Here is a transcript generated by of The Content Mix podcast interview with Alison Tyrrell global head of content, brand marketing and media at Spark Foundry, on how to build marketing experience:

Shaheen Samavati 0:13
Hi, everyone, I’m Shaheen from The Content Mix and I’m excited to be here with Alison Tyrrell, global head of content, brand marketing and media at Spark Foundry, which is one of five global media agency brands within Publicis Media and they specialize in media strategy across global markets. Thanks so much for joining us, Alison.

Alison Tyrrell 0:30
Thank you for inviting me. It’s so exciting.

Shaheen Samavati 0:33
So your agency has won numerous awards for content marketing, could you share with us a bit about your approach to content marketing, and maybe an example of something you’ve done that’s been recognized and that you’re especially proud of?

Alison Tyrrell 0:48
Yeah, sure. So we have been lucky enough to win quite a few awards for our clients and they can sometimes be something that’s as small as a UX design that we’ve done or something bigger, such as a content marketing strategy and how we try to create innovative content to be distinctive for the brand. I think, the most proud that I am of a campaign we’ve won awards for was one that we did for a client called UBS, one of the world’s largest wealth managers. They’ve got a really innovative marketing team so they allow us to do some pretty cool stuff. A few years ago, they wanted us to talk about a long term investment theme, which is artificial intelligence and to marry that with a famous economist, Herbert A Simon, who won an economic award, he’s a Nobel Laureate. So we needed to find a way of contemporising in the theme, right? How do we make this interesting to the general public? Why would they care about artificial intelligence when everybody’s talking about it and how do we make them care about a Nobel Laureate? So we created this really, really cool piece of content with the New York Times and the way that we thought of doing it was to embed AI into the content, and you could talk to the AI. It wasn’t a chatbot, this was legit AI. So you could talk to it about anything but every now and again, it would prompt you to learn a little bit more about how artificial intelligence has grown, from the time that Herbert A Simon did his study to where we are today. So we created a little film that featured Professor Ishiguro and he was talking about how he is trying to now embed human emotions into robots, which is pretty terrifying. It was interesting for us to actually teach you about the content, through the content, we’re teaching about artificial intelligence, with artificial intelligence. Obviously that came with risk, it took a hell of a lot of courage for UBS to take that leap, because you can’t control what that’s going to say. So it came with many disclaimers, but that’s probably the one that I’m most proud of.

Shaheen Samavati 3:01
Yeah, wow, that’s really cool. So you’re in the business of creativity, I wanted to ask you, what is your creative process? How do you guys come up with these crazy ideas in order to implement them?

Sure. I think it starts predominantly with data. So we don’t just finger to the wind it, we really need to understand what’s our objective. So we do a lot of data analysis, understanding the audience, their passion points, what are the crossovers between what the brand wants to be known as, to what the audience actually care about? Where are the audience? How are they consuming content? Are they predominantly in print? Are they predominantly TV? So we do a lot of analysis and once we’ve decided that, we figure out our objective. What is the thing that we’re trying to achieve and how do we want to measure it? Quite often, we partner with publications, because that’s where content is. So people don’t generally want to go to a brand website to learn more, they will go to where they usually go and read content, so we want to be there. The ideas come from a combination of the client to the brand, because they know their brand best. A little bit of us driving it from a data perspective and a lot is driven by the publisher because it’s what they do on a day to day basis, they create content. So it’s a marriage between the three, from an ideas perspective.

I see. So your role is head of content, brand marketing and media. Can you explain a bit more what that means and what your day to day is like?

