Despite technically only working for an advertising agency for six months, Kyle Jones has always considered the bulk of his career to have been ‘in the industry’.
Prior to joining DDB Chicago in March as its head of social and the lead of its DDB Engage team, Kyle spent 10 years across two stints in brand strategy at Twitter with a period of time at The Onion’s in-house content division, Onion Labs, sandwiched in-between.
“I’ve spent the past decade making great digital content for brands, albeit in some non-traditional ways,” says Kyle. That experience made him more aware of what places at the core of the creative process, like DDB, had long been doing, he believes. “I felt like I was ready to expand my library of knowledge while hopefully bringing something different to the agency in return.”
Kyle’s career began in media sales and from which the marketing role he first joined Twitter in wasn’t far removed. But Twitter was young at the time and reorganisations were common. Kyle suddenly found himself on the team tasked with helping advertisers build their unique brand strategies on the platform. “Seemingly overnight,” he says, “my career trajectory completely changed into working much more on the strategic and creative sides than in the media business where I began.”
Over the course of his Twitter career, Kyle played a key role in helping brands evolve with the platform itself and its users. He helped develop Twitter’s first native polling feature for Budweiser during the 2014 World Cup and figured out how to connect Twitter to the real world by allowing people to order a beer to their seats during an NFL game just by sending a Tweet. “Today, those features are commonplace, but at the time, they were groundbreaking,” says Kyle. Later in his time there, the creative use of data became the calling card of his team, as the public nature of Twitter allowed them to create extremely personalised experiences for audiences on behalf of McDonald’s, Oreo, Wendy’s, and many others.
“When I was with Twitter, it was really intimidating to work with agencies like this one [DDB Chicago] because I had no idea of how to be a creative director,” says Kyle. “Luckily, I had a great mentor there who had come from the agency world, and she told me that I wasn’t there to show them how to be better strategists or creatives, but how to use Twitter more effectively within their campaigns. Today, I get to work with really talented people every single day, but I’m not going to teach someone like Rodrigo Jatene (the CCO of DDB Chicago) how to do his job. But hopefully I can show him how the great idea someone had for a film can also extend onto Instagram in a way they didn’t initially see.”
Right now, Kyle and his DDB Engage team are actively hiring and adding more people to meet the needs of an ever-growing client list, with a primary focus on the core disciplines of strategy and creative. Everyone who has been hired has a deep background of working on social-first campaigns in their career, but Kyle is keen to stress that DDB Engage isn’t a mini agency working separately within DDB Chicago, it is very much integrated into the teams already working within the agency.
“Curiosity,” answers Kyle to a question about the key things he considers when hiring new people. “I love working with people who, like me, always want to learn more and seem to find themselves going down new rabbit holes on a daily basis. Social media trends evolve so quickly, and to be successful in this business, I believe one needs to have that interest in the world around you and a willingness to try new things, rather than rely on tried-and-true tactics.
“There’s a reason my team is called DDB Engage,” headds. “Our name mirrors the type of content we aim to create, as it’s why you and I open these apps daily. Audiences have abandoned many ‘traditional’ forms of media in favour of these platforms because they’re able to interact in ways TV or print never allowed, so we should be making content for brands that invites audiences to do just that - engage. There is a time and place for content that simply drives awareness or drives conversion, but there are many other channels that can only do those things. If we’re going to focus in this space, though, then we should be experts at doing the thing social media does best.”
In the short period of time he’s been at DDB, Kyle sees the work his team has done for Thomas’ Breads as a good example of his philosophy in practice. “Everyone [in the US] knows their English muffins, but not many people had a reason to follow them on Instagram or TikTok before,” he says. “Luckily, we have some great clients there who were willing to let us push them into some new territories creatively, and I think you can see a shift in their content that reflects their desire to reach younger audiences in modern ways on social without betraying their heritage as a brand.”
A key factor in failure or feeling overwhelmed when it comes to branded social is the sheer amount of content to operate fruitfully in the space. Kyle, though, sees that scale as a blessing because it just means he gets more opportunities to try new things and measure their effectiveness. Those learnings can then be incorporated into the next piece he and the team make, and so on. “Within a relatively short amount of time,” he says, “we’re able to get a ton of information about which tactics resonate with our audience and which don’t, and even though trends and behaviours evolve quickly in this space, we’re able to keep pace by embracing the speed, rather than fearing it.
“People open TikTok, Pinterest, Reddit or any other social app to engage and interact with content that they want to see, not to have their timeline filled with ads,” adds Kyle. “So, whenever I see a brand’s social story that is just a reformatted banner ad, it drives me crazy. It’s the same reason viewability and third party verification are such a huge part of the conversation in this space, because users of these platforms instantly swipe past these pieces of content which are so obviously ads. Clients are paying us to get people to help sell their product, and the best way I know how to do that is by creating content that not only looks and feels like the other content within TikTok, Instagram, or Pinterest, but hopefully gets people to stop and engage with it.”
At its core, believes Kyle, every piece of social content created for a brand should be ‘designed for participation’. “It means starting conversations with the audience, not just delivering content the brand wants to say. You hear the term ‘storytelling’ everywhere in this industry, but people use social media to do more than just be passive listeners. They want to actively take part in the content they come across, and I believe brands should invite them to do just that.
“I always challenge my team on whether they would engage with a piece of content while it’s in development, and if not, how might we change it so they did? I don’t mean the transactional ‘reply with #hashtag for a chance to win’ but rather, using the brand’s equity to make people feel seen and included. In my experience, it’s the best way to build brand sentiment and loyalty, which ultimately leads to more sales.”