Marketing Business Leadership Experiential Marketing

The Judges’ Club: meet Ben Richards, chief experience officer of VMLY&R London


By Dani Gibson | Senior Writer

October 7, 2022 | 7 min read

You still have time to enter The Drum Awards for Experience, part of our awards festival, here. The deadline for entries is October 13.

Ben Richards, chief experience officer at VMLY&R London.

Ben Richards, chief experience officer at VMLY&R London

The Drum Awards for Experience celebrate the very best activations, teams, technologies, and venues that made them successful. One of this year’s top judges for the awards is Ben Richards, chief experience officer at VMLY&R London. He is a celebrated marketeer with more than 15 years of experience in the digital creative experience space.

Over the years he has worked on both the client and agency side, for companies including Yahoo, Microsoft, Xbox, BT, Ford, and GTB, before taking on his current role as chief of experience at VMLY&R. There he leads his team to integrate digital creative, social, media partnerships, IT, CRM, data, analytics, and platform together.

We caught up with him to chat about challenges in the sector and the work that impresses him.

If you could fix one problem in the marketing industry, what would it be?

The industry needs to embrace the full canvas – the untapped potential of your ecosystem is more than paid. And outside of paid doesn’t mean it has to be prosaic. And chief marketers are in the driving seat to do something about that.

The experience needs to be enjoyable, and chief marketers can change that. Now the process to deliver paid, scale and creativity are there, but the process to deliver loyalty and relationships needs to evolve.

What piece of work are you most proud of?

Stammer. A charity for people who stammer, which is really close to the heart of some of our team members.

The best thing you can ever hear about your work is when you overhear other people talking about it. I took my 12-year-old to the cinema with six of his mates to see Jurassic World. Our Stammer ad was on before it and, unprovoked, they said it was the best ad they had ever seen.

I did work with John Lewis and heard people talk about it on the Tube. And, for me, that’s the best. When you overhear people talking about the stuff that’s popped out of your brain, it’s magic.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

To know when to stop selling. As a creative-based customer experience practitioner, you always want to make stuff come alive. And to do that you need to take a step back and stop being super keen to do it. You let the work do the talking.

What are your views on the importance of awards?

From a customer experience point of view, awards aren’t great because they haven’t really grasped the practices and they lean towards campaigns and things that can be packaged.

Customer experience is trying to enhance or change behaviors over a certain amount of time, and it’s hard to put into awards. We need to get there. I personally have set up a cohort of UK-based chief experience officers to investigate it and figure out how to solve it.

Normally work lives within the silo of the project, but awards allow you to compare and meet other people in your industry. It offers chief experience officers a town and the more people you meet, the more integration you get. It also helps clients sort of contextualize and ‘dimensionalize’ work, and hopefully the value of your agency. Awards help raise the floor and you’d hope that your work helps raise the ceiling, but they need to mature and change as the market matures and changes.

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Where do you turn for inspiration?

VMLY&R is about human-centered design. Customer centricity. Inspiration comes from talking to people and having the structure to talk to them because there’s only so much that can be captured in the brief. I recently did a piece of work where we were looking at delivery. I interviewed UberEats and Deliveroo drivers and you learn so much. The only way you find that out is by talking to the right people.

Outside of that, I listen to too many podcasts about loads of different stuff. I would recommend the Blind Boy podcast, one of the biggest podcasters in Ireland. It’s a bit random, but it’s fascinating and his methodology is amazing.

The Drum Awards for Experience deadline is fast approaching. Make sure you enter before Thursday 13 October.

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