TAKUMI #UNFILTERED EP.5: POLLYANNA WARD, SOCIAL CHAIN

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Mary is joined by Pollyanna Ward, Head of Paid Social at Social Chain, where she is making brands come to life online. Pollyanna has had a diverse and exciting career so far, which has been led by her passion for writing and social media. Her distinctive approach offers valuable insight into the social media world, bringing more traditional marketing rigour to the subject.

Mary: So, hello Pollyanna and it is great to have you here. Perhaps you can give our listeners a brief introduction to yourself, please.

Hi Mary, thank you very much for that lovely introduction. It’s nice that it’s a podcast because you can’t hopefully see how I’m blushing. So, I’m Pollyanna and I probably would say I’m a bit of a hybrid between, I guess, a marketer and a social media advertiser. Whilst absolutely hands down my bread and butter has always been social media and that’s absolutely where I put myself, but I think over the last few years, I’ve sort of made it my purpose to bring a bit more of that traditional marketing rigour to the subject. It’s not just thinking about social media in silo. I’ve always been super interested in how social media can be used effectively as part of a brand’s overall marketing mix. I guess a little bit about me is that I’ve been very, very fortunate to have had some really great opportunities such as working for Oreo, Capri Sun, FIFA in the Netherlands and Radio 1. I definitely am still learning and I think I always will be, but I think that’s why I really love this industry because I think it does appeal to me as someone who likes to move fast. I do sometimes break things, but I do always try and learn from those experiences. It’s a bit of a cliche, but I think it’s never a dull day in the world of social.

 

MARY: No, and I think you’re absolutely spot on. It’s a very fast evolving medium, if that’s actually even a good word to apply to it. It’s absolutely transformative and every single day something new is happening. Not always necessarily good new, but something new nonetheless. It makes for an exciting and very dynamic creative space to be in. You started out with your own food blog at university, I understand, and that really jump-started your career. Can you tell us a little bit about how all of that came about?

Pollyanna: Yeah no worries. So yeah, this is going back quite a while now, so digging up some memories when I was thinking about this. It was really sort of born out of joining together both what I thought was interesting, which at the time was I loved taking Instagram pictures and I loved writing. I did an English degree, so bit of a rogue one when so many people now probably do business or maybe more marketing focused degrees, but I just had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew that I needed something concrete on the CV because that’s what you needed to get a job after university. You’re supposed to go, then get your grades and also to have done all this work experience. Within social media there weren’t social media courses and there definitely weren’t so many thought leaders or people just in the news who were doing social media. You just didn’t really know how to learn much more.

There were a couple of us that were sort of behind the blog where it was, well, we want to work in social afterwards, lets just give it a go and maybe we can document how it goes along the way. We did it anonymously, we did this over the course of a year and then after about the six month mark, we hit like 5,000 followers. And again, no one knew it was us. Then the university got in touch with us and didn’t realise that we were students, I think they just thought we were like a company that were sharing experiences of where to eat and drink in Nottingham. They were like, can we use your blog for our students that are joining, we’d love to give out as a guide or as a go-to and maybe we could do some collaboration. That was when it was like, oh, we’re just students, you know, this isn’t a job for us, this is just a passion project.

Essentially from there, that was a really fantastic springboard because from there we were then able to enter the Guardian Student Business Awards, which we then won the runner-up prize for. Then from there, as I said before, I then started a separate blog where I then basically blogged about the blogging experience of everything that I’d learned. I was trying to give tips to other small business owners in the area, so I used to then do the social for the local coffee shop and the local bar. Then I’d be like, right we’ve posted pictures from all these different angles, this is what works, and we’ve tried captions this long and actually the captions of this length worked. It was very much trial and error and then writing about it. 

 

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It’s quite a long story, but I’ll try to get to the exciting bit. The part that really was very much, right place at the right time, was essentially when I was doing just what probably a lot of people do, doing a sort of unpaid or just covering your expenses, internship. I literally was like, I need something, for love nor money, couldn’t get a job. I was still writing, and was like, if I just keep writing and at the time I absolutely loved Oreo. They’d just done their Oreo eclipse and this is when I’d just started to then follow The Drum, I was following a blog called We Are Social. I was trying to get in there and I was like, well, I’ll just write about all the brands I want to work at and hopefully this will come about.

