5 Minutes with… Alastair Cotterill
As Global Head of Pinterest’s in-house creative team The Studio, it’s Alastair Cotterill’s job to work with brands and their agencies to develop native content for the social platform. It’s been just under two years since he set up The Studio and in that time the team has already helped partners win Cannes Lions, D&AD and Clio Awards for campaigns such as Krylon’s ’The First Ever Pinterest Yard Sale’. Prior to joining Pinterest, Alastair oversaw European advertising creative on Instagram and worked on the Creative Shop team at Facebook. His initial forays into advertising were at Mindshare, Dare and MullenLowe.
LBB’s Addison Capper grabbed Alastair to discuss Pinterest’s newly launched ‘Pin Collective’ - a tool to help brands work with content creators on Pinterest - the importance of switching off and why he taught himself how to code.
LBB> Your initial jobs in creativity/advertising were for more traditional agencies - what tempted you over to work on creative for social networks?
Alastair Cotterill> I’ve always been interested in technology. As I began to notice the role social networks were playing in people's lives, I was fascinated and saw it as a chance to be at the forefront of figuring out what the creative opportunity was.
LBB> Your first social network jobs were at Facebook and then, once they’d acquired it, Instagram. What tempted you over to Pinterest?
AC> Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest each play very different roles in people's lives, and I've loved having the opportunity to understand the creative opportunity of each platform. Pinterest is completely unique in that people come to discover and do the things they love, and brands are inherent in that process. Brands truly add to the experience of the platform and I’m really excited to work on making that better every day.
Krylon - The First Ever Pinterest Yard Sale
LBB> Part of your move to Pinterest involved relocating to San Francisco - how have you found the experience of being embedded in Silicon Valley?
AC> I had been back and forth to Silicon Valley so many times that I thought I knew it pretty well but then living and working here is a totally different experience. You’re surrounded by extremely talented people working on a wide spectrum of ideas and all slightly infused with San Francisco’s unique blend of counterculture and liberalism.
LBB> How did you get into the Silicon Valley world in the first place? Was it always the plan or more of a happy accident?
AC> Getting into tech was definitely a happy accident. Then once you're working in tech I guess you’re drawn to Silicon Valley. I resisted moving for a long time but then with the opportunity and timing it made sense and I've been loving it ever since.
LBB> I’ve read that you taught yourself how to code in your spare time - what pushed you to do that? Was it a hobby or did you have work in the back of your mind?
AC> Ha, no! The truth is I was bored in my job and it certainly wasn't what I was supposed to be doing at the time! I had no great plans but was curious and excited by the potential of the Internet and loved being able to create something by punching lines of code into a computer.
LBB> Advertising on social media is nowadays part and parcel of the experience. But it’s such a fine line between being a nuisance for a user and seamlessly integrating it into their experience. With that in mind - what are the tricks to nailing it?
AC> These platforms play an important role in people’s lives and we have a huge responsibility to make sure that advertising actually adds real value. There's no trick to it really, it's just about understanding why people are there and caring deeply about making ads that are entertaining, inspiring and useful, to make sure they add to people's experience and are worthy of their time. This is why I’m so excited about Pinterest. People come to Pinterest looking for ideas from brands so ads are already an inherently positive part of the experience, like in Vogue or with movie trailers.
LBB> In your role you must work with a huge array of brands - a much larger spectrum than when you worked at an agency. What challenges and experiences does this way of working offer?
AC> I love it. I’ve had the privilege of working with most major brands and in most major markets around the world. These platforms have opened lots of doors to brands but also to record companies, sports teams, movie studios and all sorts of diverse organisations. I've learned so much from all of these experiences but the challenge is that career paths are often less clearly defined and that you're constantly on your toes, and on planes!
LBB> You also collaborate with agencies on the work they’re doing for their clients - how do you find that?
AC> Most of our days are spent collaborating with agencies to help them bring their ideas to life through the platform. These collaborations are always exciting and I think marks a new model where the brand, agency and platform come together to find ways to connect people with big brand ideas in the spaces where they're spending so much of their time.
LBB> What do you look for when hiring new talent at The Studio? Do you tend to look to quite ‘traditional’ advertising schools or elsewhere?
AC> I look for people that have some background in brand building but I don’t care what school you went to. I care about what work you put into the world, how you think, and how you hustle. Tech companies move fast and there's constant change so you have to be really comfortable with that and having an entrepreneurial spirit is often what sets people apart.
LBB> In September Pinterest announced the launch of a self-serve creative platform and solution for brands. What can you tell us about that? Why was it an important move for Pinterest?
AC> The Pin Collective is our way of making it easy for brands to connect with professional content creators for Pinterest. We’ve partnered with Popular Pays to build out an ever-growing network of individuals that brands and agencies are partnering with to create high quality content specifically designed for the platform.
LBB> We’re nearing Christmas and you’ve just developed the first ever Secret Santa on Pinterest - can you tell us more about that project?
AC> For Santa Loves Pinterest we developed a nifty little app that makes gift recommendations for your friends based on what they’re saving on Pinterest. Check out pinterestsecretsanta.com
LBB> What else exciting is happening on The Studio team right now?
AC> It’s a really exciting time for the team. We’re hiring some amazing talent, we've just opened a new creative space in which we can shoot work called The Workshop, we're collaborating with lots of exciting and diverse creative partners, we're pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with the platform, and we're helping inform the future direction of the product.
LBB> And what do you see coming up / evolving in 2018?
AC> As a company, we’re going to continue to be focused on helping as many people as possible discover and do the things they love and will be enabling more of this through our visual technology.
LBB> Who / what inspires you creatively?
AC> It's probably a combination of doing a lot and doing nothing. I try and take in everything around me so I travel a lot, speak to people and generally absorb as much as I can. But I also make sure to switch all that off and to have quiet, and it's during these times that ideas and solutions to bigger challenges come.
LBB> What do you get up to in your spare time? Any interesting hobbies for us to know about?
AC> I love travel, photography and art so whenever I’m travelling for business I always try and check out a gallery and get in a photo walk. Again, finding moments of quiet during the chaos.