September 3, 2008

A Guide to Interviewing: Interview with a Senior Industry Executive

When did you know you were interested in a career in advertising and marketing?

In college I studied Communication and took several classes where I learned about the art of advertising. Based on my interest, I received an internship at a large advertising agency; I was hooked!

What is your educational background and how has it helped prepare you for the field?

I graduated from The George Washington University with a B.A. in Communication. My educational background taught me a lot about understanding people in general, as well as how to relate to and speak with them. It was my hands-on experience at my internship and my early days working in advertising that were most influential and inspirational.

What was your first job in advertising/marketing?

My first job was at an agency where I was managing traditional marketing for a large online financial services client. I became fascinated watching how this brand’s customers were embracing this new technology and beginning to handle their finances online, by themselves. It was then that I realized my true passion turned out to be just that, “online.” I was so impressed by the power of technology, I wanted to dedicate my career to focusing on finding new ways to use the Internet to connect with consumers.

What is the campaign that you have worked on that you are the most proud of? Why is that one a particular source of pride for you?

I had the opportunity to work on the Web site and online marketing for one of the world’s largest consumer packaged goods companies. In the late ‘90s, as large companies were just beginning to experiment with digital marketing, I had a client that was investing heavily in digital innovation. We were testing rich media and even interactive television advertising that still has not yet emerged. Most notably, we launched one of the first social marketing campaigns aimed not only at connecting consumers with the brand, but also connecting the consumers with each other. This is essentially what has come to be Social Marketing, which I believe is the future of all marketing. We can no longer just advertise to consumers; rather we need to connect them with one another on behalf of our brands.

What advice would you give to aspiring creatives looking to differentiate themselves from their peers as they look for a first job?

Understand the technology. This does not mean you need to be a developer, but you need to find ways to connect with consumers when they are online. We are in the ideas business, and in order to come up with innovative, differentiating ideas, you need to understand the capabilities the technology offers.

What specifically do you look for in a creative when you're interviewing them?

We look for specialists who embrace all forms of media. Certain individuals are experts at TV, some at print, some online. Expertise is needed. But we all use the Internet, we all watch TV, and we all read magazines, newspapers or blogs. Creatives need to think about all media, but need to define themselves as experts in an area they can own.

What is your impression of the impact that social media (e.g., blogs, YouTube) and social networking (e.g., Facebook, MySpace) have had on the advertising industry so far?

As I stated earlier, I believe social media is the future of marketing. Consumers now own brands. A brand can’t fake the superiority of its product because consumers will see right through that. Consumers now go online to speak to other consumers before making a purchase. We as marketers need to embrace that. Rather than try to sell to consumers, we need to get them excited about our products so they will leverage social media to promote our brands for us.

Have you seen a change in what your clients are looking for from you as these new properties and consumer behavior patterns have emerged?

Clients have definitely become more willing to test marketing on social networks and the Internet in general. Just a few years ago, the Web was seen as a luxury, typically the first area to get cut from marketing budgets. Now, it’s not only accepted by clients, but it is expected.

Are there any social media/social networking campaigns that you have seen that you think have been particularly effective in promoting a brand? If so, which one(s) and why?
I will tell you a personal story of social networking success. We were asked by a technology company to promote an event for software developers. If you haven’t worked with software developers in the past, I will tell you they are one of the most skeptical audiences in existence. Typically, if they see advertising, they run in the opposite direction.

To promote the event, we embraced this knowledge of the audience and rather than advertise the event to them, we built a relationship with owners of a very important technology blog that most software developers were visiting on a daily basis. By getting the blog owners excited about the event, they started talking about how excited they were for this event. And then an amazing thing happened. Developers started commenting on the blog and speculating about all the great announcements that would happen at the event. And some of them even started their own blogs to discuss the event. They became so excited, and rather than us having to advertise to them, they promoted the event for us within their community. And not only did the event sell out way ahead of time, but we actually had a waiting list of over 1,000 developers.

Social marketing is about honesty. We weren’t trying to advertise or sell; this truly was a great event we were promoting. We knew our best shot of exciting the audience was for them to get one another excited. That’s what social marketing is about, the understanding that consumers trust each other; if you embrace that understanding, you can succeed in this world of social media.

What are your thoughts on user-generated advertising (e.g., the Dorito's "Crash the Super Bowl" contest and imitators)? Where does user-generated content belong in the context of a brand's advertising mix?

Embracing user-generated content is critical to marketing. User-generated advertising, where brands ask consumers to create an advertisement, had an early impact because it was new. I don’t see the longevity of this concept because it is still about “Advertising.” User-generated content, or any content consumers create and build dialogue on with other consumers is what social marketing is all about. It’s honest and real conversation.