I went and met a recruiter, I’d been to meet so many of them by this point, this was over a summer, and at this point I was sort of a bit desperate because my internship was coming to an end. I was like, if I could work anywhere, it would be Oreo, that’s what I want to do, I just want to be the voice of Oreo, I think they’re social is fantastic, I eat their products and always have done. It just seems incredible. Anyway, I didn’t get any job out of that, but what did happen was it turned out that the recruiter’s sister was Kate Wall, who is now Head of Innovation at KFC. So, he’d obviously gone back home, I think they were living together at the time, and had said, oh this girl has come in and she’s obsessed with Oreo. At the time she was one of the Brand Managers at Mondelēz, which owns Oreo. Then she got in touch and was like, look, we’ve seen your blog, we’re actually looking for a social media manager for Oreo, we think it could be you. So, obviously I had to go through the whole really scary interview process. There were like six of them in a room, the marketing director, there was an agency person, their external PR agency was there, it was very daunting for your first sort of job out of uni.

I think what I would say though, is that my biggest takeout from all of that though, was that I didn’t realise that there are definitely for young marketers anyway, that a lot of the companies that you think are probably owned by just Oreo or just Capri Sun, they’re actually owned by much bigger businesses. The Oreo job was advertised, but it wasn’t advertised as Oreo so I would never have come across it, if that makes sense. I know it seems really silly and it seems so obvious now because when you’ve been in the industry and you’re like, oh, if Unilever is posting a job, it’s probably for one of their brands. 

When you’re just starting out and you’re like, I really want to go and do marketing for…we’ll just use Oreo as an example, actually try and go direct if you can, just go to the source. Also they don’t advertise on places like LinkedIn, a lot of these places just use agencies. That was very much a big learning. 

MARY: Well, I think you make loads of really good points there. Apart from anything else, I think that’s truly inspirational what you just shared with us, that story, because it’s kind of defying the odds if you like. I think it also makes that extremely important point about how do you navigate this corporate world, right? It’s something that as an English graduate, who’s started a blog off and is clearly aware and aware enough of the fact that these signposts are missing here as to the direction of travel. You’re kind of literally having to work it out on your own. Whereas, I think one of the things that speaking to big corporates you find, is that they say, well, we just get hundreds of thousands of CVs via the website or whatever and you’re thinking that’s not actually going to help you appoint the right people or for that matter, meet your diversity and inclusion objectives. They’re just random CVs that you’re getting from people who have been told to just send their CV through to Unilever or whoever it might be. So yeah, I think there’s a lot to be done in that area, but you’ve obviously successfully navigated it and I really want to congratulate you. I mean, that’s a well done you because I think getting that very first role is always going to be really tough for anybody who isn’t coming, as you said, the traditional business management obvious degree route. I think it’s so important that we have people who’ve done english, philosophy, anthropology, etc., that are in the marketing departments, because their perspective is so invaluable in my experience. You’ve also obviously had your own business. You’ve managed to fit that in somewhere along the lines, One Click Coffee, a monthly coffee subscription business. Can you tell us a little bit about that? How did that go?

Pollyanna: Yeah, One Click Coffee. I mean, I’ve always wanted to do my own business, my mother and I used to literally brainstorm ideas for hours in an evening of just things that we could do to make people’s lives better. It was always based on a sort of personal thing, so nothing that would ever probably have scale, but that’s a conversation for another time – dead ideas are in a box somewhere. Coffee pretty much for everyone has always been part of someone’s life. You know, I think when people just grow up a bit like me, you hate the taste of coffee, but very much I always loved reading. I had a bit of an unusual upbringing, I was brought up by my dad, not my mum, which at the time was not something that was heard of. My dad was that typical, chainsmoker twenty a day, would read a book and then I would just sit with him in the coffee shop and read. I always used to scrape the foam from his cappuccino off the top and that was my favourite part. Anyway, I just forced myself to like coffee. I was like, I’m going to be that person that sits in coffee shops and reads books all day. I don’t know how I’m going to make money, but we’ll figure it out later.

So coffee always been there, and when I got the opportunity to go and work in the Netherlands for a year for a big dairy company called FrieslandCampina, which again is another one of those sort of big ones that you might not have heard the overall name, but they’ve got some really great brands like Chocomel, which is the chocolate drink. Whilst I was out there, I was still quite young, I was very alone, there were no friends out there and you sort of rely on coffee for comfort I suppose. Word of warning though, don’t type in coffee shop on Google maps in Amsterdam, because you will find something very different. But when I did manage to find a cafe that did serve coffee and nothing else, the Dutch are super-friendly anyway, you just get chatting.

I think people in coffee shops do, they’re sort of like melting pots of people from all walks of life. You’ve got business people having catch-ups, you’ve got the solo reader, you’ve got the person writing their novel – it’s full of all those characters that you read about, so I’ve always found it quite romantic, coffee shops.

