Sam North and Brian Giesen take second place in the Ogilvy Digital Influence Essay Writing Competition

Sam North and Brian Giesen take second place in the Ogilvy Digital Influence Essay Writing Competition
March 2, 2010 Kaz Scott

In November 2009, the Ogilvy Digital Influence Essay Writing Competition was announced.  All Ogilvy employees from Asia Pacific were invited to submit an essay on the topic of Digital Influence.  Our very own Sam North and Brian Giesen joined forces, with their essay Digital Influence taking second place out of 28 entries submitted.  Congratulations Sam and Brian from everyone at Ogilvy PR!

Digital influence

By Sam North (with sorely needed input from Brian Giesen)

At the start of 2009 Ogilvy PR in Australia makes a brave decision. No doubt some think it foolish, but at the height of the Global Financial Crisis two senior people are employed – and to newly-created positions.

One is a 57-year-old, overweight, grey-haired, career journalist, direct from a 21-year stint at the Sydney Morning Herald where he had ended up as the paper’s Managing Editor. He’s the Sam North in the above byline and it’s fair to say that when he begins as Ogilvy’s Media Director he is pretty much a digital influence sceptic.

The other is Brian Giesen, a buff, enthusiastic 35-year-old from Ogilvy in Washington DC, and a digital influence expert brought to Sydney to give the locals the low-down on this shiny new toy [Note: Giesen says that ‘’shiny new toy’’ is North’s description. Giesen describes the digital world as the most exciting, liberating thing to happen to communications since the invention of the telephone].

The two find they get on well together, but North delights in asking the hard-bitten, cynical questions of Giesen and other experts at the various educational forums run for the Ogilvy crew in Sydney. He throws around phrases like ‘’how do we see a return on investment’’ and intimates that the likes of Twitter and Facebook and Yabber are of interest only to the young and the restless who will soon move on to something else.

Giesen and North give speeches at the same new media conference in Brisbane. Giesen talks about the election of Obama and how social media is harnessed to motivate tens of thousands of usually apathetic Americans to become involved in the political process. His speech is a triumph.

North talks about how the old media is still alive and kicking. He sounds, even to himself, like Canute trying to hold back the tide. His speech is politely ignored.

Giesen and North work on a KFC campaign to promote a new grilled chicken burger. North provides some media training for the spokespeople while Giesen sets up a Facebook page for KFC.

Facebook for a chicken burger, thinks North. Yeah, right!

Traditional media virtually ignores the launch but the Facebook page, which offers a coupon for which a free burger can be redeemed, has hundreds of people lining up around the block causing pedestrian chaos in downtown Sydney.

Within a week the Facebook page has attracted 84,000 friends.  A handful of people post messages attacking KFC for the nutritional value of its products, but those voices are quickly stamped on by other KFC fans. It’s the perfect scenario, consumers standing up for the brand without any input from the company.

Giesen has the good manners not to mention North’s nay-saying.

His prejudices wounded but still functioning, North hangs on to his suspicion that it’s only the young and tech-savvy who get the digital world.

Then Giesen shows him a statistic from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. For the uninitiated, the ABC is Australia’s public broadcaster with TV and radio networks. The demographic of viewers and listeners skews towards older people. What Giesen says is that the ABC audience (in a country with a population of 22 million, mind you) downloads 5 million vodcasts and podcasts each month.

While North ponders the fact that there might just be a few older people out there with at least some semblance of technical skill, Giesen tells him that of the 8.1 million Australians who use Facebook, 700,000 are over the age of 50. I must get myself on to Facebook, North thinks to himself.

Giesen, never one to let an opportunity pass, adds that in October Facebook’s Australian users uploaded 80 million pictures and wrote 32 million wall posts and 45 million status updates.

North pretends not to be impressed by that, or by the help Giesen’s team gives him during a big announcement for Ford in Melbourne.

They set up on-line monitoring for the period surrounding the announcement and North finds himself finding out in real time what the websites and blogs and Tweeters are saying. It’s an invaluable service that gives North the opportunity to react and target the message to counter any growing trend of criticism, complaint or query. North looks good, Giesen and Ogilvy look better.

Giesen’s glow becomes even rosier when the TED organisation want help with publicising the quest by religious scholar Karen Armstrong, the winner of the 2008 TED Prize, for the world’s major religions to come together in recognition of the principle which is at the core of all faiths – compassion.

At the heart of the campaign is the Charter for Compassion, a document crafted by people of all religions which was launched in November with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond TuTu as its first two signatories. It is intended that people will access the website to join the charter and show that the overwhelming voice in all religions is one of compassion – not negativity or violence.

Giesen’s team creates a 3 minute video featuring prominent Australians saying just what ‘’compassion’’ means to them. Those giving their thoughts range from celebrity chefs through to influential food and marketing bloggers.

The video is completed in a day and a half and is sent to around 200 bloggers and Twitterers. By any measure it delivers an outstanding, authentic, heartfelt message.

The video is picked up by Australia’s major news organisation and run on its websites, with more than 20,000 viewers choosing to spend three minutes of their time thinking about compassion and being driven to the Charter’s website.

Giesen then steps right into North’s territory and builds a social media centre for Microsoft Australia’s website, to coincide with the new Windows 7 operating system. North thinks he knows something about media centres so logs on to pick holes in Giesen’s work.

There’s access to Twitter and Facebook and Ustream TV. You can click onto various Microsoft bloggers. There’s are current and historic media releases, and recent news items featuring Microsoft, not to mention the impressive image bank available via Flickr and the plethora of videos. Suddenly North is feeling that the current crop of journalists have it too good.

The year ends with North at a pitch. ‘’You should think about social media,’’ he advises the client, without even a hint of embarrassment.

North explains that in the future every campaign is likely to embrace social media and will get ordinary people involved in a brand, a campaign, or an issue, through sharing values and opinions.

He goes on about all forms of communications being about conversations and about how it’s not necessarily all about a brand interacting with its customers but as much about facilitating customers’ interaction with each other.

‘’Social media will grow your brand, strengthen the connection between you and your customers and keep you grounded and aware of what people really think about your company,’’ he says with all the conviction of the newly-minted zealot.

A wry, tolerant smile touches Giesen’s lips as his innate good manners prevent him from commenting.


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