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4A’s CreateTech 2019



The eighth annual 4A’s CreateTech conference in New York City in 2019 hosted some 200 attendees to meet and hear from innovation experts across the creative field.

Agency leads, producers, technologists, directors, strategists, futurists, and clients came to talk about fearless programming with A.I., the exercise of creative brainstorming, VR experiences about neuroscience and Latvian punk rock, and so much more.

When 4A’s hosted the first CreateTech conference in 2011, the concept of innovation was emerging as the leading element of marketing growth and success. The intersection of creativity and technology represented enormous opportunity and potential.

But innovation is no longer about potential—it’s about survival and adaptation in a field where changes are accelerating rapidly.

Today’s “innovation imperative” now drives creative business not only in its use of technology but also in its organization, social representation and ethical expression. A.I., V.R., mixed reality, voice computing—endless iterations of innovation drive the creative industry’s ability to survive and thrive.


All photos: Margarita Corporan


Opening Remarks

To lead the day’s exploration of creativity and technology in the marketing industry, 4A’s President + CEO Marla Kaplowitz, noted that innovation has become critical to the survival of a marketing business: “We must understand the influence of rapidly changing technology on personal life and media habits, through artificial intelligence and creativity, immersive storytelling, new marketing technology systems and innovation lab models.”


Innovation, Kaplowitz noted, represents the ability to adapt to changing conditions. Demonstrating this principle, CreateTech co-emcee Tim Leake, SVP/Chief Marketing & Innovation Officer at RPA, invited the audience to make itself uncomfortable, requesting the audience change seats to demonstrate the discomfort and challenge inherent to change. Co-emcee Charlie Oliver, CEO & Founder of Tech2025, asked for a show of hands: who enjoyed switching seats? “The ones who raised their hands—those are the outliers,” she said. “The ones we want to keep.”

The creative technologist role is no longer a discrete set of skills or a singular job description—it’s a mental model,” she said. “Anyone, in any creative enterprise, ultimately needs to be a creative technologist—whether a strategist, developer, executive.

The Innovation Imperative for Creative Business

The conference keynote was given by Kumar Mehta, the author of The Innovation Biome and a Senior Research Fellow, Center for the Digital Future at USC.Dr. Mehta presented a number of important ways of building an innovation practice in even a large organization.

Many of his insights were delivered in a sustained deconstruction of “The Fallacy of the The Next, Big, Thing.” By recognizing and developing the contribution of many small insights an organization can create what Dr. kumar calls am 'Innovation Biome" and establish and "institutional yes"

Change Management: Innovation in Action


Whether for individuals or businesses, change management is the activity dedicated to HOW an organization moves forward on new insights and adapting to changing conditions. This is the most important aspects of building innovation cultures. In this session, industry leaders discuss how they manage change across clients, companies, and teams, and in their own lives.

Once it’s clear what the vision is, and there’s general alignment, there’s going to be a stage of resistance. I love to horizontally involve different departments.…Once you create ‘us versus them,’ it’s harder to converge and create in a meaningful way.
— Melissa Lentz, MAGNET

Moderator Tim Leake asked his panelists to name the barriers to change for larger organizations. “Three-month thinking and misaligned incentives,” said Michael Lebowitz, Founder & CEO of Big Spaceship. “Identity crisis and ambiguity,” said Melissa Lentz, CEO of MAGNET Global Network and owner of M.Hatter Consulting. “Lack of intent and purpose, and ambiguity,” said Philip Rackin, VP of Business Transformation at R/GA. The group then explored how to overcome such obstacles.

The town hall never works. It’s all the politics without any change.…When we interview people within a company, we can surface themes, and everyone can see something they relate to.
— Michael Lebowitz, Big Spaceship

Stop Mistaking Innovation for Futurism

The world’s most forward-thinking businesses create the future through their innovations. But creators who follow the pioneers run the risk of mistaking innovation for futurism, which keeps them from forging their own way.  

Futurism is envisioning a likely future in order to meet it or describing a preferred future. Innovation on the other hand, is the practice, processes and tools for producing these visions. As moderator Mauricio Ruiz, Creative Technology Director at Grey New York, says “Futurism is a compass for innovation.”

