Creative industry Leader Interview - 5 minutes with...

Jim Coleman

UK CEO, We Are Social

Jim Coleman, Managing Director, We Are Social

Career to date:

2015, UK CEO, We Are Social
2010, Managing Director, We Are Social
2009, Client Services Director, Soup
2008, Business Development Director, MRM Worldwide
2005, Account Director, MRM Worldwide
2002, Project Manager, Zentropy Partners
2000, Producer, Static 2358

Creativebrief: As UK CEO of We Are Social, what is your primary focus?

Jim Coleman: I don’t really have one primary focus. Every year we set ourselves a different mission. This year it was around three things: future proofing, effectiveness and people. My job is to ensure that we are doing those things to the best of our ability and, by doing all those things, we will hopefully achieve our goal of being an enduring and relevant agency.

People are always going to be important but probably more so now than ever, just because it’s so difficult to hire brilliant people and to retain brilliant people.

Effectiveness because, as a social agency, effectiveness gets called out all the time and, as arguably the leader in that field or that area of specialism, we have to take on that challenge of proving effectiveness and address it head on.

Then future proofing because for us, as an agency, one of the reasons why we’ve been successful is because we’ve constantly tried to evolve what we’ve been doing. Future proofing means doing things like investing in innovation and building our brand through events.

Creativebrief: How many people are you now?

Jim Coleman: In the UK, we are about 160. And then we’ve got 8 other offices worldwide, so we’re about 700 in total.

“People are always going to be important but probably more so now than ever, just because it's so difficult to hire brilliant people and to retain brilliant people.”

Creativebrief: And how old is the company?

Jim Coleman: We are 9 in a month!

Creativebrief: You’ve been with We Are Social for the last 8 years, where were you before? Could you outline your career to date?

Jim Coleman: I finished uni and went backpacking for way too long. For about two and a half years I avoided getting any kind of job. When I came back, I knew I didn’t want to be in a place where I wasn't going to be involved in culture in some way. So, I ended up working for an interactive TV company who created something called PlayJam. I then went and worked for an agency called Zentropy, which was owned by IPG and was part of the McCann/Erickson network. We were basically McCann’s digital agency. Zentropy then became MRM Worldwide. I stayed there for about 7 years or so and then did a year at a small agency called Soup, a boutique digital agency, and then I came here.

Creativebrief: So, what stood out to you about We Are Social? Why did you end up joining?

Jim Coleman: Well, I knew that what Nathan [We Are Social Co-Founder] was going really well. I also knew that social media was the most interesting thing that was happening within our industry.

Creativebrief: In your opinion, what's the best work that’s come out of We Are Social in the last year?

Jim Coleman: In the last year, I think it’s the work we’ve done for adidas called Tango Squad. Purely because it’s flipped the influencer model on its head.

Creativebrief: How did the idea originate? Where did that come from?

Jim Coleman: The Tango is the sign on the original footballs. The challenge was really two-fold. One was to try to reach a really difficult-to-connect with audience, the 14-18 year olds who primarily aren’t very reachable on traditional social channels; we also knew that 75% of all social shares are on dark social, so we had to approach it differently. The other opportunity was responding to the client’s brief of trying to engage up-and-coming football players and build a team of amazing potential stars to spread the news about their product and talent at a grassroots level.

So, the Tango Squad approach was to find people who weren’t necessarily online influencers but who already had natural influence amongst their peers offline -  the captains of local youth football teams.  We approached these natural influencers and gave them exclusive content, products and experiences, all managed through a Facebook Messenger group. They then shared all this content with their network of friends, so we effectively made them online influencers.

For example, when Paul Pogba signed for Manchester United, it was the world’s biggest transfer, so, big news. Pogba filmed himself on his phone saying, “I’m coming back”, wearing a Manchester United shirt. And then instead of them hearing it through the press, that video was sent directly, and exclusively, to the group and then they told all their mates. The news spreading like that is way more powerful than adidas saying “here’s a press release”.

“So, what's going to happen with our industry? I honestly don't know. I think every agency is trying to re-invent itself every couple of years. Who would've thought that above the line agencies are going to be buying influencer or talent businesses or incorporating technical innovation into their businesses?”

Creativebrief: And industry wide, what work has excited you most this year?

Jim Coleman: I guess the individual piece of work that I really liked from last year was the Pigeon Patrol stuff from LBi. I thought that was really great.

