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Meet the Media Minds: Hearts and Science’s Garrett O’Reilly on uncharted metaverse

Hearts and Science’s managing director Garrett O’Reilly

Adland has a penchant for celebrating creativity, but those planning, buying and executing the campaigns are often forgotten. Meet the Media Minds sees The Drum address that imbalance and dig into the models and strategy of the world’s biggest media agencies.

This week we sit down with Garrett O’Reilly, managing director of Hearts & Science UK.

What would be your first lesson for a media newbie?

Early on in my own career, I was lucky enough to spend some time with Nick Kendall when he was head of planning at BBH and running the IPA Excellence Diploma. He gave some very simple advice that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. He said, ‘no matter what, keep going.’ Only all these years later do I realize how good his advice was, so I’m passing it on.

Keep going. Take a pause and re-evaluate your next move, but don’t give up.

What platform or channel excites you the most?

The metaverse, in all its sprawling glory, may not be a single platform, but it is incredibly exciting nonetheless. We’ve already worked with some clients on this, and what has been most interesting to me is realizing most of us are just digital tourists; we live predominantly in our physical world and only dip in and out of social media or gaming platforms before coming back to reality.

But we’re witnessing such radically different behaviors and attitudes in younger people, the real natives of a connected world. For them, the boundaries between the physical and digital spaces are experienced very differently, and the concept of the metaverse – a collective virtual shared space – is set to blur that even further, with undefined consequences for our trade – and the world.

So from a planning and creative point of view, well, that’s just fascinating. We are literally seeing entire new worlds built for us to explore, so what on earth does a media plan inside a metaverse look like? It’s completely uncharted territory.

What are the biggest challenges facing the business?

The fight for and retention of talent, and everything that encompasses today, which is a lot. We’re emerging from a pandemic that has changed our working and personal lives in so many ways, and we need to be really supportive of our staff in what is a very unstructured, difficult time.

Diversity of talent is also hugely important. At Hearts, we’ve worked incredibly hard to try and change those dispiriting census figures from the IPA, and relative to the wider industry I think we’re strong. But we must still do more. That requires a whole new level of empathy and understanding of people.

But going the extra mile really does mean you’re able to create a dynamic agency, filled with a broader spectrum of views and ideas. It makes for a better place to work and is having a brilliant and tangible effect on our output.

What’s the most clever or innovative use of media you can think of?

At its most fundamental level, media planning is about getting the right message in front of someone to gain awareness or consideration. But I get really excited when people are more ambitious with what media placement can do; strategies that really start to collapse the funnel, and disrupt more linear paths to purchase.

That’s what the Hearts team achieved with Ocado and a partnership with The Guardian’s Feast magazine. The challenge was predominantly about relevancy of the brand, so we’ve taken Feast over for a year. But we’ve made it an exclusive space that no other brands can occupy, and then taken this to a new level with QR codes on recipes that can place all the ingredients on your Ocado shopping list ready for a doorstep delivery.

It’s achieved so much; locking out competitors, gaining share of voice and creating new shoppable experiences.

How is your agency evolving, and how’s that differentiated from the competition?

Evolution is all well and good, but clients will soon see through any tech-led ‘differentiation’ if it’s covering for a lack of strong fundamentals. So for all the disruption and innovation in this world, it’s actually the focus on what should stay the same that can really help build success. For Hearts, that means focusing on four key behaviors that we’ll maintain, no matter what the world throws at us.

That starts with always being prepared and positioned to adapt and act in an agile manner; having a deep understanding of audiences; being able to prove effectiveness; and maximizing the full potential of our talent.

We’re still a young agency – diverse, hungry and in a steep growth trajectory. But it is these four, fixed pillars that mean we can work on challenging client briefs at the drop of a hat.

Is tech making your job easier – or complicating matters?

Technology 100% makes the job easier. But another way of thinking about this question is to ask whether ‘complicated’ is always a bad thing when dealing with tech.

The brands and agencies that approach complexity with an enabler mindset, and are willing to get their hands dirty with data and technology, never questioning whether something is easy or not, are the ones pushing the boundaries and reaping the rewards.

Complexity is hard, but that’s the challenge, so enjoy it rather than think of it as an inhibitor.

Where’s the money going?

From where we stand, and taking on board comments from our clients, all indicators show that performance silos are really starting to wane, operationally. And that makes sense given the dichotomy between brand and performance too often pulls a business in different directions.

Consequently, I think the money will move into a space that’s much more agnostic. It won’t matter whether it’s performance or brand, it’ll be about whether it improved the business overall. For example, we’ve been working with Center Parcs to pivot from traditional media metrics to business-focused metrics over the last three years, which has enabled us to directly attribute media activity to increased sales figures and the average value of bookings (AVBs).

This has allowed us to look at activity holistically and break down the brand/performance silos in search of better business outcomes.

Make a big prediction about the sector.

Sustainability will become table stakes on media plans. No longer will it just be about reach, frequency and driving results. The carbon footprint will be just as important. You will need to ask if there’s a more environmentally-friendly way of achieving business goals.

There’s great work going on here already. I’ve seen this firsthand from sitting on the advisory committee for the Ad Association and IPA’s Ad Net Zero initiative. But there’s so much more to be done to normalize it as part of day-to-day marketing. I’m glad Hearts gets to play a part in this evolution.

Last week we spoke to Nicolas Bidon, global chief executive of Xaxis (part of GroupM and WPP).

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