It was just there really that I used to like to go over to Berlin or I went to Copenhagen and each time, you know, I’d go and find a coffee shop and that was how I just sort of got to know the lay of the land. I started chatting to the baristas and it was there that I learned a lot more about what specialty coffee was. Now, I’m not going to turn this podcast into a specialty coffee podcast, but essentially it’s where a fair and equal pay is paid to every hand that the coffee passes through. There’s a lot of people that really don’t know about this, I guess it’s probably the equivalent to fair trade chocolate, I suppose, is probably the best example I can give. Actually when you start to uncover those stories and realise like, yeah, the reason this coffee tastes different to that one, or actually the origin of where this coffee has come from, or actually your money has not just gone to a coffee farmer, it’s gone to that community and sent that child to school. There’s so many amazing stories that it’s worth paying for. 

I then came back to the UK and suddenly I wasn’t able to get my hands on any of this amazing specialty coffee I’d had over there. In London, you sort of come across the same brands over and over again. I spoke to one of the coffee shop owners in Nottingham, where I did actually briefly work whilst I was at university, and he said, well, if you set up a business, you can just get the coffee wholesale and I was like, oh, well this sounds like a good idea. So I mean, it was never something that was going to be my full-time job, I just really enjoy it. I love tasting the coffee. I send out different roasters every month, I do a newspaper alongside which pre-pandemic was distributed to coffee shops. It meant I got to write and I got to drink coffee, so still pairing those passions together. It’s never something that was going to take over my life I don’t think. It was more, I’m already doing this, I’m already going to coffee shops, I’m already asking the stories and probably writing them on my own Instagram, let’s cast that net a little bit wider.

 

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MARY: I think that it’s very interesting to listen to your story because it’s kind of exhibiting, and you’re a great example of somebody who’s thinking creatively and entrepreneurially, but at the same time, you’ve got very high levels of social conscience and values. I mean, there’s the subscription coffee model and obviously that whole area of coffee in particular, there’s a lot of grey, right? There’s a lot of grey areas to the whole production and distribution of coffee, but it sounds really fascinating and I’m sure will be massively informative in your work as you work with brands. You’ve just recently, I know, left Wix and you did some fantastic work there. Obviously that’s how we got to meet, I think originally, because Takumi partnered with you while you were there. You did something really pretty radical for a…how do you define Wix? It’s kind of a combination of both trade and domestic home improvements company essentially, but taking them onto TikTok, what was that about Pollyanna?

Pollyanna: That was definitely something that I’m really, really proud that we were able to do. But yeah, as you mentioned, I will just touch, I think Takumi have definitely been there throughout my whole career. I remember getting you on board, gosh, when it was actually on Oreo, that was like seven years ago. That was right at the beginning so you’ve sort of been there all the way through, so it was fantastic to be able to partner up again. Basically, for anyone that doesn’t know what Wix is, you know, we’re quite a heritage brand, it’s been around for years and years and years actually. It started off as being very trade focused, so it’s very much the go-to brand that if you are in the trade. If you’re a plumber or a builder, you go to Wix, you know that you’re getting good quality, good value and a good range of products to help you do jobs. Then that started to then eke into different areas, so then you’ve got DIYers and doer-uppers and fixer-uppers and all of those. So, you’ve got like new home movers and things, that are really interesting. Then you’ve also got our showroom side of the business, which is sort of our more premium offering, which is our ‘we’ll do it for you’. So our mainstays was always sort of like adults, basically. It was people that own homes. Whereas basically when it came to lockdown, obviously we saw a huge surge in people going online to get tips on how to do up their home, because suddenly you’re staring at the same four walls day in, day out, actually yeah, let’s learn how to paint a wall or let’s learn how to make a desk. So those sorts of things all fell into place.

I think what I do want to say is that going onto new platforms, just in general for any brand, you know, that’s always going to be a bit of a risk. I would say that whether it’s a pandemic or not, and I don’t just mean that in terms of like safety or backlash and things like that. I think there’s a lot of the time that you see brands going onto new channels, but they do it organically, which is basically getting the social media manager or whoever it is to then spend hours on creating lots of content and pushing it out and sort of fake crossing your fingers that it’s going to take off. When in reality, if you’d gone in with a bit of paid media budget, you might have actually been successful and reach the target audience the first time and probably with better results.

I always say that when it comes to any campaign, whether you’re going onto a new platform or doing something completely different, you really need to think about what your objectives are.

