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Q: What’s the skinny on your background – how did you get to The Drum?
A: I started out covering venture capital and mutual funds, but my heart wasn’t in it, so I went to journalism school for a Master’s degree. I interned at Good Housekeeping and Martha Stewart Living, thinking my future was with a food magazine, and graduated just in time to see journalism implode in 2008. As a result, I began freelancing – writing for whoever would pay me, to be honest – but then a friend introduced me to an editor at ClickZ and I’ve been writing about digital marketing ever since. I’ve been with The Drum in particular for about a year now.
Q: What’s the skinny on The Drum – how did IT get here?
The Drum is the brainchild of Editor-in-Chief Gordon Young and Digital Director Nick Creed, who launched their first magazine when they were classmates in Glasgow. The Drum followed some years later to focus on creativity – and has since become the biggest website in Europe for marketing. The name itself is derived from “jungle drum,” a slang term for gossip that Young was particularly fond of. However, in a video about The Drum’s history, Young said he post-rationalized that the drum was also the first instrument of mass communication. The Drum expanded to New York in 2015 and opened an office in Singapore in 2016.
Q: You write a lot about search – SEO, PPC the whole thing. What’s new – what has you thinking: “That could be worth writing about?”
A: The beautiful thing about digital marketing is there’s always something new to write about. This
may come out of left field, but I’ve been really interested in AI lately – and I’m not a big sci-fi fan, so I’ve learned a lot about things like sentience and singularity as I’ve researched how AI will evolve and impact consumers’ lives. There are SO MANY stories here. AI could be my beat and I’d be perfectly happy.
I also think voice search is really interesting – particularly when it comes to connected devices, data and anticipating consumer needs. I talked to a guy from Huge about a year ago – and some of things he alluded to about connected ecosystems run by virtual assistants who know you and your preferences and can perform groups of actions, like, say, booking a flight or making a restaurant reservation, are already more or less here, which is kind of crazy, right? And I was at a conference a few months ago and saw a woman onstage with a dress I really liked and thought, “I wish I could take a picture of that dress and see where I could buy it!” And now a number of platforms are making that a reality, too. That’s incredible.
I also think privacy is a really interesting topic now – I don’t think consumers realize how much data brands/marketers/platforms have about them or how they use it. And this gets REALLY interesting when it comes to things like, say, connected toys because I don’t think parents – myself included – read the disclosures before giving these toys to their children. That doll, My Friend Cayla, which was banned in Germany because it was deemed a tool for espionage, is a wild, wild example.
I also have a soft spot for long-time brand icons like the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and the Goodyear Blimp and mascots like the Jolly Green Giant and Mr. Clean. I think it’s fascinating that these are, like, relics of a bygone marketing era and, other than Progressive’s Flo, Allstate’s Mayhem and Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World, they are arguably going extinct.
And, of course, I love marketing stories that are a little quirky, like Heinz bringing its Mad Men ads to life – or its more recent Chicago Hot Dog Sauce – and the octogenarian basketball team that is now sponsored by 84-year-old brand Miracle Whip. Those stories have a special place in my heart.
And, of course, any brand that uses technology in an interesting and/or unexpected way. It’s always a thrill to find a new campaign/effort that does something new.
Q: The Drum search awards are right around the corner. What sort of categories are involved and what do you think the judges will be looking for mainly?
A: My colleagues and I are flooded with pitches each day and, to be honest, I ignore most of them.
And I think it’s kind of like dating, actually – if you don’t lead with your very best stuff and it doesn’t elicit a response, it’s probably not going to happen. So think it’s a little funny when I hear from the same PR person again and again and again. If it’s a bad pitch, you’re not going to wear me down. In PR and in life.
So I would imagine judges are looking for something similar across categories like Agency of the Year, Most Innovative Search Campaign and Best Use of Voice Search: They want interesting campaigns that incorporate technology in new ways and capture consumer attention because they provide value in some way. Those are the brand executions I like writing about and that I also think will resonate most with the judges.
Q: The awards kick off with a “crystal ball” type panel session next week, with your fabulous self moderating. What will you be wearing? – OK – only joking. What’s that all about and who’s on the panel?
A: Well…since you asked, I’m going to wear a dress with pandas on it. (This is true.)
In addition to Acronym’s own Mike Grehan, this incredible panel also includes: Microsoft’s Purna Virji, Mobile Monkey’s Larry Kim, Yext’s Jeffrey Rohrs and Google’s Christina Connor. I’m still putting the finishing touches on my questions, but I think the conversation about how search will evolve will undoubtedly touch on AI, voice search, visual search and local search. But I can’t wait to see where the panelists take it.
Q: Please, could you explain in detail how RankBrain works at Google?
A: I know this is a joke, but I’m going to give it my best shot:
RankBrain is the machine learning component of Google’s overall algorithm – and Google has reportedly said it’s the third-most important factor it uses to rank webpages. I’ll leave it to the panelists to explain the rest.
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