Publicis Media on hard-earned lessons from the start-up front line

As Publicis Media ramps up its partnerships with tech start-ups, Jim Kite, head of its NextTECHnow unit, and his colleagues share some of the lessons they have learned.

Jim Kite, Global Head of Partnerships for the Publicis Media Business Transformation practice is delighted that his agency’s commitment to working with tech start-ups is matched by the enthusiasm of its clients.

“There’s a real desire among our clients to get stuck into the world of tech. They’re up for testing, and they’re very much open to learning what works and what doesn’t for their business.”

Recently, for example, the agency hosted 30 brand managers from a multinational client for one day of in-situ meetings with start-ups. “There’s nothing like showing them the places where start-ups hang-out.” he says. “They get a real feel for what that world is really like, and they get a taste for what they can offer.

“For many clients, this is being driven right from the top,” notes Kite “This has advantages. First, they are more likely to set aside a budget for innovation, which means anything new doesn’t have to be carved out from marketing activity already committed. Second, when there’s buy-in from the top there’s less pressure for everything to succeed, and the lower-level marketing staff feel empowered to experiment.”

“One of the reasons we’re making this work is the way we have got so many staff across our agencies involved. On a day-to-day level, they are the ones making it happen by linking clients and start-ups.”

To date, in a little over two years Publicis Media in the UK has brokered over 60 activations across 32 client brands. Increasingly, the same start-ups are working across more than one client.

Here are some short case studies, two successful and one which eventually became so.

1. Amstel and Visyon360

Amstel know that cycling is a passion point for their target audience and in 2016 the brand sponsored London’s Six Day — a track cycling event featuring world class cyclists such as Sir Chris Hoy & Sir Bradley Wiggins, held at the London Velodrome in September.

“Amstel wanted to create an immersive consumer experience at the event to engage consumers with the brand and bring Amstel’s brand positioning to life” says Hayley Hedges, Planning Account Manager, MediaVest. NextTECHnow start-up Visyon360 helped achieve this by creating the ‘Amstel Challenge’ — a virtual reality time trial against 3 friends, cycling through streets of Amsterdam on Dutch granny bikes for a chance to earn their Amstel. The quicker you pedal, the more streets of Amsterdam you get to see through the virtual reality screens/headsets in front of you. Once past the finish line (Jaaps’ bar, as shown in Amstel’s recent TV ad), the winner was presented with a virtual pint of Amstel, which was also physically presented in hand once they removed their headsets, bringing the virtual to reality.

The activity was very well received by attendees of the event, with almost 10% of attendees taking part in the immersive brand experience. Following this, the ‘Amstel Challenge’ was showcased at Heineken’s company sales conference where in the words of Rachel Hill, the Amstel Brand Manager “has since sparked a conversation within Heineken to think about platforms that are more ‘lean in’ than traditional media.”

2. Shurgard and Research start-up Streetbees

Shurgard operates around 25 self-storage units mainly in London and the south-east.

Advertising to support the opening of a new unit is highly localised. Publicis Media researchers wanted pre- and post- panels to gauge the effectiveness of its media plan to promote the opening of the Chingford unit.

“We were just two weeks away from opening,” says Amelia Bainbridge, a senior research executive, “and finding a large enough representative sample within a five-mile radius of the site via a standard fieldwork agency was hard. Typically, such agencies would take two to three weeks to report back. That would have been too slow for our planners.”

The agency introduced Shurgard to Streetbees, a fieldwork agency which recruits local respondents via a smartphone app. Within 24 hours, Streetbees had found 500+ of the right types of respondents within five miles of the Chingford unit.

Bainbridge believes that there is a lot of potential for similar partnerships between the agency and tech-driven fieldwork/research start-ups. “It’s fast, it’s nimble, and it gives you sufficient insight,” she says.

The use of mobile means questionnaires need to be short, but the payback is a faster response, with panel members often using commute times to answer.

Although not used on this activation, the use of smartphones also allows respondents to upload tagged pictures to Streetbees’ real-time dashboard. This is a function that the agency is seriously considering for future client projects.

3. McCormick (Schwartz) and SoPost social gifting

As one of NextTECHnow’s earliest start-up partners, SoPost, has successfully applied social gifting to FMCG clients of Publicis Media for some time.

“Social gifting is an efficient way to drive sampling and trial of products,” says Ally Simmons, client services manager for the Publicis Media Content practice. “It works by tapping into social media friendship groups to allow members to ‘gift’ their friends.”

As part of McCormick’s digital innovation strategy they were intrigued by SoPost and saw this start-up as a partner to help launch a promotion linked to the barbecue season. McCormick wanted to encourage its mostly male target audience to gift friends something to make their BBQs go with a sizzle.

When a donor wants to make a gift, they post the name of the recipient, who then accepts the gift by uploading their mailing details.

Unlike earlier activations using this start-up, this one-month initiative was not a great success. Despite a short-lived spike in interest, take-up was low and only half the samples allocated to the campaign were shared. The learning here was to get the right balance between paid media support and social activity.

“It wasn’t a triumph,” says Simmons, “but it has helped contribute to the client’s test-and-learn agenda. Indeed, not perturbed by the learning from the first test McCormick has continued to add start-up solutions into their campaigns.

“Our client definitely has not been put off working with start-ups. We’re continuing to partner McCormick with new technologies that leverage UGC to create enhanced authentic consumer experiences.” adds Violeta Todorova from the central NextTECHnow team.

This is confirmed by Sara Wolfe, Digital Brand Manager, McCormick, “Through the NextTECHnow initiative we have been introduced to some of the most innovative thinking and the latest startup technology out there. We have been impressed with the quality of the start-ups we have met becoming an important part of our marketing communications strategy”

A few lessons learned from these case studies and others over the last two years:

· We only work with start-ups who have a MVP (minimal viable product) and are easy to plug into an existing plan — our strength is not product definition but product scalability.

· We pay particular attention to the execution and operational processes when working with smaller companies. Ideas come from excited clients and inventive account teams, but not having contracts and billing properly thought out can suffocate enthusiasm.

· Accept that start-up knowledge of how agencies work is limited and our role is to help educate them on how to navigate the many different stakeholders in delivering media campaigns.

· It is imperative to treat start-ups with respect. By their very nature start-ups are always talking to each other. They can be your strongest advocate to encourage new companies to meet you and provide useful marketplace intel.

· Start-ups should be positioned to clients as test-and-learn partners that can help them keep up with the rapid pace of change and digital evolution. Unfortunately, start-ups are not a magic bullet that can change consumer’s perspective of a brand as being more ‘innovative.’

· Finally, get everyone involved and use start-up engagement as a tool to create a culture of open innovation. Given the volume of start-ups and the continuous flow of client briefs there are plenty of opportunities for agency staff to show their entrepreneurial side.

Jim Kite will be on the panel at the Ending ‘Tech Tourism’: 10 Marriage Vows For Agencies & Start-ups session at Advertising Week 2017 on 22nd March at 11am. Here we will be launching of a new IPA initiative — a charter enshrining good practice commitments for agencies that want to deal fairly and openly when partnering with start-ups.