Mauricio went on to discuss the dilemma and how to avoid it with Alexis Lloyd, Head of Design Innovation at Automattic; Neil Redding, executive technologist and digital futures strategist; and Jared Weiner, EVP & Chief Strategy Officer of The Future Hunters.

A solution is having team that can quickly explore and prototype ideas, but not take them so far before they’re continuously brought back to the core business. They need unencumbered exploration and reintegration.
— Neil Redding, executive technologist and digital futures strategist
The problems of tomorrow won’t be solved only by technology. The technology we have today doesn’t need more features—it needs more meaning. It needs to solve more problems for people.
— Mauricio Ruiz, Grey New York
People too often ask what’s going to happen five of 10 years from now. If you only focus on that, you’ll chase a moving line. We’re trying to focus on the why: the underlying societal factors, whether they’re technology-based, generational or sociocultural.
— Jared Weiner, The Future Hunters



A Voice in the Wilderness: Getting Hands-On with Voice Technology

Layne Harris, Vice President, Head of Innovation Technology, 360i, led a discussion of the tools marketers need to understand and use voice-activated technology in their innovations.

Creative Dim Sum: Creative Concepts Made Easy

A collaborative methodology developed by Technology, Humans and Taste (THAT) forces collaborative conceptual thinking that results in new ideas. Nathan Phillips, co-founder and  Chief Creative Officer of THAT, presented an overview of the process that has resulted in an open-source library of more than 1000 concepts created by artists, technologists, thinkers, makers, and experts from related and unrelated fields.

The workshop consisted of an exuberant description of the methodology with a gentle and introduction to the group collaboration activities of a real session with 50 conference participants. Some new product ideas that emerged were



Creative AI 101, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Neural Network

Husani Oakley, SVP–Director of Technology at Great Machine, Deutsch’s AI Innovation Studio, explored how to introduce AI into a project—in this case, letting individuals use their emotions to control the color of a lightbulb—with purpose and within budget.

Data is biased. And that doesn’t mean it’s racist—data hasn’t joined the Klan.…It’s super-important to be honest about the bias that’s built into data, and acknowledge it, and find ways around it.
— Husani Oakley, Great Machine

Analyzing the Facebook 500: Bringing Transparency to Facebook Advertising

In a “lunch and learn” session sponsored by data-marketing agency Pathmatics, its CMO, William Merchan, discussed industry trends and shared unique insights on creative strategies on Facebook.


Agency by Definition

A panel moderated by Mihae Mukaida, Senior Producer, Innovation, McCann, explored the ways agencies can reclaim the meaning of the word “agency” and create meaningful brand futures in an environment where innovation is everywhere. One example: the “fearless girl” statue McCann created for its client State Street Global Advisors.

Mukaida posed these questions: “What’s agency innovation? How are we producing the best work we can, the ideas we’re bringing to fruition, the problems we’re trying to solve?” She discussed innovative models and approaches with Christine Lane, McCann’s SVP–Executive Producer, Innovation; and with Esther Bahne, VP Strategy and Innovation, and Nate Pinsley, Managing Director, A/D/O, Strategy & Innovation, at MINI.

Large companies are not organized to move quickly. They’re slow ships turning in the harbor. But to survive and thrive, you have to be able to operate like a little speedboat. That’s where an agency comes in: to help you build a speedboat.
— Nate Pinsley, A/D/O and MINI
The more I see agencies and brands working to earn credibility with the public and the press, versus selling, the more success I’ve seen in the work. So the question is, how can I have that conversation with you?
— Christine Lane, McCann

CreateTech Masters: Becoming a TechnoWizard

What does it mean to be a creative technologist? Sam Snider-Held, the Real-Time VR/AR Creative Technologist at MediaMonks, defines a “TechnoWizard” as “someone who cultivates an obsessive drive to learn technology for creative goal.”

logging will help you meet your end goal by documenting it in a public place. That will make sure you don’t quit and make your idea as real and final as possible.
— Sam Snider-Held, MediaMonks

 Rock & Roll: Fallon’s Story of In-House Innovation at a Global Scale


Did an ‘80s underground rock band from Latvia set the stage for the collapse of the Soviet Union? Fallon’s Creative technologist Cory McLeod and Director of Digital, Social & Innovation, Greg Swan, felt the unlikely story of the band Perkons (motto: “Live the truth in an untrue time”) was vital to tell to an agency audience a generation later—and that the best way to tell the story was through a VR experience.

