A view from the Platform  – Some thoughts on my first year at AAR


2013 was my first year at the AAR. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I joined as the Digital Person. What kind of “digital” would clients be looking for? Wasn’t everything  digital by default? Why was there even a separate discipline for digital at the AAR? As you all are no doubt aware “digital” means a lot of different things to clients, and to agencies.  Here’s a bit about what I learned in 2013.

What I can safely proclaim after all of 12 months on the job, is that what digital means is linked to where clients are on their digital journey. For some looking at eCRM is a big step to others rebuilding their entire online shop front is where they’re at. It’s relative. But you already knew that, right?

Regardless of where they start from though, they’re excited but probably also a little nervous. Digital opens up all kinds of exciting areas of exploration BUT they are all struggling with how to buy it.  Let’s put on our client’s hat for a moment and think about from their point of view. A lot of you are probably in the same boat as me…digital is the default, right? Well, for the client it may well be but they are still a little suspect of agencies selling digital. Here’s why. The last one you sold them broke. It does not work anymore…on a tablet or a smart phone or a watch or a fridge. It’s broken. Also, last time you sold them some “digital” 3 years ago there were two social platforms, now there are dozens. Last time it came in blue or red. They bought the blue one. Red is now all anyone wants. They also have had to explain to their bosses why they need to go buy some new digital and why it broke. They are sticking their necks on the line to work with you. Are you beginning to see where they are coming from when they walk in our door?  Now let’s look at what they are shopping for.

Looking back at 2013, the work we’ve been asked to undertake from clients falls into roughly two camps.

The first can be categorised as more traditional comms briefs where clients have been looking for agencies to help them with their digital marketing across multiple touch points – otherwise known as – owned (make my web site more engaging, relevant, personal, responsive), earned (help make my social channels more integrated with my overall brand positioning), paid (handle my digital advertising needs). For some of the larger brands, I see a trend that this type of work is being subsumed into their existing agency roster as the need for a digital specialist agency becomes less relevant to them.

“Always on” digital marketing is becoming the norm for many brands. It’s also something I increasingly believe clients, once structured for this, will bring in house in the medium term, as the need for real time marketing delivered by the brand champions becomes paramount. For the short term though, there is a role to play for the agency who delivers these services. My watch out though is this: these are seen as services by many brands. In order for agencies to continue to provide value in this area they have to invest more in the inception and delivery of digital strategy for their clients.

The second type of brief I saw a lot of in 2013 was driven by the desire for brands to become more relevant and useful. This was often expressed in the form of a User experience/service design brief. This is where it gets interesting. In recent years, many brands let their owned platforms crumble as they were seduced by the lure of off platform destinations like Facebook. They believed they had to go to where the eyeballs were and that most definitely was places like Facebook. Unfortunately they did this to the detriment of their own platforms. They were not wrong about the need to go to where their customers are, but this cannot be the be all and end all of their digital marketing efforts. They need to drive them somewhere and more importantly they need the data. This is, along with the proliferation of screens customers can now interact with the brand on, what is driving this type of brief. Brands, especially the dot coms, are now all too aware that the front door to their shop is their online platform and it has to be great. It has to work very hard for them. And it has to be measurable.  They are all too aware that the customers brand experience is very much defined by their online interactions and the platform is the jewel in the crown for this.

These are the types of briefs I’m expecting to see more of in 2014 and the ones where agencies can really prove their worth and expertise. Most brands still don’t have a head of UX or even a head of digital so I don’t see this work going in house anytime soon. The type of thinking agencies can deliver around these briefs is truly transformational for the brands. And that is ultimately what clients want from digital in all its wonderful forms. The power to connect, transform and engage.

Finally, to answer my question at the start; ‘yes’ it does makes sense that there is a dedicated focus on digital at the AAR, digital is still expanding and transforming all kinds of businesses. Creating new challenges and helping to solve current ones. It’s very much my job to make sense of this for our clients and in turn take insight gleaned from clients to help agencies pitch to clients. Much to do I’m pleased to say!






Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Where I would like to eat in 2013

This is just a random list of places I’d like to try this year. If any readers have been to any of these please feel free to leave a comment or a review!

Dabbous http://www.dabbous.co.uk/

Pizarro http://www.josepizarro.com/

Duck and Waffle http://duckandwaffle.com/

Bob Bob Ricard http://bobbobricard.com/ – done! Was yummy. Starters and desserts were amazing. Mains were just good but not as good as the other two. Worth a visit.

Burger and Lobster http://www.burgerandlobster.com/

The Malt House http://www.malthousefulham.co.uk/

The Fox & Grapes http://www.foxandgrapeswimbledon.co.uk/

Magdalen http://www.magdalenrestaurant.co.uk/

Honest Burger http://www.honestburgers.co.uk/

Balthazar http://www.balthazarlondon.com/

Posted in Restaurant reviews | Tagged | Leave a comment

Collision 2.0



Slightly late to the blog on this one….but we produced our second Collision event in January. Hurrah. After the success of the first one in September 2012 we weren’t sure we’d be able to top it but….we did. Once again 80 or so fabulous people came along to drink, debate and dine. This time we held Collision at the Guardian Building. Once again,

The Drum had some nice things to say. You can see the clever people from Adland and Techville who came along.

Slightly different topic this time but still a rousing debate and some might fine food and people chose to join in. This time round we talked about what wasn’t working between Adland and Techville. Why isn’t there more collaboration? Why aren’t there more start ups in residence in UK agencies and why aren’t UK start ups reaping the rewards of our brilliant advertising community? To make things a little different this time we also had four  short story tellers –

IMG_0059 (1)

Nicole Yershon from Ogilvy

Rahul Powar from Thomson Reuters

Andy Bell from Mint Digital

Charlie Pool from HitMeUp

Each of the storytellers got to share with us their perspective on the challenges and opportunities facing Adland and Techville.

