Q&A with Becca Saraga
Global Business Development Director and Partner
LBB > The UK advertising industry generates £7.8 billion of the country’s Gross Value Added (GVA), rising to an estimated £15.6bn per year. We are the fifth largest market in the advertising world, but are 22nd in world population wise. How has such a small country managed to be such a big voice, such a big player?
BS > The Creative Pioneers trip made me realise this more; that the external perception of Britain is that we have this great creative heritage which we’ve managed to maintain and which we need to focus on protecting and developing. I believe that with these new media companies that we visited in California, there is a tendency for people to be threatened by them. Obviously, we are embracing and adopting those new technologies, new platforms and new ways of communicating with consumers but it almost feels that there is a little strand of fear that our creativity is being eroded. When you go and meet these companies, you realise how welcoming they are and that they recognize the UK does have a deep understanding of consumer behaviours and therefore a massive role to play in talking to consumers.
LBB > Advertising is the fourth fastest growing UK export, with UK executives playing prominent roles within Asia and US advertising offices. Digital and creative industries provide the UK with its third largest export. How do we retain and nurture talent here in the UK?
BS > We have been able, specifically in the advertising industry, to become a little bit complacent about attracting good talent because there is, within the UK such a competition for jobs. Historically, advertising has always been seen as one of those “glamour industries” that people want to get into but I think that there are more options now for the best talent and an exceptionally creative individual wouldn’t necessarily think of advertising as the first port of call. One of the learnings from the companies [on the Creative Pioneers trip discussed below] is that they live in an “eco-system” (their phrase), which translates to a little community of big companies, where they are massively competing for talent and there is constant trading; people going from Twitter to Facebook… so intense is the battle for the best talent they have to make sure that they are creating the most attractive cultural environment to attract and retain them. What becomes very clear is that it’s not (just) about money but people are motivated by supportive creative cultures; with people being given the time and space to think and actually be creative. One of the common themes that came out is slightly specific to Silicon Valley, and in some ways an American thing about accepting failure, that not everything is going to succeed and almost celebrating failure and also to celebrate success a lot more aggressively than we might do here. I think it is obviously a British thing to not want to celebrate success. It feels slightly evangelical that they have this overwhelming sense of positivity there and you do get the sense that people love working for those companies. In terms of creating the right culture and environment we can learn things from them.
LBB > The IPA organized, as part of its Creative Pioneers agenda, a visit to California by 40 delegates from leading UK advertising agencies. You were one of the fortunate that was chosen to go. Can you tell us the purpose of your five days there?
BS > It was called a study tour. Obviously we are very aware of the ongoing prominence of these types of companies; that was the Silicon Valley bit and then the Hollywood bit was learning about how we as advertising agencies and representatives of brands could integrate our brands more successfully into entertainment properties and how they as content makers were embracing the digital age. The Silicon Valley part was about gaining a better understanding at how the brands and the companies that we work with could work better with these companies and the emerging platforms.
LBB > You visited the offices of Facebook, Google, Adobe and Linked in on your first day. Is there anything prominent that you remember from that day and your first exposure?
BS > My over-riding feeling of the first day was not to be brainwashed by what they were saying. What was interesting at Facebook was one of the people that talked to us. This guy was a bit of a social anthropologist that kept making all these claims about how Facebook was changing humanity and how they were essentially facilitating modern day human connections in a world that couldn’t provide them anymore and he kept saying these things about the brain not having the capacity to store any more information; all these sweeping statements and he kept saying that there are all these studies to prove it and you can’t help it. You could easily be indoctrinated into this world of thinking that Facebook is the answer to everything. I was watching the BBC documentary ‘Inside Facebook’ the other evening and he has this very evangelical way of speaking. Actually, it is really important for us to realise that whatever they are doing doesn’t replace what we are doing. We should still realise how important our role is and the brand’s role and not become swept away with them thinking that they are changing the world and that Facebook is the answer to everything.
LBB > You saw Facebook and Linkedin on the first day; both social-networking sites, but at the same time very different in their approaches and their audiences?
BS > They are vaguely representative of their brands in that Facebook had a very laid back, kind of young people atmosphere and Linkedin was a lot more formal… I was more impressed with Linkedin. I felt that Facebook were trying to sell to us more whereas at Linkedin, we met one of their founders and she was interested in what we had to say, in how we are using Linkedin and how we work with our clients and Linkedin and that they were a lot more corporate, but they were very impressive.
LBB > Linkedin believe in pursuing the right kind of user and that, consequently, they are able to leverage appropriate marketing to their 130 professionals. One of the things that other Creative Pioneers have said is that Linkedin were much more aware of the audience they are marketing to and that rather than mimicking society or adapting it they are responding to it and marketing appropriately to their audience. What do you think?
BS > It was easier to identify a professional use of Linkedin. My own perception is that it felt that the monetisation of Linkedin was to provide a more useful product for professionals where as the monetisation of Facebook was about selling people stuff. I agree, it did feel that Linkedin were more targeted and were working harder to make [their offering] more useful.
