An international panel of media and advertising leaders from the Financial Times, the Boston Globe, 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 The Irish Times FUSION.
The Irish Times was unveiling the results of its five-week experiment, The Irish Times FUSION, to work with start-ups to define the next wave of digital advertising inventory. None of the 10 were focused on the advertising market 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.
"It's a really incredible project," 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 start-up FrockAdvisor. Fitness app GetHealth was runner-up. Both will become a "Start-up in Residence" at The Irish Times, embedding themselves within the newspaper's own advertising team for six months.
The winners were among 10 new start-up 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 'Start-up 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 more than 100 start-ups applied to participate in FUSION.
An initial shortlist of 20 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 20 by an industry panel of senior media buyers.
The final 10 start-ups 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 start-ups were supported by NDRC LaunchPad, the leading start-up incubator in Ireland's booming tech scene, and worked with Eoghan Nolan of BrandArtillery, one of the top creative directors in Ireland.
Liam Ryan of GetHealth, the runner-up, said: "Our time at The Irish Times' 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.
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 start-ups.
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.