The Agency Interview: 28 Questions With James Campbell

February 20, 2017

James Campbell is General Manger at Mindshare in Singapore. He’s catching up on “Breaking Bad,” is annoyed by the buzzword “consumers” and is thrilled by the possibilities of data. Read on to find out why he’s looking forward to more disruption in 2017 and to see his 28 answers to our 28 questions.

1. What did you have for breakfast this morning?

Two mini pain au chocolat, a workshop breakfast. And rather a lot at the lunch buffet… anything for a freebee.

2. What’s the last great thing you binge watched and why?

“Breaking Bad.” I’m rather behind on the drama series, because I suspended all video consumption for five years while my children watched Nick Jr. It was a bit of a revelation, and I did bang on about it rather a lot… what next?

3. What’s the industry buzzword that annoys you the most these days?

“Consumers.” It seems to be only designed to make marketers willfully forget that they are people.

4. Where do you think the future of programmatic ad buying is headed, particularly for B2B?

It is headed towards arranging interesting brand and content experiences for niche target audiences that are accountable towards commercial results. Obviously, central to that is data, and we all know how powerful advertiser-owned data is. So we are seeing more brands interested in sharing their own data in exchange for enriching their own data sets. This is extremely exciting — we are moving away from brands just being media owners to data owners, which has potential to be a big disruption.

5. What’s the last great book you read? Why was it great?

“The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence” by Martin Meredith. It gives you context on a continent that is hard to understand, in a way that is easy to understand.

6. What’s your favorite vacation spot?

It’s always a toss-up between generic resort with kids club (which is awesome) and somewhere you’ll remember. If you haven’t been, go to Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, because you can nail the pool, the food, the ancient history and the modern culture in one glorious scoop. At Mindshare we also support a charity there called Helping Hands which does amazing work… get in touch with me and arrange a visit. You won’t regret it.

7. What’s the biggest change in the agency business since you started?

When I started in the agency business, the sales reps were almost bizarre emanations of the brands they represented. The reps from Vogue were beautiful with perfect hair, the reps from FHM were lads, the reps from Country Life trundled into our offices almost in wellington boots. Now we are a media and technology company, and our media partners sense that selling a context is less important than delivering an audience at a point in time. Our media partners are faster and more open… the ones that survive are more entrepreneurial. It’s a lot more interesting.

8. How have you (and your agency) adapted?

Resoundingly, we have adapted and continue to adapt, which is why we continue to win the flagship awards, and which is why Mindshare continues to invest, win, lose, scrap, change, re-invest. The culture of not resting on your laurels has never been more pertinent. The importance of listening — really listening — is 10 times more important than ever. I find if you listen hard enough, the brave decisions don’t seem so brave any more, they are just common sense, and we work it out from there.

9. What’s your proudest moment in business?

Entering any of our team for awards, and doubly brilliant when they win. It’s fun. Your own successes are never as fun, because you always know you could have done it better, and what you did do was down to a team effort.

10. In life?

Well, apart from my kids…

When I was 21 I lived in Japan and was working as a teacher. The 2002 World Cup came about, and with my friend thought it would be a good chance to earn a bit of extra cash. So we designed these awful t-shirts — complete with a dodgy logo of Mt. Fuji to sell at games. We printed stacks of them to sell at games. Well, after two weeks of laying out blankets outside the stadiums, being met by disinterested punters and being chased off by FIFA we had sold about three t-shirts. Lame. But then, just before the final, I got an idea to print the scores on the t-shirts, with a hot iron, so that when people came out the game, they could have an immediate souvenir to their night. When Ronaldo banged in the second goal in the 79 minutes, we printed 200 T-Shirts of “Brazil, World Cup Winners 2002: and rushed down to the ground. We sold out in about 25 minutes... successful adaptive marketing to hot Brazilian tourists… proud.

11. What’s the most important way the rise of social media, from YouTube to Facebook to LinkedIn, has changed the way companies reach their audiences?

The change is desperately minimal. At the moment most social media platforms are selling themselves on reach, because everyone is addicted to social media, which is the best opportunity to make money. The “social” element of social has therefore been deliberately underplayed. So ‘social media’ has become just a data and reach opportunity. In truth (even recognizing algorithm change), the number outstanding social campaigns (with notable exceptions) is disappointing, because brands are not focusing on the few truly amazing things that they can say. Social media platforms have taken an amazing opportunity and preached vanilla, and this is very palatable to marketers… because they can get passable content out at scale come what may. It will stay like that until brands stop thinking like brands and start thinking like people.