Alison Tyrrell 4:37
Sure. So yeah, I sit within Spark Foundry looking after content. So I’ve worked with our clients and basically plug our clients into the capabilities of the entire company. So Spark Foundry is a agency within Publicis Media and Publicis Media is huge. So when a client decides to work with us for content, they’re not just working with us. They are working with the entire network, so if we need to work people from digital tasks to outcome, we will do. That’s what I have the capability of helping them with. My team do everything end to end. So we do the data analysis, we help a brand create what their brand communications are going to be. We build a strategy and media, we do the planning, the media buying, and then we do the activation. So end to end, setting up the campaign, optimizing it throughout. The optimizations could be basic media, optimizations to UX, if we’re seeing that people are going through the content and they’re stopping at a certain time, do we need to change an element of it? Do we need to change the experience on mobile so that you can do it within the area of your thumb? Do we need to change the creative look, are people responding more to red than they are green? So we do all of that, right down to the reporting at the very end. So everything.

Shaheen Samavati 6:01
Your role is global. So that means you work with markets around the world? How do you make your content resonate in different geographies?

Alison Tyrrell 6:08
Yeah, it’s a good question. To be honest it often comes down to what the objective of the brand is, right? If it’s a brand awareness piece, sometimes it’s a simple, one size fits all. But if we’re getting more down into performance, and targeted or short or term campaigns, it’s going to be more about localization. So we have teams globally, and quite often, we will leverage their expertise, because they’re going to know their region a hell of a lot better than I will. So, for example, we worked quite a lot with our team in Hong Kong, and they will help us make recommendations as to best media, best communication, sometimes it’s a language thing. I don’t mean speaking different languages, I mean, it can be quite literally a different word, even in an English language that people would respond to. So it’s understanding consumer and audience behavior in different regions. So from that perspective, we definitely rely on the ground teams for that, and we work collaboratively with them. So again, we’re not finger to the winding any of our ideas. They are based on facts.

Shaheen Samavati 7:15
So do you have offices in all the different markets?

Alison Tyrrell 7:18
Yes, we do. We’re a global company. So we’re everywhere.

Shaheen Samavati 7:23
So you’re coordinating with people in those offices all the time. But are they actually on your team?

Alison Tyrrell 7:30
Yeah, well, they would work in their own teams. Then, like I was saying, we can bring in the power of the entire company into any project that we have for our clients. But genuinely, quite honestly, a lot of it from a global perspective is managed by us, it would be if there was a localized opportunity, we will reach out to our local teams as they are the experts in that region.

Shaheen Samavati 7:54
I see. So do you have an example of a really international project that you’ve done, or something that was in a far away market?

Alison Tyrrell 8:03
Yeah, we’ve done a few. So a few years ago, we did a massive one where we tried to create an ecosystem, so we were talking to more than one audience type. So we needed different publications to suit the different audience types. So one was a broader level awareness piece on what the topic was and underneath that we had subject experts. So we don’t want to dumb down our topic, so we’re talking more in depth and we needed to find the right publication for that. Then we had to do that globally. So that came down to truly translating differently, we had toggles on our content. So depending on what region you are, you could quite easily change the language of the entire article, the entire video, different captions will come out. Also, something that we’re very conscious of in any global campaign that we do, we need to be very careful how we’re doing it. So what I mean there is we have done, again for UBS, some really cool pieces of content on the opportunities investing in China, but China naturally is going to be a target market to read that content to, so you don’t want to alienate the country by going, Oh, you know, we’re reading about ourselves in a third person. It needs to be quite natural, so that even they find it interesting. So there is quite a few different hurdles to overcome with global campaigns such as that. But the example that I gave there about using multiple publications to overcome those was a good example.

Shaheen Samavati 9:45
So I wanted to go to your personal story, how did you first break into marketing and what attracted you to the profession in the first place?

Alison Tyrrell 9:52
I fell into it completely by accident. So 15 years ago, I’d created a blog about art and fashion, specifically tattoo art, actually. I was writing blogs around the time that Chanel and Louis Vuitton had tattooed models on the runway and interviews with quite famous tattoo artists or influences in their own right within the tattoo industry. I work with some of my friends who are photographers and they travel. So I was getting them to meet up with these people in America, the UK and Ireland and do photo shoots, so everything was quite professionally done. It was all basically just purely on hobbies, I was making no money out of it. This is when content marketing was as easy as just stuffing something with keywords. But that did quite well and based on that I got asked to help a few companies with their digital presence. Again, this is 15 years ago. So I did that for a while, I freelanced and helped a few companies, then based on that I started working with Mondelēz International and that’s when it became more of a corporate job. So I learned a lot about Corporate affairs and PR and then I went to study that. It just grew from there and then I’m where I am today. So I kind of fell into it completely by accident. It was a nice try.