That was easier said than done: creating the inspiring “Perkons: A VR Rockumentary” required an ad-hoc team at Fallon to raise their hands and commit to a project without funding, without clients, and without (at first) the technical expertise to pull it off. But seeing their job as pioneering creativity, Swan and McLeod saw the project as an opportunity to teach themselves VR.

Why tell this story in VR? Because every film I’ve seen doesn’t capture the space of the Soviet Union—so eerie and oppressive and dark—but the 1980s in Latvia were some of the most inventive times I’ve ever experienced.
— Cory McLeod, Fallon

AI, Innovation and Creativity

What’s AI’s role in creativity? Its increasing presence in our lives and our marketing requires us to challenge our assumptions about creativity and delivery. But as mysterious as it may seem, AI isn’t something for creatives to fear—particularly because its capabilities have a long way to go to seem human, as panelist Jamie Brew, CEO of writing software Botnik, demonstrated by displaying a holiday letter, loaded with cryptic comments and gaffes, “written” by a virtual CEO.

CreateTech emcee Charlie Oliver, CEO & Founder of Tech2025, moderated a discussion with Brew;  Ashley Baccus-Clark, Director of Research at Hyphen-Labs; and Marc Blanchard, Global Head of Experience Design at Havas.

The biggest assumption I find myself fighting against, internally and externally, is this idea that marketing is all about making people want things.…What actually makes people want to buy stuff is giving a valuable experience—making stuff people want, rather than making people want things.
— Marc Blanchard, Havas
Our memories and imagination round what it means to be a person of color has been controlled not by us. So we wanted to flip that narrative on its head and use an immersive technology about what it means to be a black woman and build a story around it—taking reality and flipping it on its head.
— Ashley Baccus-Clark, Hyphen-Labs
AI is just math, intelligently applied. It’s better if we think about it more as tools we use than as agents that live alongside us.
— Jamie Brew, Botnik

Women Leading Innovation Across Major Brands

Talent expert and entrepreneur Stephanie Redlener, Managing Director of Talent Strategy, DDG, and Founder, Lioness, moderated a panel to discuss the barriers women face in leading innovation, and the ways they empower their teams to build and support innovative programs and policies.

The panel featured Monica Bertrán, Global Head of Corporate & Employee Brand MultiMedia at Bloomberg; Elizabeth O'Brien, Program Director of Sports & Entertainment Sponsorships at IBM; and Paige Winburn, Vice President and Global Head of Content Strategy at MetLife.

‘Innovative’ means you’re always looking at problems not as problems but as challenges. And there’s a sort of intrinsic optimism for that approach and empathy with that approach. You’re always in start-up mode.
— Paige Winburn, MetLife

CMO Innovation Spotlight: Innovation Partnerships and the Responsibility Imperative


Catharine Hays, co-host of the SiriusXM show “CMO Spotlight” and co-author of Beyond Advertising, interviewed leading marketers on the evolution of the their roles: Jennifer Cohan, President, New York, Edelman; Bret Sanford-Chung, VP and CMO Executive Partner, Forrester; and Maura Tuohy, Global Director, Marketing, at Mozilla.

Perhaps the most important fact highlighted at CreateTech came from the Edelman Trust Barometer presented by Jennifer Cohan during the CMO Spotlight session: business is trusted more than government of the media.

And as CMOs take the lead on driving growth through faster cycles of innovation and more complex technological consumer experiences, brand responsibility and ethics are coming to the forefront.

Agencies, as brand stewardship partners, also have an important role in helping brands follow through on the trust that society places with them.

People feel business is a lot better poised to solve society’s ills than government is—that business will be more adaptable and agile to their interests. People can only vote once every four years. And given the dynamics of our last presidential election, with tampering, people don’t trust their voice will be heard.
— Jennifer Cohan, Edelman
Sixty-two percent of millennials want the brands they interact with to take a stand.…That changes the nature of what it means to be a brand.
— Bret Sanford-Chung, Forrester
Innovation without ethics is driving without a seatbelt: it’s fine until something goes wrong, and then something can go terribly wrong. It’s the responsibility of everyone in this room to bring in the ethical piece as we build on innovation.
— Maura Tuohy, Mozilla

All photos: Margarita Corporan