12. Digital ad spending is poised to surpass TV ad spending. Is this a problem for agencies or an opportunity?

Making the complex simple is always an opportunity.

13. Is content marketing an evolution or a revolution?

It should be an evolution. The trouble is that content is like resting on your laurels. People (clients and agencies) can develop a false security that they are “doing content,” so they are responding to “banner blindness.” The truth is that people will be as blind to boring content as they are to boring advertising. Content marketing has been around forever; the difference now is content overload. So we all need to recognize that we can get information and inspiration from anywhere, and we need to raise the bar. I know plenty of people disagree, but we should be looking at less and better content, distributed brilliantly and not look to “personalization” as a laurel to rest on in itself.

14. What is attractive to you about Singapore?

I was extremely lucky to be brought up in a beautiful country house, bordered by fields and forests. But, being 10 miles from the nearest town, I could rarely enjoy it with friends. Some of my friends were brought up kicking football in the street. That barely exists now in most parts of the country I came from. My kids can knock on the doors of five or six units in our condo and play with their friends inside and outside. That is magic.

15. How has the availability of data changed marketing (or not)?

Data is a race, and we are investing heavily in data partnerships and visualization, because that is where we are at, and data remains patchy in Asia. But data is also both an opportunity and a laurel. When we fully understand the data, and the opportunity, and the brand, and the people we are selling to, we will still need to invent business and marketing ideas that change their lives or at the very least intrigue them. So… has the availability of data changed marketing? A mix of innovating, understanding, inventing… sounds familiar. That’s why marketing is brilliant.

16. How do you use LinkedIn — for networking? For content marketing? Searching for talent? For sales prospecting? For staying abreast of news?

I like LinkedIn, personally and professionally for all of the above, but I find the most productive use is to look for talent and also to understand the background of the people that we are trying to introduce Mindshare to.

17. How do you use LinkedIn advertising for your clients, and what’s working well for them?

LinkedIn is superb for B2B clients where data is at its most valued. I also find LinkedIn does invest in new products and ideas. What works best is when we engage with the brilliant sales and vertical teams at LinkedIn to create new and different solutions, which is usually about identifying unique audiences and content solutions.

18. What is your top-secret superpower?

Saying a cheery good morning to everyone on my way from the office door to my desk in the morning. It costs about four seconds in additional time, max. God knows whether people like it or not, but it certainly makes you feel like a human when you power up the Lenovo.

19. Who should play you in the movie version of your life?

Arnold Schwarzenegger, circa 1988, because he’s ripped and also a benevolent terminator — which is aspirational.

20. If you weren't at Mindshare, what would you be doing?

Living a fugitive existence, with endless cross-government sponsored money, a fake ID, a Colt and a ludicrously hot Armenian girlfriend. Obviously.

21. What is your favorite cartoon character and why?

It’s a toss up between Princess Jasmine from Aladdin and Winnie the Pooh. Surely no need to explain why.

22. What do you have an irrational hatred for?

When people eat tomato ketchup with chips and have a little speck of ketchup on the corner of their mouth. I guess it’s more of a phobia.

23. Best movies ever. Go:

"Love Actually," "Die Hard with A Vengeance."

24. What did you want to be when you grew up?

A missionary. My parents were very religious — my dad is a preacher — and I was attracted to the adventure of the developing world.

25. What's your most annoying habit?

I tend to bang on about the importance of listening. I also say ‘cracking’ too much — like ‘cracking effort guys!’, which is annoying, on reflection.

26. How long would you survive a zombie apocalypse?

I would listen to the zombies in a neutral setting. We would reach an amicable arrangement. Hopefully it would be fine… unless I banged on too much and they got a bit bitey.

27. What jobs did you have in high school and what lessons did you learn from them that you still put into practice today?

I did every type of crap job in high school, and I learned that dustbin men are actually much loved… which is brilliant. Some people actually wait for dustbin men to arrive and give them orange squash on a hot day. Amazing! But the biggest lesson I take is when I did a hard direct telesales role. It taught me that effort is important but secondary to belief. Effort can be laurel. Trying hard, working long hours doesn’t guarantee anything. You have to believe. You have to make it happen. That’s it.

28. What are you most looking forward to in 2017?

The agency business is ripe for disruption. It’s a battle. We have a great team, and we have some awesome plans afoot. So bring it on.

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