Ford's new friend
On July 18, Maggie Fox (above), partner at Social Media Group, headed to Dearborn, Mich. for a meeting with Ford Motor Company. She'd been invited to pitch for some business, but didn't hold out much hope of winning. Her agency, located in the small southwestern Ontario town of Dundas, was just 11 months old and had only four full-time employees.
Fox made her pitch in Dearborn alone. No account team to back her up, no creatives to razzle-dazzle the prospective client.
Actually, Fox didn't even have a pitch. Instead, the agency neophyte (her background is in broadcast and interactive project management) listened to what Ford's executive director of global corporate communications, Ray Day, wanted to do in social media, and then she told him about her shop. Though the meeting lasted an hour, "I didn't think we had that much of a chance," she admits. "A lot of the major agencies have positioned themselves as having social media practices, and I just figured there would be no way we could compete with their flash and sizzle."
But that same day, Ford gave her a project. And a few weeks later, she was handed a 12-month assignment for all of Ford's social media business. Not Ford USA, mind you. But the automaker's entire global account.
That an upstart shop could beat out larger agencies shows how level the playing field is among agencies vying to be known as social media experts. Being a big shop isn't much of an advantage without a proven track record in the medium, and few agencies, large or small, have that. "In terms of people actually executing on large-scale projects, there are just a handful [of agencies]," says Fox.
Outside of PR shops, there simply aren't many agencies specializing in social media, adds Jim Tobin, president of North Carolina-based shop Ignite Social Media. Before launching his agency earlier this month, Tobin went looking for shops that would be his competitors in the field. "I found fewer than 10 in the U.S. There's not many out there."
Even prior to the Ford win, Social Media Group had quietly built an impressive roster. It developed a corporate blogging strategy for Yamaha and worked on social media strategies for book publisher Harlequin, German software provider SAP and Fiserv, a Fortune 500 financial services company in the U.S.
Of course, the Ford win (Fox declined to reveal its value) has had a monster impact. The agency now has eight full-time staff and is even attracting some big agency talent. In August, Collin Douma, group creative director at MacLaren McCann's interactive division, joined as social media strategist. Douma previously worked on the GM account at MacLaren.
"[Ford] has put us in a great position," says Fox. "Because we're so early in the space with relatively healthy budgets... we're actually having a lot of opportunity to scoop up people that may be working in the traditional agency world and are tired of banging their heads against the wall."-Rob Gerlsbeck