The term “Fourth Industrial Revolution” was coined by Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, as the title of his new book that many business leaders have no doubt read in preparation for Davos. It is also the theme of Davos this year. Schwab is referring to the convergence of the many emerging technologies, from virtual and augmented reality to artificial intelligence to 3D printing and more that will be impacting businesses in the next few years. This Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by the consolidation of the technologies that, according to the WEF, is “blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.” This revolution will have an impact on people, on businesses and on governments. 

Never in the history of the world will so many new technologies become available in a short period to companies, brands and the agencies that counsel them. Whether this is a “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” or perhaps a “Renaissance of the Technology Age,” we are entering a 21st century period of rich innovation that will feature bright leaders combining and connecting these technologies to opportunity and business. By looking at start-ups like Airbnb, Uber and Netflix and the way they are turning their categories upside-down in just a matter of a few years, the need for constant innovation couldn’t be clearer to business and industry leaders everywhere. 

So what does that mean for the communications industry? 

This week’s Publicis Groupe announcement about funding and mentoring 90 start-ups on the eve of Davos couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s “Exhibition A” in how the agency world needs to approach technological innovation.

Publicis Groupe has earmarked €10 million and will invest between €10,000 and €500,000 in each of the 90 startups it is seeking to be part of a unique digital development program. Publicis Groupe will select the 90 start-ups through an all-employee vote that leads to a juried competition. It has invited its entire network of 76,000 employees to enter, and has encouraged its partners, friends, clients and start-ups in all countries it which it operates to file applications before the deadline of 28 February.

What’s important to note is that Publicis Groupe wants to go beyond granting money by becoming a long-term partner in these projects. Each of the 90 winners will also benefit from a year of mentoring in marketing, communications, management and technology by a Publicis Groupe executive and will have the opportunity to attend Viva Technology Paris, a technology and innovation-focused event sponsored by Publicis Groupe and international media partners that will take place in Paris from June 30th to July 2nd. Publicis Groupe employees whose projects are selected among the 90 final projects will also be offered to participate in an internal incubation program giving them the flexibility to finalize and launch their projects and, possibly, to receive further funding from the Groupe for their ideas.

This Publicis Groupe initiative works on a number of levels. 

First of all, it aims to bring innovation physically into the halls of Publicis Groupe agencies around the world. It also fully engages employees in the process of innovation, whether by encouraging them to develop ideas into start-ups, enlisting their participation in the voting and evaluation or through the counseling of the start-ups. 

As agencies routinely counsel clients on change, they must put themselves in a position to develop and lead the change themselves. To do that, agencies must build and fully embrace a culture of constant innovation that engages employees to look both inside and outside its halls for new, breakthrough ideas that can improve the business. What this program does so well is transform this theory of how to work into a set of specific actions and opportunities. 

Employees of agencies, companies and brands all must be comfortable to actively seek out the ideas and opportunities for change -- inspiring, causing and successfully leading change itself. What they require are real-life processes and structures for how to do this. Its business leaders who are responsible for implementing these. 

In the meantime, the agency business model, while embracing the digital revolution, has slowly evolved into a more integrated model. This has been done more or less successfully in the different communication holding companies. Interestingly, Publicis Groupe happens to be in the midst of its own revolution on that account, restructuring its business into fully integrated country hubs. The Publicis start-up initiative falls in line with the broader Publicis Groupe reorganization that is based on how new technologies can be integrated and connected to lead clients in the digital transformation of their industries. 

Indeed, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not about theory; it will push companies to rethink the way they use technology to do business with specific actions of development, incubation and hard-knocks integration that happen on the ground. 

Guillaume Herbette_sqbwGuillaume Herbette is the Global CEO of MSLGROUP and oversees all MSLGROUP entities worldwide.