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Championing Innovation & Why Statistics Are Crappy Measurements of Success with Sarah-Jane Lowes


Droga5’s digital and social director, Sarah-Jane Lowes (or SJ as she’s known personally) speaks to LBB about her electric experience working in media, her lessons to date, and predictions for the future of the industry

Championing Innovation & Why Statistics Are Crappy Measurements of Success with Sarah-Jane Lowes

SJ Lowes has a track record of turning up and making some truly remarkable impact on some of the world's biggest brands. She entered Droga5 Dublin as part of Accenture Song and brought with her a glistening portfolio of results that speak for themselves. Her style, we discover, is about complete collaboration; telling us that in the world of marketing, silos simply just won’t fly. Passionate about hiring intelligent people, SJ emphasises the importance of ensuring that multi-disciplinarians are availed of to ensure maximum effect.

Her perspective on measuring success by awards and statistical metrics is one that goes against the grain; we find out instead about her belief in measuring by real world effect. This isn’t the only area where her opinions deviate from the norm, however. In this interview, we hear how AI isn’t something she’s worried about — her job isn’t up for the taking. Instead we learn about her excitement that surrounds utilising extra tools to augment creative problem solving.

There’s something quite enlightening about the birdseye view that SJ applies to the industry and how she uses it to predict, advise and analyse. So without further adieu, here it is.

LBB> You have worked with some of the world’s leading brands including Coca Cola, Nestle and IKEA. What have been some of the biggest challenges you faced while working with such large and diverse clients, and how did you overcome them?

SJ> Firstly, I think it is important to remind yourself that you are not an island and by saying that I mean nothing good ever comes from working in a silo at an agency. All it does is create problems further on and delay the work. Remember that your client’s agency partners are your partners too so spend time building and nurturing this relationship. Not only do your clients expect you to collaborate but the most successful campaigns I have worked on have started with good interagency relationships. 

Secondly, be a champion for innovation. Big accounts have big ambitions and sales, and business growth will usually trump innovation. But don’t stop trying. That is what I loved the most about working on IKEA. They truly value your ideas, even if they never are brought to life. I have always said to my own teams that success is getting your client to try one new thing in a year, not 20. We have a bad habit in advertising of measuring success on a basis of all or nothing. So, either clients are going to buy all your ideas, or they won’t buy anything. That is so counter to innovation and a really disheartening space for creatives. For me, success is simpler, it is 1 idea, and it makes working on big integrated clients worth it. 

LBB> Over the course of your career, you’ve worked across a variety of disciplines. How have these experiences shaped your approach to your new role at Droga5?

SJ> I stepped into Droga5 Dublin, part of Accenture Song with a background in creativity but also of the broader Accenture Song offering. Coming into an environment where you understand all the capabilities and how they work together to deliver on a unified brand experience is an enormous advantage and I understand quite practically the creative potential of bringing functions like customer and brand together or the importance of creativity for data collection and profile enrichment. Being able to essentially speak everyone’s language better positions you to unlock new business and consider different opportunities. When a brief comes in, you can find all the other things the client may need that aren’t currently being considered. We talk about Accenture Song being the world’s largest tech powered creative group and I am fortunate to have a real world understanding in terms of my experience of what that really means. 

LBB> Can you tell us about your experience with Ogilvy Social Lab and what role you played in setting up the global digital offering? How did you go about scaling the team from seven to 140 people in just four years? 

SJ> Two years into my time at Ogilvy I heard whispers about something called Social Lab. It really excited me, and I let Ogilvy know I was very interested. Little did I know then the importance of that conversation for my career.

I wore many hats during my time with Social Lab and even if my title was “strategy director” we were functioning as a start-up which demanded an entrepreneurial mindset. You need to be able to take on any role necessary to win the client, get the work done and get the talent in. I would say that over the years I played strategist, media planner, campaign manager, new business development, client service, teacher, leader, talent acquisition and operations manager, sometimes all in one day. It was enormously challenging, hugely rewarding and quite honestly, life changing. I am a better everything because of it and it showed me what I was personally capable of achieving. It also allowed me to mentor and grow others which I am forever grateful for. I am so proud of what everyone has achieved.  

Success came down to the network seeing the value of the skills and talent Social Lab had to offer alongside important and big client wins due to that talent. The team also has a fearless and fiercely kind leader, who guided us through the uncertainty and the many, many challenges that come with scaling that quickly. 

There was tremendous pressure and some seriously stressful periods, but it was also honestly, so much fun. 

LBB> How do you stay up to date with the latest trends and developments in the digital and media landscape? How do you utilise this in your work with clients? 

