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They’ve been going on for a while now. They can represent project, product, PR and pitch.

What are the benefits of an agency hack day?

1. Great PR

Somo is a good example of an agency that has a reputation for hack days. It’s London office has a room full of the latest hardware, which the agency has to be well versed in working with if it’s going to know what’s round the corner and how best to service clients.

Certainly, being a prominent exponent of getting to grips with Google Glass, Somo has received plenty of interest from the media.

Indeed, the Econsultancy blog team tried Glass at Somo’s office.

2. Telling a story on your website

FusePump, albeit not an agency, has its own microsite dedicated to its hackdays.

Telling a story like this, showing your team in action, is much more effective than posting staff photos with everyone grasping an object that sums up their wacky personality.

3. Encouraging data access

Surely the true harbinger of the hack day’s popularisation, the gov.uk team has held very successful events, inviting many different companies and individuals to take part. Some of those that did were agencies and consultancies.

The aim of #floodhack, as a recent example, was to help victims of flooding by developing with government data. DEFRA, GDS and the cabinet office were involved in very quickly opening up government data to the teams of developers.

The results were tangible. You can read about them here

The wider point here is that agencies, whether working alone or with their clients, can reassert the value of sharing data when innovating.

4. Pitching

Many clients extend invitations to hack days as what might turn out to be the exploratory beginnings of project work.

Hack days can surely give a better idea of an agency’s chops than standing in front of a PowerPoint can?

So, hack days are good, if you can back up the words on your website.

5. Seasonality

Hack days, however often, can be tradition. They can punctuate business as usual.

Everybody needs something on the horizon.

6. Challenging everybody

This also equates to keeping people happy, sharp and ultimately better able to undertake client work.

Grey matter can get flabby.

hackday

7. Getting stuff done

Always beholden to your clients, it can be difficult to find time for one’s own work.

Using your own powers for your own ends for a whole day can get stuff done you’ve been holding off for months. Whether an interactive element for your homepage, or a data dashboard, the hackday is the time to get it prototyped.

8. Creating viable products

This applies predominantly to client-side companies. I’ve written previously about media companies that have started to adopt start-up culture, including Axel Springer.

Agencies, too, might just be able to productise the results of a hack day. LBi created a nice little project late last year as part of Music Hack Day. RPM is a music player that allows physical artwork to be associated with any Spotify album or playlist. 

Whilst this, as far as I’m aware, hasn’t gone on to live a life of its own, it’s the kind of product that will at least get companies in this sector to notice LBi.

9. Mixing teams

Get together with copywriters, coders, art directors, designers, content managers.

Rather than bitching about other parts of the team, rip away that shroud of mystery and reacquaint yourself with people who might not even sit on your floor day-to-day.

10. Staying ahead of the competition

Agencies need to ensure they are themselves always well-equipped for change.

If digital is further commoditized, the job of the digital agency becomes a little harder. That’s why many agencies have started an innovation lab.

50% of agency respondents in Econsultancy's recent SoDA Report had a product incubator or innovation lab. Agencies cited funding/company spin-offs (24%), talent retention (49%) and new business (52%) as benefits of establishing an innovation lab (31% saying it was too early to tell what the outcomes would be).

Whilst not every agency can afford to set up an innovation lab, a hack day is the next best thing. Taking time, perhaps every quarter, to incubate some pet projects may eventually yield something that proves competitively advantageous.

Ben Davis

Published 2 June, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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