So, if we come back to Wix, there was always this balance, as there are with many brands, that yet we’ve always historically gone after adults, but we’ve now got to capture the next generation of DIY lovers. So what channels are they using? We saw TikTok usage absolutely surge during lockdown. We saw more young people were doing DIY more than ever. Essentially the opportunity was there, there was no other home improvement brands on the platform. So, this was the chance to own that DIY space, work with creators who knew the platform and knew what would work because again, I am definitely not the expert in creating TikTok adverts and our in-house creatives had also never done it. We kind of had to hold our hands up at this point and go wait, we don’t know how to do it, but we need to be on there. But that was where, you know, after a few sort of emails were sent around, it was probably one of the fastest from brief to campaign I’ve ever sort of seen. It was sort of a week later, it was like, right, we’ve got all these creators, you know, our TAKUMI account manager sort of said, we’ve got them all, here we go, they’ve got thousands of followers and we’ve got guaranteed views. That’s what you want, you want those guarantees.

I think when there’s a platform that’s hot topic in a different way to clubhouse where it’s got lots of hype, but less following, there’s less sort of penetration for a brand, it was a really great way to sort of sell it in. I think that’s how I’ve sort of always gone about selling in new challenges, whether it’s to a brand that I’m actually working for in-house or whether I’ve been a freelancer. I’ve always sort of gone back to, right, what’s your objective and can we do it with this new channel? It’s very difficult not to be a magpie isn’t it, sort of like, oh there’s a shiny new object, should we go over there? With this, everything aligned so it was really easy to sell it in to be like, you’ve got guaranteed views, you’ve got guaranteed this, we’ve got the creative. I was just really, really proud of everyone on all sides there because I think we were all super collaborative and I think that’s what makes a great campaign and what makes all of those like late night emails and trying to piece together a strategy for that, isn’t it.

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MARY: 100%. I think that the one thing that we can really, really be kind of confident of in terms of the future of the industry is that I think increasingly clients and agencies and creators will have to collaborate together because this is an evolving space. Social media are really becoming the dominant channels and means by which we communicate and we share information and we discover stuff. It’ll continue to be a fascinating journey and I think it’s wonderful, Pollyanna that somebody with your background and with your enthusiasm and your passion, and clearly you’re very smart, is able to actually be part of driving these brands and clients, and now going to the agency side, to develop and be one of the thought leaders in the space. I know before we came on air earlier, I sort of mentioned to you that I’m very impressed with your career and I mean that from a good place, not in a patronizing way whatsoever. I want you to have a really fantastic and hugely successful career, but as somebody who’s been around a while and has had to fight a few battles, should we say through my career, I would really hope that you don’t have to go through that stuff and that you can make it to the top of the, you know, whatever your ambitions are. I really want to see you leading a company and really making a difference and I’m sure you will, if you want to. But the question I suppose, is how’s your experience been so far and do you anticipate that you may have more challenges as you move on? Or is it kind of like pretty clear to you what you want and you’re just headed in that direction?

Pollyanna: I think, yeah there’s sort of a broader question there isn’t there. I completely agree and I think there will probably always be challenges. Those things won’t be solved overnight. There’s lots of things that I probably won’t do justice on this podcast, but there’s lots of obviously great work being done, whether that’s by the Conscious Advertising Network and gender pay gap, and there’s lots of noise being made. I think that will only continue to go on, that’s fantastic. I think when it comes to my own sort of experience, I think you’ll always have this, I think no matter how old you are, because I think social media inherently comes with some assumptions. You know, we do it to ourselves, we refer to the intern, running the Twitter account on, and that’s something that we’ve created ourselves almost. Then we’re sort of laughing about it, joking about like, oh ha ha ha but actually it’s not helpful. Actually what that does mean is that what I’ve had to have is a lot of resilience. You know, when you say that you’re coming in as, I’m going to be looking after your social media and there’s a, oh, well, I’ve got an Instagram account, so I could probably do your job and it’s going actually it’s proving that there’s a bit more to it, I suppose.

So, coming back to what I said at the beginning where I try to be more of a hybrid, which is having that more traditional marketing rigour so I’ve read how brands grow, I read Mark Ritson or Profgalloway or Rory Sutherland to try and read widely around the industry, just to try and make sure that I’m speaking, hopefully the same language as both brands and agencies and creators, but also yet to sort of show that there’s a bit more to it than just tweeting off the cuff.

