We recently sat down with Jaclyn Ruelle of The Martin Agency to learn more about Martin’s Cultural Impact Lab and to understand brand influence on culture today. 

As Managing Director of this new initiative, Jaclyn’s focus is to build a cultural engagement and earned media practice to deliver on the Martin Agency’s primary mission: Impact Culture to Impact Sales.

Brett Lofgren (President, NewsWhip)
Thanks again for joining us Jaclyn. Let’s kick it off and talk about this Cultural Impact Lab. What are the goals of the lab and what inspired you to join the team?

Jaclyn Ruelle
Thank you so much for having me here, Brett. We launched the Cultural Impact Lab at the Martin Agency in March, 2019. The vision for the lab was to create an embedded unit inside the agency that propelled our ability to make the creative more talkable and culturally relevant. The Martin Agency has an incredible history of long-standing clients and brand partners who have been able to earn the agency incredible street cred and recognition over the years. So this was taking successes to date, bottling it up and putting more of a concerted effort on that amplification layer. 

I have to give credit to our CEO, Kristen Cavallo, because it was the morsel of her idea to build something like this within the agency. Kristen and I worked together previously at MullenLowe and she asked me to come in and help the agency hook into the creative process to ensure an idea from the strategic briefing all the way through creative execution is culturally relevant with newsworthy value and at the end of the day help earn you the ink.

Brett
Once you have hooked into this creative process and are live with a new campaign, how do you measure the brand impact on culture? 

Jaclyn
At Martin, our mantra is that if we can impact culture, we impact sales. We know that when we can insert any one of our brand partners into the fabric of those cultural conversations, it will inevitably perk up their bottom line. And measuring it is not easy. There are a number of things that we look at daily but I would say that NewsWhip was such an important investment for us at the Martin Agency because the predictive interactions that you provide through the Spike tool give us the ability to look at what stories are spiking and identify those velocity triggers.

This gave us a new way to think about how we can measure and forecast cultural impact. The world that I was brought up in is tried and true traditional PR. Forever the PR industry has been trying to get closer to digital media and get to what our version of the CPM is. And we’re still living with these impressions, which at times feel inflated and maybe only directional. 

I love in NewsWhip that we’re able to say this topic is trending and identify the people, the influencers and the influential outlets propelling that story forward. This allows us to be way more scientific when we’re thinking about these cultural moments and the cultural campaigns for that matter, and align with the right people at the right time, in the right places to just land in the sweet spot.

Brett
Could you share any examples of brands who are identifying the sweet spot and breaking new ground with the real time cultural trends of today?

Jaclyn
The one that we unfortunately don’t currently work with, but is an industry gold star is Burger King. They are constantly finding new ways to connect with culture that allows them to grace the headlines on a consistent basis, and not only here in the US but globally. I think in the past month alone, we’ve seen things out of the US, Denmark, France, maybe even Germany, that are all from Burger King that are really eventful and interesting. So I’m a big fan of theirs – I always study their work to see how they’re dipping their toe into the cultural water. 

With regards to identifying real-time cultural trends, 60 plus percent of journalists are sourcing stories from Twitter. And it’s been that way for a while. So we want to understand how culture will sometimes spike in the social feeds and end up in the headlines. And I always think about when the plane landed on the Hudson, the news broke from a tweet. So we are always trying to watch what’s happening on Twitter versus Instagram versus Facebook versus TikTok and oh, by the way, what’s happening in the news. 

At the Martin Agency we’ve been focusing on how culture can further the conversation through social feeds with our Old Navy client. At the start of Covid, we all got sucked into the Tiger King phenomenon. It was a simple idea, but after 10 days of the Tiger King’s release on Netflix, Old Navy did a really cool post on Instagram highlighting all of their leopard print items. And it just said, Leopard Queen is greater than Tiger King. This post became such a conversation piece for them within their social feed. Even if you hadn’t watched Tiger King, you knew what it was because everybody was talking about it. 

