‘Hire Internet kids, let them loose’ and 5 more takeaways from the 2015 Ad Age Digital Conference

Ad Age’s Digital Conference this week saw a range of speakers touch on topics from story making to conversation as content, yet a less obvious theme emerged as brands hinted towards the internal strategies used in setting themselves up for digital success.

Here are five quick and practical takeaways to think about baking into your brand’s culture:

Kraft’s Bob Rupczynski and Julie Fleischer examine data at the Ad Age Digital Conference. Credit: Patrick Butler

Hire ‘internet kids’ and let them fail

For some brands the idea of hiring ‘internet kids’ may sound daunting, however Taco Bell’s partner and chief digital officer, Winston Binch, championed this idea through examples of Taco Bell’s own success in taking risks with its millennial staff, such as its Valentine’s Day Snapchat activation, which resulted in over 100K screenshots, an impressive metric of engagement on the platform. On hiring millennials he said: “Hire internet kids and turn them loose. It’s one thing to hire young people, but I really think [it’s important to] let them fail, but be in the wings so that they don’t fail too hard.”

Invest in training

Beyond the obvious move of hiring already digitally-literate employees, you should also be investing in training your current staff to fill in the gaps that have emerged since they exited the academic field and entered the workforce, speakers agreed. According to Julia Fleischer, senior director of data and media at Kraft, a primary reason sat around helping the organisation to understand data. “They don’t teach data literacy in business school. The first thing we needed to do was train the organisation’s 400 marketers with things like tagging and taxonomy, and the role of cookies.”

Talent matters

Speaking at the start of day two, Bloomberg Media’s CEO Justin Smith ended his fireside chat with a view on what he believes the most important element of a media company should be: “There’s a whole recipe of course, and everyone has his or her own recipe, but to me the secret ingredient in my recipe is talent. That ingredient is 80% of the recipe. If you’re obsessed with talent standards and create a culture that is obsessed with that then 80% of the work is done. There’s the saying that 90% of life is showing up, and my version of that is that 80% of the work is achieved with talent.”

Tap your employees’ other talents

LinkedIN executive editor Dan Roth spoke about the potential of his platform by discussing the opportunity brands have in tapping into the authenticity and engagement of its own employees via the articles they post, no matter their relevancy. “Employees average 10 times the social following that their employers do and have higher engagement,”he explained. He described the halo effect of employees sharing their own content on the platform as people often click through to see the company a person works for, thus increasing and enriching brand awareness. Tressie Lieberman, senior director of digital marketing platforms and social engagement at Taco Bell, also said: “Unleash the potential of the people. When our younger employees bring up a word I haven’t heard before, that’s a good thing. We have things like the millennial word of the week and reverse mentoring at Taco Bell.”

Think like a start-up

Omar Johnson, CMO at Beats by Dr.Dre, had one of the most engaging fireside chats of the first day. He finished it off by discussing the way growth has affected the brand’s culture, describing a philosophy not dissimilar to that of a start-up. “Our culture is influenced by how we build our teams. My team is 60% female. I have Asian, Hispanic, purple hair, tattoos, no tattoos; we’re a diverse team. Growth has impacted the culture in that we have to organise a bit more and work a bit further out, but we have not lost our marketing agility, we just plan.” He gave the example of a few basketball ads Beats is doing, but they don’t want to shoot someone that isn’t going to be in the playoffs. “While the ad is planned, we won’t shoot it until much later than traditional brands. We have strike teams in production and filming that can work very fast and are ready to do so,” he explained.

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