SJ> Hire smart people who are generous with their time and knowledge and be generous with your own time and knowledge in turn. Read everything, and don’t only read about advertising and media, read about science, technology, nature, psychology, poetry - read it all. I try to read three things every day, only one about the industry and hardly ever about business if I am honest. There is so much to learn, and we are so lucky to have access to so much information. Having a diverse range of interests and reading material generally really helps bring a different perspective to the work you do. You can also follow The Social Tea on our TikTok account. The brainchild of one of our young planners where we cover and break down a weekly trend. 


LBB> How do you measure the success of your digital and social media campaigns? What makes a project a success for you? 

SJ> First and foremost, align on the objective and be realistic about what you are trying to achieve, and the time horizons required to show business impact. If a client is trying to shift consideration, three cuts down from a brand TVC which runs for three months are not going to get the job done. So, consider what you are trying to achieve from a business perspective and factor that into your campaign planning, so you are setting a realistic expectation upfront. 

Secondly, a KPI is only as good as a number on a page if it doesn’t come with learnings. As an industry, we tend to get lost in percentages. Percentages are honestly where the truth goes to die. An 800% increase when broken down is two extra sales on top of the previous one. You can claim any measure of success with the use of percentages and I find it very frustrating that our industry and awards shows seemingly allow it. Great work is effective work, and we should be able to demonstrate that without needing to default to percentages only.

On top of this, when we report on success, we mostly deliver the things that people can already see, instead of providing discoveries that are meaning and material. My favourite data and analytics nerd put it very nicely: say no to insights and yes to out of sights – the things that people cannot see. I talk about this a lot. I highly recommend signing up to follow Avinash Kaushik, he was the analytics Evangelist at Google for 16 years and he has made me a better planner in so many ways.  

LBB> What advice do you have for aspiring digital and social media strategists who are just starting out in the industry? 

SJ> You may not realise it, but you already have skills relevant to the industry. Simply by virtue of being young and all-over social media. Digital has truly democratised creativity and your knowledge of the platforms, how to create and understanding on how to reach and engage consumers is enormous. Put those skills into practice, I want to hear about your TikTok channel and how you grew a following of 15,000 for your fish Agatha.

There is also tons of free training out there to help give your CV a boost. Meta’s Blueprint Academy, TikTok Academy, Google’s Skillshop. are all free and will equip you with some of the basic required to get a junior role. If I was considering a candidate’s CV that would really stand out and put you at the top of the pile.  

Finally, do not worry too much about being able to craft the perfect idea. What is far more important is that you simply try and can be trusted to deliver. It is the role of more senior strategists to help guide and grow you, but it needs to be a reciprocal relationship. Be okay with feedback and be okay with the fact that you will get it wrong, a lot, but know that feedback is there to help you and not a personal reflection on you or of your ability. 

LBB> What have you worked on to date that you are most proud of? Tell us why.

SJ> Recently, Droga5 Dublin launched the new Hunk Dory’s Campaign on TikTok. You may remember a cheeky chap, Christie aka “The Crinkler”, who was born with the gift to crinkle chips through our brand TVC back in 2021, well he is back. The team have done an exceptional job, and the content is big and bold with outlandish humour. The strategy leaned into what our audience expects from brands on social and was shot entirely in agency on a mobile phone. The creative ideas where a collaborative effort between the Droga5 Dublin creative team and Darren Conway aka “Christie”. The results are authentic and hilarious. 

We talk effectiveness through influence and I believe this work really embodies that. 

LBB> What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the advertising industry in the coming years, particularly within the digital and social media space? 

SJ> I am quite excited by AI. Not because I think it will steal my job but rather because I believe in its enormous potential to augment creativity problem solving. As another hero of mine Cassie Kozyrkov said, AI is a tool, not a person and about as creative as a toothbrush. Meaning the human is always the artist, so yes, I am excited to see where humans can take creative problem solving with the help of tools such as AI. Artificial intelligence lets you perceive reality in new ways and that excites me. 

LBB> What are your goals and aspirations for Droga5 Dublin? What do you hope to achieve in the next 1-2 years?

SJ> Our goal at Droga5 Dublin, is to create work that engages the world. And as Nick Law recently put it, that world is evolving quickly, and it needs to be complemented with imagination. So, if I had to summarise what my goal is for Droga5 Dublin in the next 1-2 years, it is to ensure that as an agency we keep moving at the pace of that change so that we can continue to deliver extraordinary work for our clients. And ensuring that everyone has the tools and skills necessary to move with that change while inspiring relentless curiosity. Droga5 Dublin is in the business of creative problem-solving and I can’t wait to see where it takes us in the next few years. 

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Droga5 Dublin, Thu, 11 May 2023 15:06:00 GMT