LBB > During your time in the different premises of Yelp, Salesforce, AirBnB, Ideo, etc., did you identify any obvious differences between their working environments and the inside of your advertising agency? If so, what were these and are they something you wish to adapt within your own building?
BS > I love our building and we are really lucky that we work hard to create a really nice environment for people to work in. We are constantly creating new spaces in this weird house for people to enjoy working here. I guess that Yelp and AirBnB have the luxury of being really new companies and have created amazing environments for their staff.
LBB > … but Ideo has been around for 30 years…
BS > Ideo were impressive in that they have been going for 30 years and have managed to successfully innovate and evolve themselves and their offering over the last 30 years… We were given a tour, but it felt that we were being carted around and we didn’t really see the true working environments. It felt a bit like being a client and you could see how easy it is for them to make their clients fall [for them]. After the introduction you are taken to this workshop where they are making these products. It’s amazing. They have a curtain and it almost felt like theatre. They said ‘We can’t show you what’s behind the curtain… top secret stuff’ that is going on in there. I was just thinking ‘there’s nothing going on behind that curtain’ and then they take you to the toy workshop where they are making all their inventions and there is this man that is really passionate about toys… All these people drawing toys and toys everywhere and you think ‘wow’, that is amazing and as a client you’d be so impressed. I shouldn’t feel cynical about it, but I do feel vaguely cynical. It was an amazing environment and it was incredibly impressive that they’ve managed to maintain and stay at the top of their game [all this time].
LBB > Do you think that that environment allows them to keep reinventing themselves?
BS > I think that the environment helps. I think the environment of being in Silicon Valley helps. It helps to attract the right talent and there is this real ‘zen’ feeling around the place and that everybody is doing great things. It’s all really exciting and they are surrounded by the best companies, who are pioneering global innovation. I think leadership wise they are run by a group of very smart people.
LBB > How successful were the IPA in introducing you to the local area? Were the innovation and drive at each of the companies you visited clear? Were they honest to you about their culture and thought processes?
BS > I think that the access that the IPA got us was incredible and the programme for the trip was amazing. The people within each organization that we got to see, some were bigger than others, were top decision-making people. We went to Twitter and met Chief Revenue Officer Adam Bain who was very impressive.
LBB > They are quoted as saying 600 new members join Twitter a day…
BS > Yes, amazing stats and he was great but then you hear in the news over the next few days about all this infighting that is happening at Twitter and how they are really struggling culturally and with growing pains and that it’s all falling apart… that’s not, obviously, how they presented themselves to us. I don’t think you can ever really get to see under the bonnet of these businesses when you meet them for an hour. We were a good bunch of people in terms of interrogating them and everyone was great at answering our questions. The way that it was set up and the forum that we were given to these people was great.
LBB > During the week you visited Disney and Warner. How are these established companies embracing new technology? How are they creating relationships with their customers? How do they create a balance between their historic past whilst embracing the future?
BS > The sense we got was that Disney had had the epiphany that they had to do it a lot earlier. We met Andy Bird, chairman of Walt Disney International and M.T. Carney who set up Naked Communications in NYC. She has been at Disney for about a year and she has shaken up their approach to marketing their movies making them really embrace new forms of communicating to their consumers. She is incredible and is doing really well, but I don’t believe she has had the success that they had hoped for. You did get a sense that they are extremely supportive of her and that they’ve made a conscious decision to bring someone in who is not from the movie world, someone from the outside. They know that they need to do things differently now. One thing they showed us was this 16 year old’s mash-up, hip hop mix with Snow White and he’d been uploading to Youtube. Rather than taking the work down and telling him off for using their content they actually contented him, giving him the original footage so that he could make a professional version. Brilliant. It felt that they had the right attitude and approach and were very supportive of M.T Carney’s changes, whilst still retaining their history. They are so disciplined and strict, in completely the right way, of protecting their brand. They’ve got both sides right in that they maintain their brand but are also embracing the ongoing changes in the world. Warner’s didn’t feel that they had got it as right. They were a bit like advertising in that they are going through a phase of worrying how to protect their content, to ensure people keep paying for their content whilst also taking a practical and positive approach.
LBB > Did the week match your expectations and how have you conveyed what you found to your team at Addiction?
BS > It surpassed my expectations. I think it was amazing in terms of the people that we got to see, the companies that we met and everything that we learnt from them. It also reinforced stuff that maybe we didn’t realise we were doing well. Again, that we still have a very important role to play and that whilst these people offer something very important to our clients we still understand our brands, we know our brands and that we are story tellers. We know how to tell a story, something that perhaps the companies that were visited don’t. Culturally there was a lot to learn and I’ve brought that back to the company. We are in the middle of a recession and as such it is easy to forget, whilst looking and worrying at numbers that it is imperative within our businesses, especially a business like Addiction that is a smallish, independent agency that we do need to stay focused on attracting the right talent through creating a good working culture and that we need to be supportive of failure, to understand that not everything is going to work out perfectly, at the right time and allowing people the time to think, to create these great pieces of creative work that our industry has become known for. I think that we will potentially come under risk if we don’t protect out cultural and creative environments.