The advertising industry is struggling to adapt to the digital world. Whereas ad agencies have experience developing print, radio, and video ads, they face an enormous challenge developing new digital “experiences,” things that are used rather than just seen and heard.

The Irish Times advertising department developed a start-up incubator called Fusion to match the energy of the start-up community with the market reach of the advertising industry. These start-ups had never worked in advertising before, and focused on completely novel experiences for end users. 

Out of 100 start-up applicants, 20 were chosen to go through The Irish Times' Fusion start-up programme. One winner was chosen to work with the news media company for six months.
Out of 100 start-up applicants, 20 were chosen to go through The Irish Times' Fusion start-up programme. One winner was chosen to work with the news media company for six months.

The news media company selected an initial 20 start-ups out of more than 100. Covering a wide range of ideas, what The Irish Times generally found were mobile or mobile-enabled solutions. These spent an initial two weeks at the media company to work with creative directors and refine their pitch.

The 20 start-ups then pitched a panel of advertising agency leaders, who selected 10 finalists, which all had mobile users as their target. The 10 finalists then worked in The Irish Times for a further four weeks to develop their offering and test how they could work with The Irish Times.

Finally, the Times invited a panel of judges from The Financial Times, Boston Globe, WAZ Media, and advertising industry leaders The Cannes Lions and Contagious to select a winner to work for six months with the newspaper. 

Ultimately, The Irish Times selected a winner that became part of the group’s offering to advertisers was incorporated into its editorial product. By involving the advertising agencies so closely in its initiative, The Irish Times became their conduit to new and exciting offerings that they had not previously been aware of.

The result was that The Irish Times not only found new advertising inventory, but it also transformed its profile from “old media” to new media pioneer. As a direct result, The Irish Times signed one of its largest revenue deals to date with a major client. 

This is remarkable, staff says, because the budget for Irish Times Fusion was zero, aside from staff time. 

Editor’s note: This is one of 17 case studies featured in INMA’s strategic report “How Media Companies Embrace the Process of Innovation.”