Maher, Online Sales Manager at The Irish Times, says that "FUSION has given us an opportunity to explore new inventory and delve deep into the foundations of advertising: how to engage with our consumers and how can we help our advertisers do the same? Projects like FUSION help us think and re-evaluate how we work as an organisation and plan for the future".
Liam Kavanagh, Managing Director of The Irish Times, believes that FUSION and projects like it are the way to go for other established media organisation. "Working with startups is a smart and lean way to pivot our 154 year old organisation for continued leadership in the digital era. We have had to open up our building, our attitudes, and our way of working. Having digital upstarts in the building has been transformational". He says that the example of FUSION will be instructive. "Where we have gone others will follow".