We like to talk a lot about the cultural wave. You can’t really catch the wave after it’s crested. You have to already be surfing it and that’s really what we’re trying to do, is to find things that are bubbling up from digital media to social feeds, but sparking it at a time where we can be part of those initial conversations.

Brett
There is so much happening across platforms like Facebook; traffic is up, everyone’s at home accessing a ton of information. How do you guys monitor all these signals?

Jaclyn
Yeah. So kudos again to all things NewsWhip, because you guys keep us sane and able to monitor it. The Spike tool is really something that we use every single day, multiple times a day. I think it’s very impressive when we talk to a partner about the fact that every 30 minutes, we know what’s shifting and shaking and ebbing and flowing in the world across platforms.

We’ve got a team that is just constantly immersing itself in what is the hottest topic of the day. 

And the team develops a cultural report for the agency, which is fueled by NewsWhip, identifying the hottest, fastest-moving trends of the day and ones that we know will have some sticking power into the next day or week. And our brand strategists are telling us that they love it because they’re pulling it into input briefs to kick off creatives and creatives are using it for inspiration when they get a brief and it’s time for a new round of ideas.

It’s constantly enabling us to not only be a thought leader inside the Martin Agency, but also to ensure we keep up with culture. I remember I was once sitting with some of the editorial team on the Huffington Post and one of their editors said content is being produced at the speed of culture. And, well, how fast is culture? Every single minute something is happening and something is changing. There are days when I feel like, how did we not see that yet? You know, of course, but I think we’ve wired ourselves to be looking, watching, and learning from what we’re seeing in the cultural zeitgeist, if you will, and understanding how to pull that back through into creative ideation.

Brett
Speed of culture? I like that. These trends and stories are changing rapidly. The Martin Agency is well-known for building a strong connection with consumers for over a decade by introducing audiences to an inquisitive reptile and our beloved caveman. How do you know if an idea or campaign is going to stick and withstand the 24 hour news cycle that we live in today?

Jaclyn
I’ve said this a number of times to my team and to our client partners. I don’t think we’ve ever been faced with such an unpredictable news cycle with the layering of an election year, COVID-19, and the Black Lives Matter movement. There is a trifecta of worldly cultural things that are happening that are dominating the feed. These three things will be in the news cycle every day. And so we have to create a strategic work around where people are actually going to talk about something else. And so as I think about the 24 hour news cycle, I like to think if something has sticking power, is it going to have at least 72 hours?

And so yet again, if we need to really check ourselves, we really do rely on the NewsWhip predicted interactions graphs to see if  this story is going to die out by this time tomorrow morning or if our brand joined the story is it on the brink of something that could we create some staying power and push it beyond the 24 hour window? 

Sometimes it’s a little bit of educated guesswork, because we wake up every morning and we don’t know what’s going to hit the headlines. And so that can always throw you off your game, but using a little bit of manpower, plus some of the data inputs that we’re able to see in the NewsWhip dashboard, provides the direction we need.

As a comparison, we also like to use the NewsWhip Analytics feature at times to go back for historical reference. So for example, if we wanted to look at the range of rhetoric during the 2016 election? What were the topics that we felt had sticking power? How long did those live in the cycle? Other times we are researching previous holidays. Earlier this year we were looking at Valentine’s with one of our brands and wanted to understand when people started talking about it during the previous year, how long did that actually last and did it in fact fizzle out on February 14th? Being able to use the NewsWhip tool as a guide and to verify our gut check in those instances really helps us be that much smarter when we’re trying to make these cultural calls.

Brett
Jaclyn, I can’t thank you enough for sharing with us today and enabling us to learn more about the exciting projects ahead for the Martin Agency.

Brett Lofgren

Brett Lofgren is the President and Chief Revenue Officer at NewsWhip. Brett directs overall growth and revenue strategy, helping brands and publishers use NewsWhip technology to grow their audience through social data.