PR Interview with Niall Cook and Anthony Burgess-Webb, Advisors and Owners of Sociagility

Sociagility is a different kind of agency; it specialises in social media consultancy for its clients. Putting ‘social’ into the heart of businesses, advisors and owners Niall Cook and Anthony Burgess-Webb explain how important performance on the likes of Twitter and Facebook can be to gaining a competitive advantage.

About the consultancy

What does Sociagility offer to clients?

Sociagility’s key point of difference is that we are a consultancy focused on improving our clients’ competitive advantage by helping them build their own social media capability, in-house.We provide solutions in three areas– analytics, consultancy and talent – but the strategy offered to each client is unique to them.

Our analytic approach combines a traditional audit approach with our proprietary PRINT™ methodology, a multi-channel measurement system that correlates directly with brand value and provides a KPI for marketers. It offers brands and organisations insight into the key drivers of their – and their competitors’ – social media performance and provides a series of indicators to help determine priorities for action.

We also help clients put social at the heart of their business operations by directly linking it to commercial, marketing and communications goals and challenges. We help define objectives and action plans, align across departments and channels, and put relevant metrics in place. Thirdly, we have a specialist team which discovers internal talent and also offers secondment and recruitment. Combined with training, mentoring and the transfer of knowledge and skills, this helps our clients build sustainable in-house social expertise.

Are there any particular kinds of organisations that are more inclined to use a social media strategy?

New organisations are usually more likely to try new things but some of the most effective users of social media for brand marketing are large, established companies. It all depends on the management.

How do you tailor the strategy for individual clients?

Our DISC process (Diagnosis, Integration, Strategy, Capability) is designed to address each brand or company problem individually and tailor the solutions which are most appropriate. Core to our approach is that a strong in-house capability is desirable and the key to sustainable competitive advantage.

How does Sociagility differ from traditional PR agencies offering social media campaigns?

First, we are not a PR company. Second, unlike most PR, advertising and web agencies our approach is not designed to generate continuous agency work supporting campaigns but based on short consultancy assignments. These are intended to improve internal client capability, allowing them to engage with social media themselves, directly and authentically.

Sociagility recently ranked some of the world’s leading brands according to their social value. Did you find any surprising results?
The most surprising result overall was how closely PRINT™ measures of social brand value correlate with traditional, established rankings of brand value like BrandZ and Interbrand. Statistical tests show this correlation to be at the 95% level of confidence, a level associated with successful laboratory tests, let alone marketing.

Within the study itself, there were some surprising individual laggards like VISA, IBM and Gillette. Even amongst the leaders, like Google and Apple, there were some worrying indications that, despite their huge popularity, they may be in danger of being perceived as a bit arrogant.

In your opinion, what are the main challenges brands encounter when using social media?

They are enormously varied but they fall into two categories – conceptual/strategic and practical/tactical. Conceptually, most senior managers, even those with a theoretical knowledge of social media, lack immersion in social media day to day and have to rely on others, often agencies, to decide how to engage. In practical terms, the social media landscape is fast-changing and can be confusing and there are few established ‘rules’. Overall, the biggest single problem is the lack of accepted key performance indicators that allow companies to see when they are doing well and where to improve. This is why we created the PRINT system to allow social media performance to be connected to organisational performance using an objective set of metrics.

About clients

Can you list some of your most well-known, or respected clients?
We have analysed the social media performance of a variety of companies in recent months, including Boden, M&S, Next and Starbucks. We’ve also recently undertaken consultancy for the University of Reading and business intelligence specialist Project Brokers.

How do you measure a brand’s effective use of social media?
We use both qualitative and quantitative measures. On the quantitative side we use our proprietary PRINT™ methodology. The PRINT Index™ is a relative measure of a brand’s official profiles on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, plus their own website, against the five ‘PRINT’ attributes: popularity, receptiveness, interaction, network reach and trust. In addition to the Index score, PRINT provides individual scores for each attribute and each channel, allowing practical, actionable insights.

What is the most memorable work you’ve undertaken for a client?
One of the most satisfying recent projects has been for a client in the higher education sector for whom we have been engaged in developing an overall strategy covering internal and external communications.

Is there a potential client you’d love to work for?
So many!

What advice would you give to a small start up wanting to strengthen their brand?
Put ‘social’ at the heart of your business and build everything around that.

About you

What media do you seek out first thing in the morning?
BBC online, FT, Guardian plus Twitter trends.

Are you involved in any other projects?
The founders both provide pro bono support to Iwokrama, a rainforest preserve in Guyana. Niall Cook is a trustee of East Anglia Children’s Hospices. Tony Burgess-Webb is an investor and consultant to Commetric, a brand research company and CommEq, a news-based trading platform.

Name three guests you’d invite to a dinner party and why.
Tony: David Mitchell, Eddie Izzard & Bill Bailey…an evening of surreal hilarity!
Niall: Peter Mandelson (he must have a few stories to tell), Steve Jobs (posthumously, obviously) & Edward de Bono.

Do you attend networking events? If so, which are you attending soon?
We’re both regular attendees at social media and marketing events, both as attendees and speakers. In March, Tony will be presenting at the CIM Higher Education Annual Conference on how the UK is lagging the rest of the world in the use of social media for student recruitment, and Niall is one of six authors invited by the CIM Levitt Group to address some of the most senior marketers in the UK at the Six Great Minds event in March.

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
Tony: Relax – you can’t do it all today.
Niall: It’s easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

[img|jpg|Niall Cook and Anthony Burgess-Webb]

Check out our Media Jobs board for PR and Journalism vacancies Learn more