We met through a recommendation by a reader of his blog and continued the dialogue on Twitter. What I like most about Edward Boches is is writing style - direct, effective, rich. As he describes in his about page, he:
[...] helped build a full-service ad agency; worked with dozens of noteworthy brands; launched high-tech and internet start ups; collaborated with world famous directors, photographers and editors; co-wrote television commercials with Ellen DeGeneres; presented ideas to Oprah Winfrey (she actually liked them); created award winning websites; and launched an emerging social media practice. More surprisingly, I’ve survived for 30 years in a business that typically eats its young.
Here's what else you want to know about him.
How did you come to join Mullen and when did you become the company's Chief Social Media Officer in addition to Chief Creative Officer?
Edward: I've been at Mullen for over 26 years as one of the four early partners. I originally joined the agency to start its PR department having come out of that discipline on both the client and agency side.
However, having always loved writing, I soon moved into the creative department as a copywriter and creative director.
In the early days I actually did much of the work. But for the last 10 or 15 years I’ve basically run the creative operations. Over the last few years it's become apparent to me that the future of our business is not only digital, but social as well.
We are no longer simply in the business of telling great brand stories; we're in the business of inspiring customers and communities to tell them for us.
A year ago I hired an heir apparent to run the day-to-day creative operations so I’m free to concentrate almost exclusively on the new stuff.
Fortunately, we’ve always had a successful and highly regarded PR group, so we’ve built a media/social influence group that’s rooted in PR, but augmented with our creative and digital capabilities.
Has your focus been exploring alternatives to traditional advertising or has it evolved to that point? How do you decide what is best to integrate in marketing and communications activities? Does a company culture play a role?
Basically it means that we try not to think like an ad agency per se, but rather as marketing problem solvers able to call on strategy, content, distribution, analytics and all the sub capabilities that comprise them.
Also, our culture has for a long time been digitally oriented. So we have a lot more skills than a traditional ad agency. But to say that we have it all figured out would be an exaggeration. There are still departments and individuals who think like ad people, or PR people rather than thinking truly unbound.
We’re pushing ourselves and each other to move beyond our heritage of message based communication and trying to and create in ways that encourage conversation and community. The culture that we have developed over the years –entrepreneurial, open, willing to embrace change, creative – helps for sure.
You have been an active participant in many social networks and have direct experience with social media. How much did your direct involvement help you feel you understand its dynamics well enough to explain them to your clients? Is your decision to experiment with certain tools based on potential client work with them? How do you prioritize where you're spending learning time?
As a result it’s possible to encourage clients and become an evangelist. It also gives me a lay of the land, so to speak. Furthermore, by combining this new experience with knowledge of creativity, branding, positioning and client service, it’s actually possible to develop programs that make sense for our clients.
For example we launched Olympus’s EP-1 using nothing but social media. We have introduced Stanley, Panera, Grain Foods Foundation, Timberland and others to Facebook, Twitter, and community based marketing. And we have done a pretty good job and transforming our own culture by getting almost all of our employees involved as well.
It’s important to note that I’m not doing this myself. I’m surrounded by really great PR and social influence professionals. In fact Danny Brown just gave props to two of them – David Mullen and Stuart Foster – for “getting it.”
But we have many others who understand how to engage with consumers, bloggers and digital media. Mullen also boasts a great team of developers who know how to build social sites, develop Facebook and iPhone apps, and take advantage of everything from Firefox and Twitter APIs to blog platforms. We’re all teaching each other.
From the corporate side I have not been impressed with some agencies over the years. Creative that did not sell and account teams that did not understand the business have by and large been a problem. Social media is transforming work, the dynamics and business models. Yet, it seems that agencies have underestimated this shift. Can you tell us how Mullen evolved and how it works with clients?
I also think that most agencies have an inherent fear of giving up control, so they mirror client fears in that way.
Again, because of our PR group, our culture (and the fact that one of the partners willingly embraced this stuff) we’ve been able to move more quickly than a lot of agencies. That’s not so say there aren’t many others doing a good job (Crispin Porter Bogusky, for example, with Twelpforce, Brammo and others is doing a great job.)
Credibility and value are the currency of social media. Companies are struggling to figure this one out, especially those that are used to think only in terms of *their* messages. You have an advantage over internal resources in companies: as an outsider, your advice may be followed. How do you work with companies to help them build better relationships with their customers?
At the same time, what I call the perfect storm (recession, Obama, media circus re: Oprah, Ellen, Ashton) has elevated client interest. We find that most clients get the idea of authenticity and transparency. They’re sometimes afraid of losing control, but they can be convinced to give it a try. Also, we have some pretty good case studies and real experience. That’s a big help in getting clients over the initial hurdles.
Consequently, we’re connecting many of our clients to their customers directly, either via Facebook and Twitter, or through crowdsourcing and invitations to submit content, or even via tools and utility that we’re building into social-like websites.
What do you think is in store for agencies in the next 3-5 years? Will agencies rethink their dependency on media? Is there a new model in sight?
I believe certain trends won’t go away: consumers want more control; they have complex relationships with media; they want to do business with people not companies; they have less patience; their expectations are higher; no one size fits all; and there’s a new definition of quality that’s more about fast, easy, portable and accessible.
All of this suggests agency’s need to be far more oriented toward social media. They need to create ways in which consumers can participate. They have to become more agile and flexible in the content they create and the ways in which they distribute it.
Even more importantly, technology, media, and distribution is now available to anyone for free. Look at what Chris Brogan has accomplished with the marketing of Trust Agents or how the recently released movie Paranormal Activity used word of mouth marketing.
Clients will expect work faster and cheaper. Current agency models don’t fit the new client expectations. We will see turmoil and transformation as new models emerge and take shape.
What is your personal secret sauce? How do you influence your colleagues and team?
Who would be your ideal client?
Of course, I also want them to value great creative and believe in social media. I’ve been in this business in one way or another for 33 years. My early inspirations were Walter Cronkite, Bill Bernbach, Edward L. Bernays, Woodward and Bernstein. They each defined the possibilities of communication and their respective medium.
But there is nothing that compares to the possibilities being offered by social media. I really believe that.
I've been known to say that the opposite of marketing fluff is a decision. Standing for something is important and it will help you break through the noise. As for trying new things, some of us are starting to do that, in small increments. That's because what used to work, well it doesn't work so much anymore.
These were my questions. What questions do you have for Edward?