Rea Averill Q&A
Rea Averill – Director, CEO of Agency A, a London-based creative digital marketing agency. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by a talented team of 8 and my epic business partner, Olly – and get to call it ‘work’. I love when a creative campaign comes together, witnessing the team energise each other to do their best work, and the variety of brilliant brands we support on a day to day basis. In addition, motivated to grow the Company’s pro bono and educational initiatives throughout 2021 whereby our team collaborate with incredible organisations to aid awareness/fundraising/everyday efforts. A (creative) force for good.
First and foremost, do you want to give a rundown of how you got into the industry?
Rea: So essentially, I was a student studying for a marketing degree in London and I decided to set up an Instagram page documenting the best of student food and drink. I guess there’s a perception that London is wholly unaffordable for students so I was trying to find innovative ways or different cool activities that people could do on a student budget. It grew as an influencer account and I managed to get some brand opportunities to learn firsthand how to build an influencer profile. Then I saw that someone was looking to set-up a digital marketing agency, so I went and worked as a social media manager within the business and then just grew from there. Now I co-own and run Agency A which has a team of eight.
You mentioned that you run your own company, Agency A, do you want to give a bit of background about what Agency A does?
Rea: We are a digital marketing agency comprised of in-house creatives, social & paid media managers and in a nutshell we support our clients by being the digital extension of their team. We do the creative, the paid advertising, manage their social media accounts and often work on influencer and ambassador campaigns. We’ve just rolled out a consultancy side of the business where we’re not handling the work on an ongoing monthly basis but we’re going in and doing the strategy, set-up and creating that social media or digital brand book for brands that want to launch across all different channels.
Do you specialise in any specific sectors?
Rea: Primarily food and beverage but we also have a couple of hospitality clients that we love working with. Obviously, the impact of the pandemic has made that quite tricky to grow. We also support a number of health and wellness brands and interiors brands. We’ve just signed a furniture client at the beginning of the year so that’s the first step for us in that industry.
Can you talk about how you’ve seen the industry change over the past few years, and in particular, over the past 12 months?
Rea: I think the biggest transformation, or the most visible one, is the influencer marketing piece. Because when I first started, the day-to-day activity would involve gifting products, or gifting experiences, and getting some positive advocacy on social. Whereas now, there’s a shift in the way that marketing managers are increasingly using influencers as an integrated part of the marketing mix or an extension of their team. Some are perceived as content creators vs influencers as well which I think is the most obvious transformation for me, the way in which that’s so rapidly evolved and equally how people now value it as a really important part of the mix. For the industry in general there has been that shift between traditional marketing and modern marketing. I think due to the pandemic, it has definitely accelerated the way in which people look at how they market their companies, it’s accelerated the shift to digital and online.
How do you react to agencies and brands that are sceptical of influencer marketing?
Rea: When you go into a pitch or a conversation it doesn’t surprise me because there is so much negative press and maybe if there was more positive press about some real success stories, people wouldn’t be as sceptical of the activity. But I really do think that it’s [influencer marketing] only going to be as impactful as the engine that you have behind it. So, if you expect to give someone a high-value product and then just expect an immediate return on your investment, you’re not going to see it. The activity of influencer marketing is almost like persuading a friend but on a larger scale. So, the work involved needs to be honest, it needs to be authentic, it needs to be informative. When people would be potentially sceptical, I think it’s because they’ve seen bad examples or examples where they’ve just done a one-time transaction and expected a mass-return, without actually considering how to make it powerful, and that’s where the authenticity piece which drives those conversions comes in.
There is a large movement currently in the industry regarding standards, whether that’s fees, those influencers receive or whether that’s abiding by the current advertising laws. Additionally, in comparison to other areas of marketing, such as paid media, it is often difficult to determine how much influencers should be paid. In your opinion, who’s responsibility is it to set those standards and who should be making sure that all activations are regulated?
Rea: That’s a really interesting way to look at it actually because I guess you’re right, if a client says I’ve got £10,000 to spend on paid media, you could pretty much rack up a couple of figures that would suggest what they might see on the other side in terms of reach or potential engagement. But with an influencer it’s so subjective because it depends on their content creation skills, it depends on their audience, their niche and the type of content they’re creating. I think in the declaration piece, about what type of activity it is, there’s an equal onus on both the influencer and the brand because if the brand is employing the influencer to do some advertising for them then they should be following up and checking that everything’s as it should be. But equally, the influencer has taken on a piece of work, so they need to ensure that it’s reflective of what’s right and what’s legal. In terms of setting standards around payment, you could potentially consider implementing bands based on the number of followers or setting an average engagement rate to suggest how much someone should get paid. Ultimately, it’s driven by what the campaign entails, which is really hard to do.