Shaheen Samavati 11:24
It sounds like you’re a natural at it.

Alison Tyrrell 11:26
I wouldn’t say that.

Shaheen Samavati 11:29
But it came out of a personal interest.

Alison Tyrrell 11:31
Yeah, exactly. It’s the best of a creative bunch. If you’re going to work corporately, I get the opportunity to be creative. So it suits me, I guess.

Shaheen Samavati 11:42
Yeah. What you were saying before, you were working in corporates before you came to Spark Foundry, which was about five years ago. So I was curious, how do you compare the experience. What’s it like working for a large brand or corporation compared to working in an agency?

Alison Tyrrell 12:00
Yeah, completely different. So I mean there’s elements that I miss about working brand side, when you’re working brand side you truly understand the brand that you’re selling. You live and breathe every day, everybody around you is living and breathing it. But I guess what I’ve learned and gained agency side is a hell of a lot more knowledge on what goes on in the background. I think having the combination of the two really helps. When I was brand side, I knew what the strategic blue sky vision was that we wanted for the brand and then you try and execute, and you trust your agency team to deliver the detail, so you trust what they say but you never truly understood what it meant because you weren’t managing it. Now I’m on the flip side of that. So it’s much harder to slog, but from an experience and growth point of view, you learn a hell of a lot more agency side and a hell of a lot faster. In regards to similarities, I think you’re still dealing with the same stuff. There’s a lot of red tape, the bigger the company that you’re working for, the more internal red tape you have. So whilst i’m agency side and we don’t have the red tape, we still experience it on behalf of our clients, if that makes sense. So we’ve still got the same hurdle.

Shaheen Samavati 13:16
Definitely. So you also have this experience working abroad in Australia. I was curious how you compared working in marketing there, compared to working in Ireland and the UK, where you are now? I guess you’re in between Ireland and the UK.

Alison Tyrrell 13:33
Yeah, it’s interesting when I was in Australia, in Australian marketing we used to always look to London and be like the UK killing it. They know exactly what to do. It’s brilliant. So when I moved to London, I felt like I was falling into the epicenter of marketing. But then in London, we were looking back to Australia going, oh my god Australia are innovative, they’re doing things way ahead of us. So the grass is always greener, but in truth, I do think Australia are leading the way, they’re always about four or five years ahead. When we were in Australia, we were talking about audio marketing, and we were setting up podcasts for clients. That was now maybe seven or eight years ago. I’ve got clients now who I’m still trying to convince to do audio marketing in London. So you know, I think Australia, they truly are ahead of the curve. They really are.

Shaheen Samavati 14:34
Very cool. Then I wanted to ask what advice would you have for anyone who wants to get their foot in the door at a large agency like Publicis?

Alison Tyrrell 14:45
Yeah, that’s a good question. Publicis in particular actually have a really good graduate program and they also have a lot of entry level opportunities. So the low hanging fruit for anybody trying to enter the industry as a career, I would highly advise reaching out to the recruitment, which you can easily find that by googling it, the HR group within Publicis Media, because what they do is store your CV and as soon as the next program comes available, you get the opportunity to partake. What that program involves, quite often, is experiencing many of the different teams so it could be sitting within my team in content, it could be media only, it might be biddable media, it could be production only. Basically, you get to experience the entire company and then decide which one you like best. So I think that that’s probably the best way in.

Shaheen Samavati 15:40
Okay, and what skills do you think are most important nowadays?

