Interview for Digital Loeries blog

Dan Pinch

Dan recently did an interview for the Digital Loeries blog. Here is what he said.


Dan Pinch: There were two instrumental people that I hold responsible: one was my next-door neighbour in the mid-nineties who set-up and ran the website for Ninja Tune records; I thought this looked like a really cool job (although not sure he was even paid for it). I remember telling a school careers advisor around that time that I wanted to write the content on websites and very clearly remembering being told it wasn’t a proper job (this was 1995 I think) so being a contrary type of person I made this my mission. The second person was a lecturer at university who ran two great (but oddball) courses the first was on Coffee Shops in the 17th and 18th century (sounds weird but basically the culture has some incredible similarities with web culture) and the second one was Cyber Literature, which included some basic html coding and studying early virtual communities like The Well. I think both of these experiences really set me up to end up in social media (and I still feel like I use some of the insights from those two courses). Career wise one of my first jobs was in an early online PR agency and I pretty much have always worked in online content in one way or another since then.


DP: For a start we’re in the digital age of discovery. We’re living in the digital equivalent of the Mad Men era (with jeans & hoodies instead of suits, and less whisky in the office); what the sixties were for what is now considered “traditional advertising” we’re now living through in digital and social media. You can be the first to do something because new platforms are popping up all the time – Vine or Instagram Video for example. The rules are less established so clients are more, perhaps, willing to take risks that they would never consider with more traditional media (this has its downside as well). Another thing that really excites me is that the barriers to entry are relatively low. You don’t even need to do a line of code these days to create an incredibly powerful “digital” campaign (look at Oreo which scooped a Cannes Grand Prix or Curators of Sweden from Cannes last year). However you do need some ideas and some serious skill in producing compelling content.


DP: Two things spring to mind. Firstly that people fail to do some very basic calculations around media budgets and ROI. Almost any brand campaign of scale needs media budget to support it (this I repeat almost daily often to funny looks as there is an assumption that social media is free). I’ve heard so many times something like “digital marketing can’t compete with the effectiveness of TV.” Well the main reason is brands invest usually a couple of million rand in TV media and usually much less in digital media so of course it’s not going to be as effective. The second thing is that often people rush into building expensive and elaborate websites, apps or other technological masterpieces without considering how much budget is required to make that investment worthwhile (and whether anyone will actually visit them). To use the TV ad comparison again: you wouldn’t spend a million rand on production of a TV ad and then R300,000 in ads to air it.


DP: Weirdly enough I spend a lot of time looking at “traditional” media for inspiration and ideas. Our bread and butter as a social media agency is producing content and the masters of content really are journalists and editors. I regularly follow the likes of Bloomberg Business Week (interesting design as well as written content); Monocle (including their great online radio station); Fast Company and BBC Radio 4. These media producers are the masters of telling compelling stories that people actually want to consume. We also borrow a lot of processes and language from journalism for how we run the business: there are editorial meetings; content schedules; monthly production cycles. And certainly the people I’d love to hire in the future would come from journalism.


Dan Pinch is the founder and Creative Director of Society, a social media agency based in Cape Town (part of the King James Group). Originally from the UK he moved to South Africa in 2004. Since Society was started in 2011 it has grown from a scrappy start-up of two people to ten people with a diverse portfolio of clients including Santam, kulula, Steri Stumpie, Johnnie Walker and Europcar among others.