Interview with Michael Brown, psLIVE

In this interview, Frank Wainwright put questions to Michael Brown, managing director, PS Live about his outlookfollowing the formal emergence of PS Live earlier this year. A shorter version of this interview appeared in Field Marketing magazine, Summer issue 2013

How has PS Live set out to bring together skills and concepts from PR, OOH, DOOH and Brand Experience?

Firstly: A lot of agencies in our field trade on ideas alone; We also buy into the romance of a big idea but we also think a great idea is not just about the taste of a ‘creative director’: Our creativity arises from insight. We use a proprietary tool called OCS developed by our partners Posterscope. OCS is an annually refreshed survey to gauge how genuine consumers react to Out of Home communications. We have adapted this to also consider the brand experience. Our best ideas arise from insights within the OCS. So we have been combining the magic of creativity with the huge amounts of data that exist in the world of OOH to arrive at the campaign solution in experiential briefs. A great campaign idea is no longer purely subjective.

Secondly: We are the only agency that can deploy live content, generated by consumers taking part in our brand experience, to Digital Out of Home networks in one seamless offer. Our brand experience activity becomes integrated into the bought media campaign achieved by working in partnership with Posterscope –and the media owners they have relationships with. Our best case studies in this domain demonstrate how brand experience can be used to shape and inform the whole media campaign: TV, Outdoor, Online – everything! So the content arising from experiential becomes the whole campaign which multiplied to the power of ten may mean in the future that there is no need for an ad agency!   This is crucial if we are to compete with the ad agencies who are increasingly trying to own the experiential space – witness the recent launch of an experiential agency by M&C Saatchi.

Thirdly: We think a brand experience should deliver compelling content that can be promoted across all media channels to generate earned media. We build in newsworthy hooks into our brand experience at the concept stage, and going back to the audience insights within the OCS, we test those ideas with the relevant target media journalists to give them a better chance of delivering free media, coverage or uptake. Our best case studies show work that has delivered a multiple of the cost of the project in free media value. Our work for the launch of Titanic on 3D and Blu-ray last year for instance delivered a multiple of 5 x cost of project in free media coverage including two broadcast items. Not bad for seven days of experiential activity conducted entirely in Westfield alone!

Finally: We track social media uptake with our Social Listening approach – this also counts as earned media. People will share the brand experience with their peers if it is compelling enough or resonates with them to some degree: Social listening provides an invaluable tool, included in our fee, to monitor online and real-time conversations. Through paid-for social monitoring tool Sysomos alone, we have access to over 1.3 billion documents – including tweets, blogs, new stories and Facebook statuses. As a default position, we measure our brand experience’s social media footprints and assess their effectiveness in generating word-of-mouth. This helps to demonstrate an understanding of the attitudes, demographics and geographies of the audience in our reporting back.

What initiatives are you developing for campaigns led by sampling?

Now some aspects of what qualifies as brand experience, sampling/field marketing are difficult to create PR around – you are merely tasked to give stuff out. The traditional measurement of which being volume! How much product did you sample and did you do it with a smiley face!? We have been attempting to make sampling more accountable beyond volume and the usual research about how sampling influences the purchase decision. How? By building social media mechanics around the sampling activity and measuring the impact in real time: this is known as social listening, and reporting this back to the client within fee.   We have measured such impact via a combination of in-house and publicly available tools.

We were able to prove our sampling campaign for Amoy in the lead up to Chinese Year celebrations drove search on Google:  and using search terms specific to our campaign on Google Trends we showed that search peaked exactly around the dates of our live sampling activity! We backed this up by using our in house web traffic tool to prove that hits to the microsite built around this activity – at which people having sampled the bespoke dishes during the sampling campaign could visit to download the recipe – also peaked around the actual dates of our campaign.   For Expedia we proved that 95% of Tweets about our distribution campaign were positive – so we are able to use our tools to gauge sentiment! We also used the same tools to track by geography. Such mechanisms add massive power to the reporting back of a sampling campaign.

How does psLIVE hold campaigns accountable?

There are some agreed KPIs set by client upfront and we need to achieve them or fail our objectives – this is universal to all agencies. For our Camelot campaign for instance the prime KPI was to deliver 300 winners over 25 YOA who were willing to become the stars of the entire media campaign in broadcast, outdoor, print and online. It was not about uplifting sales of scratch cards – although we had to sell scratch cards to find our winners.   Where we differ is in the added value to the ROI: So if the return on investment is in the delivery of agreed key performance indicators then we are giving so much more if for instance we have also generated earned media as multiple of project costs, or social listening tools prove we are driving search volumes etc.

What demand is there for brand experience that use or create content for film/digital?

I think most experiential agencies will concede that a part of their activity is about creating content that can be deployed in the wider campaign.   My USP here was in content generated in the experienced being deployed very quickly to the paid for Digital Out of Home campaign. Currently we have only two case studies that feature this – one for Camelot, the other for Canon in which the content was deployed within 20 minutes of it being created. The potential then is huge but currently demand is low because in the past, to do this effectively it takes so many different agencies to get it off the ground. The various digital media owners have differing technologies and format requirements for content, lead times etc. It’s a minefield we have negotiated for which we have a custom piece of software called Liveposter. So we are hoping to create demand and certainly everybody we show this to becomes convinced of the potential. There are more commissioned projects in pipeline.

What are the advantages for being part of multi-agency group across Europe?

We are one agency with offices across Europe. However the aim is to centralise creative, strategic, production and implementation expertise across Europe so as to make us more cost competitive against the big local players in each territory. This will allow us to seek cross territory campaigns for one client – so often the big multi nationals appoint below the line expertise at a local / individual market level. This can make some sense as for instance the granting of licenses or permits for live activity from local authorities can vary hugely from country to country – local relationships and knowledge of red tape/ bureaucracy processes can be key to obtaining your licenses. We have centralized this sort of talent pool across Europe.   We have had some early success – we simultaneously worked for ACER in 5 European Markets on the same campaign project last summer. We are pitching on several major brands cross markets currently.

How does PS Live offer alternative to BE divisions of Ad Agencies?

I think that we have created a potential threat to ad agencies muscling in on this space – which I elaborate on above [second paragraph] in regard to the deployment of live content to the campaign – drawn to its natural conclusion this may negate the need for ad agency full stop! While that is an extreme notion, and doubtlessly there will always be a need for creative agency in real terms, we have proved that a full media campaign can exist without the need for an ad agency creating the campaign assets at the front end. Upping the frequency of such campaigns is one of our tasks for the future.   Further, our four competitive pillars highlighted in the opening paragraphs set us apart from all experiential agencies whether specialist or in house at an ad agency, PR Company or other media agency.

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