Alison Tyrrell 15:44
This is another interesting one, when I’m hiring for my team, I care more about experience than I do degrees, that’s just me. If they were to do education, then a communications and/or psychology have been the strongest things to study if you want to go into marketing. At the end of the day, what we do doesn’t take a genius, but what it does take is an empathy to understand human behavior, human psychology. So if you’ve got that as an underpinning, if it’s an interest of yours even, then I think that’s definitely something to come forward with. That’s something that I would look for, are people interested in the psychology of the way we think? And if so, then that’s definitely a good foundation to join the team.

Shaheen Samavati 16:44
Yeah, and actually, a question that comes up in our community a lot is like how to get that experience, if you don’t have it. Your example of how you got started is interesting, because it was based on a project of personal interest, right?

Alison Tyrrell 17:00
Exactly, that and just like reading books, if it’s a genuine interest of yours, then you’re probably reading or listening to podcasts, or you’re learning about it enough to have an opinion and opinion is good. There’s so much content out there, all you have to do is Google marketing tips, strategies, Ted Talks and there’s so much inspiration out there to gather what element of marketing you’re interested in.

Shaheen Samavati 17:26
So that’s a good segway into talking about your recommendations. So yeah, what’s a source of professional inspiration for you?

Alison Tyrrell 17:38
Okay, so I listen a lot to podcasts, I listen a lot to audiobooks. Again, I probably do watch a few YouTube videos, to hear what other companies are doing, what other campaigns are doing, get inspiration from them. Bookwise, I highly recommend the Blue Ocean Strategy. I read that a few years ago now and truly, it did change the way that I approached marketing campaigns and it still does. I love the way that they are getting you to change the perspective of how you’re looking at doing things because, without giving too much about the book away, because I do highly recommend that your viewers do read it, it gives you a good approach to how you differentiate what you’re doing from your competitors. Quite often success is only a one degree shift to the right or the left, it doesn’t need something massively different. So the book really helps you identify what that is. Other things that I would listen to would be Masters of Scale, or How I Built This. So basically, entrepreneur podcasts. The reason I listen to them, is that there’s so much to learn from a successful business and a successful entrepreneur, because they are truly the masters of finding opportunity and challenge. As a marketer, that’s what you do every day, you’re trying to understand who the audience are and you’re trying to understand how to overcome the challenges that you have to reach them in a valuable way. So gaining inspiration from them is highly valuable as well.

Shaheen Samavati 19:19
Absolutely, I really like the Masters of Scale podcast as well, Reid Hoffman, right?

Alison Tyrrell 19:23
Yes, exactly. Yeah.

Shaheen Samavati 19:25
It’s really good. Any favorite app that you would recommend?

Alison Tyrrell 19:31
Yeah, probably Audible right now. Audible, I’m using a lot just for personal reading and also for business and to stay on top of things. It gives you the freedom to go during your lunch break and go for a walk around the block because we’re all in lock down, and you can listen to something that just takes your mind out into the possibilities, so Audible is definitely my most used app at the moment.

Shaheen Samavati 20:03
So we’re reaching the end of the interview. So I just wanted to ask if you have any parting advice for other content marketers in Europe?

Alison Tyrrell 20:11
My advice would be to read books on human behavior. So How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp is a key bible. There’s more books on behavioral economics, look them up, because it’s super simple, it’s basic, nothing’s changed in the history of marketing and it always comes down to the fundamentals. I think that we get really, really lost in the cost per clicks and whilst they’re important, there’s a much bigger picture to marketing. I would highly recommend just getting your head stuck into understanding human behaviors and the fundamentals of it. That would be my advice.

Shaheen Samavati 20:55
Absolutely. That’s a very, very good point and a great note to end on. So thank you so much, Alison, for sharing your insights with us today.

Alison Tyrrell 21:04
Thank you.

Shaheen Samavati 21:06
Thanks to everybody for listening in. For more perspectives on the content marketing industry in Europe, check out and keep tuning into the podcast for daily interviews with content experts. See you next time. Bye.

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