“Don’t Do Social for Social’s Sake” – A Q&A With Ogilvy PR UK’s CEO


By   |   September 27th, 2016   |   Reading time: 8 minutes Brands, Communications & PR, Interviews

We talked to a leading PR agency about the challenges in helping clients reach their target audience on social media, and how they define their measures for success. 

Social media has fragmented audience attention online dramatically in recent years – and not just for publishers.

Elsewhere, agencies looking to connect brands with audiences have found a similar challenge. Traditional destination ads are now only part of the picture for brands today. Like publishers, they need to create content and get involved in conversations that differentiate them from the noise on different social platforms.

Ogilvy & Mather is a leading group of agencies that count marquee names such as British Airways, Unilever, BP and more as clients.

Marshall Manson is CEO of Ogilvy PR in the UK, a multi-award winning agency that offers services from traditional brand and corporate media solutions to real-time social content creation and publishing.

We talked to Marshall about the increasing drive towards commercialisation of social media campaigns for his agency’s clients, and why that’s a good thing for all parties.

Hi Marshall. Can you describe your role and day-to -day at Ogilvy UK?

I wear two hats at Ogilvy. First, I run Ogilvy Public Relations in the UK. Second, I look after social for Ogilvy group. So that’s all of Ogilvy’s group companies. That’s the ad agency, digital agency and PR agency, and I look after that across EMEA.

The day-to-day is fascinating. It’s a good mix of the administrative management activities that you’d expect, mostly relating to running the business here in London, and keeping my hand in with clients and their needs when it comes to social and content.

I try to keep my expertise as current as I can, but we’ve got a great team here who obviously stay on top of everything as well. Together we keep on top of developments and give our clients the best possible advice.

My role typically is to advise clients at the senior level, to help them devise social strategies and to figure out what their big picture approach is going to look like. I also advise senior non-specialist clients on the best way to use social in their marketing mix, and structure for social success.

How has social media changed the type of work that an agency like Ogilvy does in the last few years?

It’s had a massive impact. I’d say it probably goes back more than the last couple of years. We’ve gone from, when I started doing this eight or ten years ago, literally going around doing ‘introductions to blogging’ for clients, to where we are now, which is social being at the heart of every good marketing strategy.

So whether you call it earned thinking, or editorial thinking, at the end of the day, the game is ‘Can we make content that’s relevant, responsive, and resonates with what people are talking about now?’

I think that our response is very much yes to that. I think we’ve learned over the last few years how to create structures and strategies that deliver those sorts of ideas. So we use tools like NewsWhip Spike to understand what people are talking about and thinking about.

Beyond all of that, we’ve got the chance to create the stuff that consumers really want to see, hear and share. That, to me, is the heart of the game.

So it’s an opportunity, rather than a challenge?

I think over time, content should get more and more personalised. As that happens, we have to think about how we produce differently.

On your question about whether it’s a state of mind or a channel, the answer is that it’s both. I think the big thing that’s changed in the last few years is that for a long time, businesses, and particularly senior marketers, were happy to think about social as a platform for engagement and conversation with their best consumers. I think there’s a recognition now that they have to invest in order to get any results, but therefore they have to know what those results are.

I think in that sense, the channel aspect has become a lot more advanced, and a lot more performance-driven. I think that’s good. What I say to our clients is ‘I want to sit in front of your CFO in good conscience, and say ‘you spent X pounds or euros investing in your social media strategy, and that’s had Y reward.’

I think that move towards commercialisation can only be good for us.

When you’re measuring the impact of content for your clients, what metrics are you looking at?

It hugely depends on the client, and who their audience is. For our airline client, we can track right through to conversion — right through to the point where someone’s clicking buy. For other clients, the game is much more about building brand, and having people love brands so they’ll buy more in the shops. There, we have to track different metrics.

Ultimately, I can tell you what it isn’t. It’s not about followers, likes, comments, shares, or views. It’s about tracking things that actually matter to business.

What would be an example of a particularly successful campaign?

I think the best example is the work we do for British Airways. We agree an audience with them, we create content for that audience, and we agree an objective at the beginning. So, what are we aiming to do in this to improve in this campaign, or period of activation.

Is it that we’re trying to improve awareness, how much people love BA? In some of their international markets, where they’re less well-known, that’s actually a key objective. Often though, it’s about ‘can we get people to buy seats?’

So with that, we have a measurement mix that is reach, participation, sales. Simple as that. You dial up or down the emphasis on the basis of audience need, or a moment in time.

If we balance those three things, at the end of a campaign we can say ‘this campaign was really focussed on sales, how did we do on the sales front?’, and we can look at metrics against that. We’ve had instances where we’ve been pursuing sales where we’ve had results as good as a 3,000% return on investment.

To make all that work, as you allude to, we’ve had to ensure that the whole ecosystem works. We make sure that the audience are landing on pages that are relevant, and where the content is rich. That’s so the distance to conversion is shorter, or that the journey to conversion is simple and straightforward. That’s what we try to do.

Sometimes it works really well, sometimes it works less well, and we just have to continually adapt and make things better.

In terms of the content itself, what do you see on that front? Have you had more clients demanding more video?

I don’t know about demanding. I think most of our clients recognise that they do need to deliver more video. They understand that Facebook is emphasising it, that YouTube is a critical medium, and that Twitter is emphasising it. Having moving pictures, as it were, increases performance.

But I think the other thing we need to think about is, to what degree? Is creating a piece of video content going to yield a result that justifies the investment? The answer is, it depends. So we have to use our experience to say ‘hang on, this is a great case to use video, or this is not as compelling a case, so let’s do something simpler, so can optimise or iterate more quickly.’

In terms of platforms, have you seen any changes over the last while?

Broadly what I would say is Facebook is still dominant. In some cases, it’s the most advertiser friendly. There’s some rationale for that.

I think over time, I’m as or more interested in other platforms. I’m as or more interested in things like Instagram, which is growing like crazy, with a slightly different type of audience. I’m interested in Facebook Messenger, and some of the stuff they’re doing there. I’m interested in Snapchat because it’s young, and that interests our clients.

The key challenge for us is to keep on top of those things and make the most of any platform for any particular opportunity.

As we move into the last few months of 2016, what advice would you give to PR specialists looking to make a connection with an audience on social media?

I think that some of the advice is the same that it’s been for years. Be authentic, be relevant, have something interesting to say.

Some of it’s new. Know your objectives – know them really clearly. Pursue them, and understand whether or not you’re achieving them. Don’t do social for social’s sake, do it because it’ll deliver something of value for your business. If it’s not going to do that, don’t do it.

It’s as simple as that!

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