We’re looking forward to another event in May 2013. If you want to join in, sign up here 


Posted in Collision | Leave a comment

Collision wrap up

So we did it. Our first ever Collision event is under our belts. For those of you not familiar with the event, Collision is a series of provocative, inclusive debates to explore the similarities, dissonances and opportunities between Adland and Techville. Adland is the communications sector – advertising, graphic design, content creation, web design & build, SEO, social media etc. Techville comprises Internet entrepreneurs and budding technology engineers. The aim of Collision is to release creative firepower from the silos in which they have grown up and explore areas for knowledge transfer and cooperation.

Why did we develop Collision? Adland and Techville are not two groups that you always think go together but you’d be surprised. I’ve listened to endless rants from people in both communities about how they wanted more agility and more creative freedom. They were frustrated with the often monotonous client work and wanted to build their own apps, products and IP but the business model often didn’t support it and they couldn’t charge clients for it. They needed to start thinking more like startups and entrepreneurs. After all they can make stuff and they certainly know how to sell stuff, why aren’t they the next Mind Candy or Tweetdeck? We began to think about how I could help “Adland” to embrace more entrepreneurial thinking and doing. And how to get Techville to do a better job selling its own stuff and driving marketing through its own brand new channels.

The evening on September 25th was a huge success with 80 high flyers from both sectors on hand. The debate was full of passion and clever discussions. You can see some pictures of the evening here.  There were interesting threads during the debate around the role of narrative and storytelling in advertising. There was also a heated debate about brand vs product in terms of what we as consumers buy. Finally, there was much talk about the value of marketing for start ups. The debate “in the round” went on for about an hour with no one really seeming ready to move on to dinner!

We were also lucky enough to have three of the industries finest publications involved – The Drum, The Kernel and Wired UK.  You can see what the Drum had to say about the evening here.

The next Collision is coming in December. Stay tuned for what’s next!

Posted in Collision | Leave a comment

Snog, marry, avoid? – Agencies and tech entrepreneurs.

Snog, marry, avoid? – Agencies and tech entrepreneurs.

ImageOver the past months I have been increasingly interested in this question. Should these two communities be working more closely together or do they have nothing to gain from each other.

Should these two nexuses of the London disruptor community get it on or avoid any long lasting engagements? Can one inspire the other to embrace agile thinking and iteration whilst the other shares the secrets of mass marketing magic.  Or are the suits really in charge of one and the other just too focused on the tech to “get” marketing?

In one camp there is much hand wringing about the agency model and its continued viability today. Can ad agencies truly embrace innovation or do they have to buy it by gobbling up the AKQA’s of this world? Can the bottom line of agencies support the odd innovation project? Is it good for business or just good for PR?

In tech entrepreneur land nothing is as alien as agency suits and creatives swanning about in Cannes or SxSW talking about branded content, crowd listening or SEO. Yet tech entrepeneurs need marketing wizardry, their business’s success is often founded upon it. Their valuations are based on their “brand” as well as their services and products.

What do you think?


Posted in Future of Advertising | Leave a comment

Egg stories

Here’s a wonderful video on what eggs can teach us about stories.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tasting notes on The Oyster Shed

As this blog is entitled “tasting notes” I feel I can add the occasional restaurant review in addition to my thoughts on digital marketing. In fact, my thoughts on many restaurants is much informed by my views on digital marketing…Seth Godin provides a nice way to frame the issue…..

“Are you going to build something that’s as interesting as the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Are you going to make a product or service that when people are done using it, they can’t help but tell their friends about? The story is all that’s going to spread. Not the facts, but the story.” – Seth Godin

Just the facts ma’am. 

On paper this restaurant looked great. Nice food, Great location on the Thames. The sun was shining. What could go wrong? Those are the facts. We ate oysters, fish and drank some wine. More facts. The problem though is that the experience was crap. Bad service. Bad food and worst of all bad manners on the part of the restaurant staff. The Oyster Shed now gets a bad STORY told about them because it’s the story I want to tell you about, not the facts.

Social media has given me a new voice. As a consumer I am thrilled by this. As a marketeer I am forever learning and adapting my strategies to embrace this new voice of the consumer. Social media has, as we all know,  fostered all kinds of changes in marketing, consumer behavior and how as digital marketing professionals we approach selling. The times when customers were broadcast at is long gone. In fact British consumers now complain 26% more now that they have an easy outlet in social media. The era of customers simply taking it on the chin and burying their dissatisfaction is long gone.  You would think that given this, restaurants would understand how to handle unhappy customers. i.e agree, offer something for free and apologise! For the Oyster Shed  this does not seem to be true. My lunch companion and I really did want to love this place. Unfortunately, not only was the service slow and the food substandard with the oysters being full of shell shards and the tuna being horribly overcooked, what amazed us  most was the arguments we were served up by the restaurant. Unbelievable really. To argue with a customer telling you they’re unhappy with your product or service seems unimaginable today. Surely they know this negative story will spread and that it’s not just what food people are served at restaurants that make up the experience. People want a story to share and it’s every brands job to ensure that it’s a good one and not a negative one.

So my advice to The Oyster Shed (and brands) is take a serious look at your content/food marketing efforts/customer service. Are you giving your audience/diners reasons to care about you? Are you giving your audience content/food/service that they not only want but also want to share?

On a more positive note I can recommend Gauthier in Soho which provided a faultless lunch recently and the best Louis XV dessert I have ever had. That’s a story I have shared with many of my fellow foodies and I hope will result in them enjoying the experience.

Posted in Restaurant reviews | Leave a comment