Creativebrief: Outside of the UK, is there any agency or piece of work that you are a fan of?

Jim Coleman: Well from an agency perspective, I still think globally, for me, R/GA is the most interesting business because of the constant evolution of what an agency can do for a brand. I think that’s just brilliant. It’s an obvious one, but I’m massively impressed by adam&eve’s ability to continue to win incredible work and produce brilliant TV ads

Another standout piece of work for me is by a business called Fuse Project. They are a design business, owned by the Chinese marketing group Blue Focus, who also own We Are Social. They’re on the West Coast of the States and they do something very, very different to us - they design innovative products. Their cot, called a ‘Snoo’, is brilliant. It slowly jiggles the baby and at the same time has speakers around the side that play the same noises that you’d get in the womb. And there’s this amazing video that they’ve used to sell this product of how effective it is.

Creativebrief: How do you think the advertising industry needs to evolve over the next few years?

Jim Coleman: Media is going to keep evolving – look how much it’s changed in the last decade - and agencies will need to keep up. But, from our perspective, as long as there is social thinking at the centre of our idea, then it will always be relevant, no matter which platform it appears on. 

So, what’s going to happen with our industry? I honestly don’t know. I think every agency is trying to re-invent itself every couple of years. Who would’ve thought that above the line agencies are going to be buying influencer or talent businesses or incorporating technical innovation into their businesses?

Creativebrief: For our recent Modern Marketing event we asked a handful of leading agency and client figures their thoughts on the future of client/agency relationships, it was interesting to see how opinions differed.

Jim Coleman: All of the best work, not just in this agency but in all agencies, comes from these amazing partnerships. It can take years to get to that stage where you can suddenly start producing work which truly comes from you knowing them [the client] inside out and them understanding and trusting you as a partner. After six years of us working with adidas, for example, the work keeps getting better. So, I think what we’ll probably see in the future is less pitching and more long term partnerships and pairings, that come together through extended dating periods.

Creativebrief: We wanted to ask you about the Amazon Echo, because we saw that you guys did a trial period at the end of last year as their social news feed.

Jim Coleman: Yes, we trialled doing a podcast of the Monday Mashup which is our download of what’s happening in the industry, and we did that every week for a few months on Alexa. We had also started to talk to some of our clients about making chatbots for them. So, before we started working with them [clients], we decided we’d just invest time to make sure we knew what we were talking about. So, we built a number of different chatbots internally and one of those was the Mashup, which was an Alexa skill.

Creativebrief: So, outside of the industry, what or who are you inspired by?

Jim Coleman: Believe it or not, my answer is Tony Hawk. That’s not just because I’m a massive skateboard fan - I run our local skateboard park in Farnham - but for me, he’s 49 years old and he’s still an incredible athlete and brand. He’s also somebody who’s stayed at the top of his game his entire life. From a business perspective, he’s been super successful with the X Games, Birdhouse (his skate brand and team), the Pro-Skater Games, and he’s still part of the Bones Brigade team. He’s still living that dream of skating every day and doing the most amazing things. And I’m extremely jealous – isn’t that what life’s about? He’s 49 years old and he’s a better skater than most of the twenty-year olds you meet.

Topic of the moment

How can brands give customers the tools to express their own identity?

As we touched on briefly, lots of brands are already using filters in Facebook, Snapchat etc. to allow their customers to express themselves, whether it be their character or their identity. Whether this works successfully or not depends very much on the type of brand they are and whether the individuals involved feel like an association with this brand enhances or compliments their character or says something about them to others.

The Gatorade Snapchat filter last year for the Superbowl worked really well. Because the Gatorade bin is such an established part of American football, people used it to express themselves without negative connotations of it being branded. 

You mentioned a good point which is that Tango Squads is very much doing that job. By adidas giving ‘collateral’ – exclusive content, product info experiences etc. – to the Tango Squad, it allows those individuals to express themselves in a positive way. This is actually a perfect example of how the strength of the brand, and the personal association, has a positive effect on the individual.

About the author

Izzy Ashton, Assistant Editor of BITE, Creativebrief

Izzy is a writer/researcher for BITE, Creativebrief’s daily insight into global marketing trends and the cultural movements driving them. She keeps abreast of the latest communication, technology and consumer news, and is responsible for conducting interviews with key agency strategists and creatives to gain insight into the most innovative global campaigns.