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iMediaSpot: Call Us Walter – Ad Agency Goes Pop-Up

The world of big brand agencies and scrappy startups briefly collided when J Walter Thompson’s brilliant agency accelerator, known as ‘Walter’, made it’s appearance at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) last March.  Startups are often long on technology & product and come up short when it comes to getting their story told to the masses.  With Walter, a few lucky ones got the rare opportunity to tap into the creative chops of one of the industry’s hallmark ad firms.

What it was: a hyper-lean advertising agency formed from a collective of creative and strategic talent from across the JWT network that teamed up to develop a customized brand campaign for one or two chosen start-ups over the 5-day SXSWi event held in Austin, TX.  The Walter team issued an open call to entrepreneurs to apply for 25 initial meeting slots where they met top marketing talent and got advice on establishing and positioning their emerging brand.  The winners walked away with  a ready-made activation plan and sample creative.

Why it’s smart: the pop-up ad agency model put JWT into a completely new category of startups with the unique ability to see the up and comers and work with rising stars, who could become future clients.  The accelerated pace likely created an opportunity to fast-track new ideas as well as service models.  Finally, it was a fun and exciting way to create buzz for their brand and be on the other side of the pitch table.

What can we take away:  Walter offers some interesting innovation perspectives:

  • Test a New Market – Call Us Walter is a great example of taking a slice of your core business and temporarily adapting it to the needs of an under-served market.  A pop-up model presents a relatively low-investment means to test your product / service variations and discover potential new business models.  Tide’s experiments with dry cleaning pop-up stores is another good example of this technique.
  • Out-of-the-box Optimization of Your Core: Temporarily changing up and accelerating pieces of your traditional model also opens up new methods, which can turn into opportunities to bring those lessons from the experiment back into the core business and develop a whole new set of best practices.  Nothing like a 5-day strategic sprint to spark needed creativity and re-fuel the best parts of your organization.

I’m a big fan anytime a major brand decides to shed some of their traditional skin and try something new.  Innovation requires a healthy dose of experimentation.  I hope we’ll see more of Walter and other initiatives like it.  In the meantime, would love to hear thoughts from other’s about what they think about executing pop-up style experiments and the lessons we can learn from them.

For more info on Walter’s appearance at SXSWi, check out their blog at

Cover Photo: Sourced from the Call Us Walter Tumblr blog.

About Michelle Batten

Michelle Batten is a seasoned digital marketing & advertising leader. She has spent two decades in the interactive arena, working with Fortune 1000 brands + start-ups to define and execute their digital initiatives. An emerging media visionary, Michelle is currently serving as Head of Global Marketing for Mobile & Innovation Intrapreneur for Amadeus, a global travel technology company. She is also the President for the Chicago American Marketing Association. Her passions include culture + tech evolution, mentoring, experiential travel and foodspotting.

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