Joining Online Conversation Is Lucrative for We Are Social; GROWTH CAPITAL HOW LONDON'S ENTREPRENEURS ARE BUCKING THE ECONOMIC GLOOM

The Evening Standard (London, England), November 26, 2012 | Go to article overview

Joining Online Conversation Is Lucrative for We Are Social; GROWTH CAPITAL HOW LONDON'S ENTREPRENEURS ARE BUCKING THE ECONOMIC GLOOM


Byline: Gideon Spanier

WE ARE Social could not have existed until a few years ago. Robin Grant and Nathan McDonald only founded their marketing agency in 2008 when they saw how Facebook, Twitter and other sites were revolutionising the way people communicate. The two former advertising executives felt traditional agencies were not coping with this new world, where consumers wanted to have conversations, not be bombarded with brand messages.

"Most of these agencies were set up in a very traditional way to tell stories," explains Grant, sitting next to McDonald in their bright offices in Farringdon, complete with table-tennis table. "It's not the way people behave online. You have to look at what existing conversations there are and try and join them and provoke new conversations. That requires a totally different mindset.

"We call ourselves a conversation agency," he adds, explaining why their start-up differs from an advertising, public relations or digital agency. "They all come with baggage."

Not having baggage has worked. Turnover has leapt from [pounds sterling]400,000 in year one to [pounds sterling]1.5 million in 2010 and [pounds sterling]4.9 million in 2011. In the last financial year to June 2012, it was [pounds sterling]12 million.

Winning international clients including Adidas, Jaguar and Heineken fuelled growth. We Are Social opened its first overseas office in Paris in 2010 and now operates in Milan, Munich, New York, Sydney, Singapore and Sao Paulo. Staff numbers have soared to 270.

Grant, 39, grew up in Herne Hill and studied aeronautical engineering at Bristol University. McDonald, 38, is an Australian who studied sociology in Sydney before moving to London.

They met as colleagues at digital agency Tribal DDB nearly a decade ago, but their separate experiences of working during the first dot-com bubble before that were crucial. "We've seen hubris get to you -- signing ridiculous leases, having boardroom tables made out of aeroplane wings," says Grant.

So when they decided to launch We Are Social, they agreed a lean approach. They had some savings, recalls McDonald, so all they needed were "a couple of laptops and a broadband connection".

They got a flying start as they landed Skype, the video-conferencing website, as a client. "Skype were predisposed to this kind of thing culturally -- they were a start-up themselves," says Grant. …

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