How do you as an agency justify to brands the fees that influencers are asking for?
Rea: I think it comes down to experience, where you can look at something and ask – does that feel right or wrong? But typically, we’ve set basic requirements as a company, we can say – so for a campaign of this style, this is the type of thing that we would expect and how much we would expect to invest with that person. But I also think it does depend on what the brand is offering and what type of collaboration it is. We did a mass charity campaign (pro-bono) last year and we didn’t want to pay anyone because it was a COVID-related awareness campaign. Some people came back and said, I want £1,000 for it so I think it also depends on the offering itself.
Social media marketing is now one of the biggest marketing avenues but there are still brands out there who are still a little bit sceptical of social media and influencer marketing. How do you go about convincing them, shall we say, into exploring influencer marketing or social media marketing?
Rea: Education for sure. A good example is where we had a brand that previously only did celebrity-style gifting. Now we’ve proposed an ambassador approach which we think will drive more authentic conversions and they were asking when will we see the impact of that? So, I think the education piece is really important. Definitely showing proof of concept, so demonstrating that it works, but also letting them know that the activity is only going to be as impactful as the work and the collaboration behind it. So, whereas they might have had a negative experience before, it might be because they just gave someone a gift and expected the world. But if they think, let’s do a story takeover, let’s do a profile piece on you, let’s do something really creative, that would hopefully instill more trust in the process.
Do you see a future in the industry for influence marketing agencies or do you think that function is going to be taken in-house by most brands?
Rae: It’s an interesting one actually because that’s a similar question I was asking myself for our agency, we do influencer marketing but it’s not a primary piece of work. And similarly, I was thinking as people start to recognise the value more and more, will they take that agency piece internally and build an agency within the business or will they keep outsourcing? I think there’s always that concern because as brands get bigger and bigger, and they look at their collated spend, they might think actually it’s much easier to invest in someone that sits next to me, is super aligned with the brand guidelines and then we don’t have that one-step removed piece of working with someone who doesn’t know us as well. But I think as long as an agency or influencer marketing agency can continue to prove that they are slicker, quicker, more effective, and also hold those really important relationships with the influencers, then I think that they definitely have a positive future. I think maybe it will just provide a bit of competitivity around how people start to run their companies.
You spoke to working with brands on a short-term and long-term basis, do you see any value in the short-term approach?
Rae: Definitely but it depends on the objective. For example, with influencers, if you had a campaign launch and you needed a quick, massive reach, that would be a great way to think about it – let’s just do a quick campaign, work with these people and we go from there. But generally, I think the longer the partnership, the more powerful it will be, as long as both parties are delivering on expectations. I think the main advantage of having an agency is the fact that you get so many heads on one project, which is hard to do in-house because people have other tasks. So, I think if an agency could come in and be the oil in the engine for a specific campaign then there’s definitely value in that. Then hopefully the brand would also recognise the value of having a lot of very specialised heads on a project short-term, which would accelerate the progress.
Where do you see the future of the social media industry going over the next few years and do you have any agencies that are leading the way?
Rae: There are a lot of agencies at the moment, I remember reading an article about the growth in 2019 and 2020 and there was a lot that kick-started. I think there’ll be more agencies full stop. I think big companies will start to consider either exclusive partnerships or building in-house teams. In terms of people that we follow and admire, eight&four look really slick, they did the first-ever stop motion TV Ad for Yeo Valley, and there are a couple of others that I think have a really good voice on LinkedIn, such as Bolt Digital.
Finally, what plans do Agency A have over the next 12 months?
Rae: To grow and hopefully regain our hospitality clients as that’s a lot of what we really enjoy doing and it’s where a lot of the strengths in our team lies, in supporting those types of brands. We’d like to grow the team, we’d like to grow our paid media and creative departments as well, and hopefully go back to the office! Ultimately, to enjoy what we’re doing and to do it damn well.
We are always ready for a challenge