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Number 10’s top marketer Conrad Bird: ‘I need ROI, not eyeballs to show my ad spend is effective’

Number 10’s top marketer Conrad Bird: ‘I need ROI, not eyeballs to show my ad spend is effective’

The government is putting the effectiveness of its advertising strategies under greater scrutiny as it adapts its marketing to the political and social upheaval sparked by the Brexit vote.

None are these changes more readily felt than at those agencies currently contesting for places on the government’s new advertising roster. Previously accounts would have been won and lost on an agency’s ability to create a TV spot, whereas now they need to solve business issues according to Conrad Bird, the marketer at 10 Downing Street responsible for the government’s spending on communications.

Speaking to The Drum at a preview of the IPA’s Effectiveness Week yesterday (5 August), he said the shift is rooted in how government campaigns have to fulfil commercial targets but also social ones, which can be harder to measure. In other words, the government needs to push its budgets further and wants to work more collaboratively with agencies to do so.

“We’re looking to put up problems which agencies can come together and solve collectively,” Bird explained. “It’s about us saying to our partners ‘we have an issue here and we need your imagination and your creativity to actually help us come up with innovative solutions. We’re moving away from asking agencies for a TV campaign. We want them to co-own the business problem with us."

Some of those issues will come to light when the government announces its advertising roster in October, which will see agencies working on projects that frame policies and initiatives around social justice, employment and saving lives. Importantly, the 20 agencies expected to sit on the roster will work collaboratively on projects, with five appointed to Strategy Development, 10 for Creative for Campaigns, eight to Digital Marketing and Social Media, eight to Public Relations, five to Direct Marketing and eight to handle Partnership Marketing.

“Many agencies say to us that actually sometimes they’re brought in too late [to the creative process] so we want to bring them earlier. We challenge them to come and help us solve this problem, rather than help us deliver against this brief.”

In turn, the move should allow for better defined goals for projects, especially at a time when many marketers, whether they work in the public or private sector, are starting look closer at how their advertising spend works. Even more so when it comes to government campaigns, which are under more pressure to show ROI amid ongoing cuts to public spending. Bird aptly summed up this situation with the claim: "I need ROI, not eyeballs."

Not everyone within the government “completely understands” the difference between the two, he conceded, and so there’s an internal push to educate and show them to measure effectiveness properly. “If we’re given a pound’s worth of investment to deliver a return then that’s a pound less for somebody else,” he explained.

“And that’s what we have to prove. We’re making great strides here but I’m not sure we’re there yet given that we face the challenges that any commercial company would face plus some of the social aspects, which make it harder to measure… we love creativity but actually the tax payer shoulnd’t being paying for British creativity, actually it’s all about effectiveness.”

Having that attitude is why the GREAT Britain campaign has delivered £2.1bn in terms of ROI, claimed Bird, the marketer behind it. However, as perceptions of the region change in the wake of its decision to leave the European Union, so too is the campaign. Already, Bird and his team have dialled up the campaign in the US to capitalise on the closing parity between the pound and the dollar, while they have also carried out a massive audit across 44 million search terms in China, India, German and the US.

“In terms of perceptions [of the UK] I’m going to hold on it because perceptions take a while to change,” admitted Bird. "My instinct is that we need the GREAT Britain campaign more than ever but actually how perceptions of the UK have been transformed by Brexit nobody really knows and it’s too early to say but we’re all over it in terms of monitoring."

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Seb Joseph

Hi, I'm the news editor at The Drum. Give me a shout if you have any questions about our news coverage or would like to pitch in a story.

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