The film “Waterworld” is a great example of a team of smart, creative people working together on a project that featured exciting effects, new technology, and many industry firsts.

According to, the estimated cost to produce the film was US$175 million. It grossed only US$88 million.

So was it worth it? Only the stakeholders know for sure. But as an example, it points out something we should always consider when developing new opportunities for our businesses.

Our team at the Toronto Star is always discussing innovative solutions for our clients. While we strive to provide groundbreaking ideas, new technologies, and never-done-before creative executions, we endeavour to do so with an eye to profitability.

For me, this insight stems from one particular university course (and professor) that has remained top of mind in many of the roles I’ve had through my career: “New Product Marketing” taught by Professor Robert Cooper (author of “Winning at New Products”).

In his book (worth a read), he talks about the Stage-Gate product innovation process that should be considered whenever you are developing a new product.

The level at which you follow this process is largely dependent on the scale of the investment and the size of the opportunity, but the core concept is that you need to think through your ideas systematically and not just do something because you can.

Pushing the boundaries in advertising can range from a fresh approach to an existing product, to a complete build of new advertising platforms or programmes to meet our client’s needs.

While our solutions team does not practice the Stage-Gate process specifically for new builds, there are some keys things we consider before adding these complex solutions into the mix -- even if it’s super cool:

  • Does the idea fit well with the client’s objectives?

  • Does the solution align with our strategic goals?

  • Will the solution have impact with our readers as well as our advertiser?

  • Can we leverage the development for future opportunities?

  • Does the cost to develop outweigh the revenue opportunity?

  • Will the inclusion of a complex and expensive solution help to solidify a larger ad buy overall?

In most cases, if we don’t answer yes to at least three of the questions, we take the idea off the table.

It’s tempting to try to push forward on projects because they have never been done before … or because we can. The result is sometimes something overly complicated that requires heavy resources, technology development, and significant investments that don’t always yield best results for our clients or profitability for our stakeholders.

Whether you use the Stage-Gate process or good, old due diligence, it’s important to take a hard look at the potential return for your client and your internal stakeholders as you strive to break new ground.