From working at MySpace to launching 33Seconds, the agency's co-CEOs Alice Regester and Dominic Cook have seemingly seen it all and worked out best practices for cultivating a harmonious working environment.
The agency launched with an aim to help brands effectively make the most of social media and encourage tech companies to build their reputations. Now the agency focuses on content creation, has a fixed team of 28 and is Sky's retained social media agency. The Drum Network caught up with Regester and Cook to find out how they achieved so much in such a short space of time.
The company founders first met at MySpace. How did that experience inform what happened next?
Working at MySpace, launching and growing it in the UK, was a crazy rollercoaster ride. As one of the pioneers of social media, when the category was only just being defined, it led the charge, and we had an utter ball along the way. We were all about creating firsts: making a user-generated feature film starring Eddie Marsan and Jessica Hynes; broadcasting the first episode of seminal TV show, Skins, online before on air; sending a double-decker bus to every music festival in the UK with the hottest artists - from Justice to Kasabian - performing on board; all things that today wouldn’t cause millennials to bat an eyelid, but at the time were unheard of.
The risk when you’re out in front as a technology company though, is that the new kids on the block are quietly learning from everything you do, and if you don’t innovate fast enough, they’ll eventually take the lead, just as Facebook did. As we ran comms, marketing and content between us, we knew that the success of our campaigns and brand partnerships would only last for so long if the product didn’t iterate fast enough, and sure enough, although the brand remained strong, users began to leave, and the media turned…
When we left MySpace in late 2009, the most important thing was then to take some time to think about what we wanted to do next, as we knew it would be no easy act to follow. We recognised we had gained a huge amount of experience, working inside what was then the largest social network in the world, so wanted to put it to good use.
What was the initial motivation to create the agency?
It wasn’t long before we saw the potential in bringing our skills together - along with our co-founder Seb, who oversaw brand partnerships at MySpace - to build an agency that would a) help brands to navigate and effectively utilise social media and b) help other fast-growth technology companies build the profile and credibility to succeed. As such, our client portfolio has always been quite diverse, encompassing household names, such as Sky, Greenpeace, Amazon and Magners, through to startups, such as ExSeed, Banuba, Blade and Babylon Health .
Additionally, having either worked at or managed agencies through our careers, we had learned a lot about the type of company we wanted to build and felt confident we could deliver what clients really want, as we had sat on their side of the table for so long. What's absolutely key for us is to always operate in a way that's honest and transparent, a ‘no BS’ approach, as well as with vigorous enthusiasm. Essentially clients want you to make their life easier, make them look great and deliver fantastic ROI. Simple!
Was the initial intention to focus purely on social media or did you always expect to embrace additional disciplines, e.g. PR, within the agency team?
PR and social media marketing have always been our core disciplines, but as we and the needs of our clients have evolved, content production and influencer relations have become increasingly central to the services we offer.
As a team of 28 today, we have ensured steady growth since we launched, with the emphasis always on hiring the very best talent to provide our services. We believe that by bringing outstanding people into an intimate team, the ability to collaborate and work together so tightly benefits not only them - by providing a supportive and nurturing environment - but also our clients, who receive a more personal, senior-level account team and gold-standard experience.
What would you signpost as the key developments in social media since you formed the agency?
Since starting the agency, social media has evolved dramatically and we have developed our areas of focus to really drive a different emphasis in the way brands get the most out of the channels available to them. Producing content that feels relevant and authentic, targeting it to the right audience with media spend and underpinning all of this with first class community management has always been at the heart of everything we do. The evolution for us has been driven from a maturing sector and changes to the social algorithms which have increased the importance of producing 'thumb stopping’ social content and harnessing the power of influencers, hence these functions have become more central to our agency.
What have been the key moments in the agency’s history where you felt the agency stepped up to the next level?
There have been many! Winning major accounts and beating rival agencies we’ve admired, particularly in taking on each of PSA’s automotive brands over the years, including most recently, Vauxhall Motors. Also in becoming Sky’s retained social media agency after a five-month pitch process involving 16 other agencies. Also in retaining clients for a long-time, from seven years with SoundCloud to five years with Peugeot and four with Amazon, working with different areas of the business.
Another pivotal moment has been expanding the focus of our PR offering. For many years we worked exclusively with companies within the tech ecosystem, but more recently have been partnering with more established organisations who see how the value of our experience with technology and innovation, plus working so closely with fast-growth, agile startups, will benefit them. As such, we are in a position to really draw out the most progressive areas of their business and create more compelling stories and campaigns that will help them achieve better cut-through.
Are client organisations getting any better at social intelligence, i.e. interpreting social data and feeding learnings back into strategy, rather than simply utilising social as another broadcast channel?
100%. Every piece of work we do, from standalone campaigns to overarching strategies, starts with analysing social data - interrogating what is being said about the brand and its competitors and what content themes are resonating with the target audience. Then once we are live, we are constantly measuring and optimizing in real time to maximise the opportunity. Doing anything else in this day and age is simply unacceptable.
Where do you see opportunities for future growth for the agency?
We see growth coming from three key areas. Firstly, as technology continues to weave its way through every industry and touch point of our lives, our combined specialism in working with technology companies and consumer brands will become more valuable and allow us to expand our portfolio of pioneering and industry-leading clients.
Secondly, as creating standout content becomes ever more important, we will continue to invest in this area to ensure we are producing the best in the industry and pushing boundaries as new formats and technologies allow us to do so.
Finally, we are creating our own IP. We are in the early stages of development of an exciting project that we hope will make a difference in the world, but more on that over the coming months!
Alice Regester and Dominic Cook are co-CEOs at 33Seconds.