I think as well, just when it comes to resilience, there’s been lots of probably more personal obstacles, really, you know, whether that’s childhood or as a woman of the LGBT community, I’ve only recently started championing that. I think that really came from if you are in a position where you can talk about it, then you should be talking about it. I know that’s not the same for everyone, but I did feel like, look, I talk so much about everything else, I should be talking about that as well. So there’s that side of things and then there’s also the side, which again, I think for many, particularly during lockdown, but there’s also struggles with mental health. I would definitely not change any of those sort of struggles because I think they sort of make you who you are today. One of the absolute thoughts that I subscribe to, and I would really encourage everyone else to sort of think of this is, we are really not here to save the world. 

 

So, whether you’re a brand that’s selling socks, sports cars, biscuits, crisps, you know, you’re just not here to save the world from aliens.

I think perhaps where previously I might not have pushed myself or challenged a way of thinking, because I was a bit scared of going against the status quo or, you know, your mental health tells you like, oh my God, if you do that, you’re going to get fired like how dare you do that sort of thing. Actually when I’ve broken away and just nudged it a little bit, it’s actually been met positively it’s oh, actually people are willing to accept change. It’s a bit cliche, but you have to go on that journey and you definitely won’t always get it right and you also probably won’t get your own way 99% of the time. I think what I believe really strongly in is that my work ethic is really about asking those questions that I’ve definitely been afraid to ask before. Something that, if my old boss listens to this she will know exactly what I’m talking about, but my mantra was always ask for forgiveness, not permission, but I will say, please take that with an absolute pinch of salt. I’ve always said that, you know, you’ve got to be really confident, you know, have your data, have your test and learn backups with you, have a plan B if it goes wrong, and you’ve got to own it. I always think if you really think passionately about something, there’s more people that are going to say yes than they are going to say no, but I think a lot of it is just overcoming your own sort of mental blocks I think a lot of the time.

my mantra was always ask for forgiveness, not permission, but I will say, please take that with an absolute pinch of salt. I’ve always said that, you know, you’ve got to be really confident, you know, have your data, have your test and learn backups with you, have a plan B if it goes wrong, and you’ve got to own it.

MARY: I think that’s extremely good advice and I would concur with you. I’m well known for saying, don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness. I tell my people to do that because it’s the way that you make things happen, but yes, you’re right you have to have plan Bs and you have to have very good methodologies and systems in place and you have to have some science I’m afraid, you absolutely do. Pollyanna, it’s been absolutely a privilege talking to you today and thank you so much for sharing your stories. They have been really, really fascinating. You’re obviously now moving into your new job when perhaps you can tell us a little bit about that before we wrap up.

Pollyanna: Goodness, yes so I think when the time this airs, I will have been there for probably a month or so. I think to be honest, one of the things, actually coming back to starting to just doing my English degree and I sort of said, it doesn’t lend itself automatically in people’s minds to doing social media or marketing or anything like that or influencers. I do remember so vividly and I’ve literally got it etched on a piece of paper that’s in my purse, on my first day at university, I cannot for the life of me remember the lecturer’s name right now so hopefully, maybe he’ll listen to this, but he said, read laterally, not vertically along the shelf. Whilst I sort of applied that to pretty much everything, so, I have my eggs, then you can add avocado, then you can add hummus, then you can have eggs for dinner but also in my career. I’ve absolutely loved social media. I found it fascinating that you can make money from it and businesses can grow from it. But it was, okay I learned social media doing it, sort of a UK focused biscuit way, now, how does Europe do it? So what’s it like working with different people? What’s different cultures, different approaches, different channels? Then it was, what’s happening in entertainment, actually, what’s it like to teach social?

I think for me going to agency, you know, I’ve got a lot of respect for Social Chain. I think they’re absolutely brilliant so this was very much a really exciting opportunity to have. Again, now it’s about right, I’ve done social on these different facets, the next stage of my career is okay now what’s it like on the agency side? I want to learn how to do it that way. What’s it like to sort of have lots of different brands with lots of different objectives going on at once. For me it’s always just been about thinking laterally and how can I keep just adding and building? I guess it’s like the reverse of Shrek when he says he’s an onion with lots of layers. I think the core is social, but then it’s all the layers outside of it. For me, agency is not a, you know, I’m choosing one side or the other, I just want to bring what I’ve done so far. Can I do it even better? Can I learn more? What am I missing? Can I meet new people as well? So that’s probably it from me.

MARY: Well, I would like to wish you the greatest of success and the rest of your journey. I’m sure that we’ll cross paths again, Pollyanna. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you today and I really want to thank you very, very much. It’s been fascinating. So thank you for joining TAKUMI unfiltered and well done. You’re doing great so far. I’m sure there’s even more to come and it’s going to be amazing for you.

Pollyanna: Thank you very much Mary, for having me on.

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