This post is an open letter to Art Directors working at advertising agencies. It’s based on a presentation I gave at Social Media Week NYC where I shared some thoughts on how Art Directors and Designers can help their clients create more effective social marketing in 2014.

The first thing you should know is these thoughts are coming from a former Art Director. 1Before joining Percolate, I was involved in the conception, planning and execution of digital campaigns at agencies in London and New York. Over the last 10 years I have seen how the web, social and mobile have shifted the ways teams create brand campaigns and content marketing. Let’s take a look at how this went down.

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The year is 2004, I have just graduated from the University of Huddersfield with a degree in Multimedia Design. For those of you who haven’t visited Huddersfield before, we were surrounded by all the sheep.

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Shortly after graduating, I swapped the sheep of Yorkshire for the red telephone boxes of London and began working on marketing campaigns at digital agencies.

My first job was to make fish come out of computer screens for Sony.
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Well, not quite. It was about mastering the art of designing banners. You know, editing graphic details, optimizing messaging placements in an effort to get down to a 15k file size.

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We also helped telecommunications company Orange sell phones.

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Over the course of our relationship we moved away from creating “big idea” campaigns and started turning out a piece of interactive content every month. Simple, fun ideas designed to be shared on Facebook walls.
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We worked for the Observer newspaper to promote their monthly magazines: music, food and sport.
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Here we created a weekly email newsletter to inspire subscribers to pick-up a copy of the paper that coming weekend. This was about picking up our photoshop template and setting content in place each week.
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Another one of our clients was high street fashion retailer Topshop.
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We redesigned Topshop.com from the ground up. Brand guidelines helped us understand the fonts, color palettes and photography styles we could use to shape the new editorial templates we introduced over a commerce foundation. Templates that would be used to published 2/3 blog posts a week.
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On moving to New York, I started working with Samsung. They wanted to raise awareness of their new laptop, which came equipped with an Intel processor.

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We created Boosted, a series of mini campaigns that played out in Facebook tabs and micro sites. This was also the first time I had been involved in the planning and creation of three solid weeks of content updates and status messages.

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This brings us to 2010. I like to refer to this moment as the great design pile-up. Design requests were coming in at an amazing rate. The social web stage of marketing was well and truly in full force. There was so much stuff to make.
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You can see the shift from creating campaigns to sustained marketing illustrated below. What we’re looking at is how we moved from a delivery of banners every four months, to a constant flow of social campaigns – campaigns full of design assets.
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Our response to the need for so many assets? Photoshop. Of course Photoshop was our answer. When you are holding a hammer, the only thing you see is a nail, right?

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But Photoshop didn’t solve our problems. Things got worse. From here the growth continued as more and more brands created campaigns across social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, whilst new platforms like Tumblr started to emerge as places brands could reach new audiences.

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This is when we introduced a new member to the team: the Community Manager. This was someone who mostly worked client side. As an agency we needed Community Managers to guard the front lines during campaigns.Orders-10528058707.csv.019

These were people who had been on Myspace as early as 2007. Back then they were responding to fan wall posts and handling the trolls.
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They quickly got known for customer relationship management skills and their ability to handle weird customer enquires, but they did far more than that.
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Since 2011 I have been following Community Managers and all the jobs they do as we’ve built our technology platform. They have gone beyond the frontline. They are playing a leading role in defining brand strategy and content design for some of the most successful brands on social.
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The reality is, if you want to make good work today, the Community Manager is the most important person you can work with. If you are an Art Director, the Community Manager is your new creative partner. An absolutely vital member of your team. Let me explain why.
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Let’s not worry about the design thing. You know, when you say keyboard shortcuts, they think keyboard cat. Paul Rand is met with “Ron Paul?” And your favorite typeface Gotham, well that’s got to be Batman.

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They pick up things fast. And what they bring to the table is huge. They are going to help you grow.
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They understand the pace of platforms better than anyone. Their Photoshop is an application made up of streams of social content. It is what they are using everyday to craft communications. From here they understand the pace and the perspectives of your brand’s audience.
Orders-10528058707.csv.026When the social platforms introduced new visual news feeds they became flooded with images fans related to the brand. This only increased with the mass adoption of smartphones. A new visual language arrived. Simple, human photography won the day. When representing your brand, this is the new creative.
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With this huge influx of fan imagery, community managers had a new source of content. This obviously included cats. These images created new post styles like “Fan Photos.” Here Community Managers developed a more personal dialogue between the brand and fans, when previously there had only been cold messaging and direct promotion of product and services.
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This wasn’t just about Facebook. As new platforms grew, Community Managers got to know how the room responded across all platforms. They knew how to craft the message as they shifted the brand look and voice from Facebook to Twitter, as they transitioned from day to night, from one audience to another.

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They have an ability to pay attention to the world around them, understand trends, and react to all of this. They made planking Pepsi cans into a real thing. This ability is what built followers and friends. This is what gave brands a moment of fame on social.
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With the rise of mobile apps such as Pic Stitch, Meme text generator and later Instagram, Community Managers became more and more confident in making design decisions. With these apps they are doing the work we used to do for a couple of hours a week (cropping and manipulating images), but they are doing it in minutes.

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Community Managers connect brands with cultural moments. For example: It’s Christmas. Everyone is watching Home Alone. Suddenly Pepsi’s Community Manager brings back Fuller and makes sure no one over does it. This is a great example of how they married the visual language of social to a timely and relevant piece of culture.

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Today, Community Managers are working with some of the world’s largest brands to tap in and understand what makes their audiences different, and then work with the team to create content for them specifically. Oreo’s Daily Twist Campaign is the example I’m sure you are all familiar with. The team won a Grand Prix at Cannes last year.
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So lets talk conclusions. What am I asking you to take away from all of this?

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First and foremost, you should hang out with your Community Manager more. I know some of you won’t be in the same office each day, but make it happen. Get together for an hour a few times a week.

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This will be quality time for you to share learnings from both sides of the table. On your agenda should be how your audiences are developing across platforms, the latest social tools and formats (today this is Vine and Snapchat and the next ones are coming soon), talk about events happening in the real world you are excited about for the brand and get into design: discuss what’s happening across campaigns, industry and social.
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The number one thing you need to work on together is context. Ensure the content and campaigns you are creating doesn’t fall on deaf ears. Understand why each platform is unique. Understand what time of day people on each platform are online and engaging with content. Understand what they are talking about and reacting to. This is the most important thing you need to do.

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So this week, drop your Community Manager an email. Invite them to get coffee and chat. Get this going. Trust me. You’ll both be better off for it.