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  • Christie Wade

Unleashing Creative Sparks: Inside Connected's Innovative Solutions for Media's Toughest Challenges

LBB's April Summers discusses the digital and performance offerings of Connected with business and strategy director, Francis Barcelon.

This article originally appeared on LBB.

Francis Barcelon believes creativity in media is every bit as important as digital performance. “You might have all your ducks in a row with regards to insights, targeting, channel mix, etc., but if you’re serving up subpar creative – get ready for subpar results!” 

A specialist in media and marketing strategies, Francis comes to this conclusion after spending the last decade obsessively monitoring key performance indicators on behalf of a wide-array of clients – safe to say, he has seen it all. And now, in his role heading up business and strategy at independent digital agency, Connected, he finds himself channelling his invaluable experiences into providing effective and holistic media strategies alongside a team of digital marketing gurus. In charge of balancing creativity and hard data at the agency, Francis confidently informs LBB of Connected's unwavering ability to ‘out-nerd’ the competition by staying clued up on the most vital digital and cultural updates. 

Sitting down to discuss the business of unleashing creative sparks, LBB’s April Summers quizzes Francis on the inner workings of Connected’s digital and performance specialisms, spotting creative opportunities mid-campaign, and the potential tension between performance and branding.

LBB> Tell me, how do you approach the creative elements of campaign management? Is this something you have the capacity to manage in-house?

Francis> We approach creative the same way we approach any other aspect of our campaign - by making sure we’re solving our audiences’ problems. We manage creative in-house to varying degrees with our clients - ranging from consultation to full scale production - depending on their needs. Sometimes we are working with a creative agency or an in-house creative team and sometimes we are managing the creative. Either way, if we don’t think the creative will work for that specific channel we will never simply set it live without challenging it first. 

LBB>Balancing creativity and hard data sounds like a tightrope act. How does Connected manage to make sure your designs are not just pretty but also hitting the goals?

Francis> Performance is our ‘bread and butter’ so we have a broad view of what will and won’t perform based on our experience. In saying that, regular A-B testing is also a big part of our culture so we also keep an open mind to new ideas and elements. Of course there are creative principles for performance that we’ll tend to stick tight with to maintain efficiency.

LBB> Can you tell us about some successful campaigns where strong creative elements played a crucial role in achieving the campaign's objectives? Or when the wrong creative had to be optimised to ensure the right outcome?

Francis> All successful campaigns require both strong creative and media to work together. I love being able to make tiny tweaks to creative and user experience and then tracking the significant improvement in results. 

Some examples - for one of our education clients we reworked their campaign landing page and quickly delivered a 75% reduction in CPL for the campaign. For a beauty client - we tweaked a video creative using existing assets but swapping out the order, adding some text overlay and resizing for different placements, and immediately saw a 2x click-through improvement versus the benchmark. 

LBB> Digital media, particularly programmatic, was initially heralded in some quarters as the death of branding. This clearly hasn't happened, but do you see any tension between performance and branding? If so, could it actually prove to be helpful?

Francis> As an industry I think we can get too cute about distinguishing between performance and branding. At the end of the day, both are working to the same business outcome, albeit in different ways. The two go together like two peas in a pod - your performance campaign will be far better off if people remember your brand. Conversely, brand salience and equity loses its sting if you aren’t guiding people through the funnel.

LBB> Trends change faster than Instagram feeds. How does Connected stay ahead and keep things fresh and relevant?

Francis> We subscribe to all the tools and publications that everyone else does, but at the end of the day we will always out-nerd you. What keeps our clients up at night is what keeps us up at night - we’re obsessed with solving problems and keeping on top of what’s happening in culture and on platforms is a key part of that.

LBB> Any campaign can sometimes be unpredictable, how do you make sure you can evaluate and tweak creative mid-campaign?

Francis> Optimisations are a normal part of our process. We don’t ‘set and forget’ campaigns and that applies to both brand and performance. We hold internal optimisations weekly and in between those sessions, our team is working on the platforms making refinements. 

Over the last few years we have seen media and creative marketing functions become more closely intertwined as speed to market has become more critical and more accessible. To control performance you need to have some control over both media and creative. As we are monitoring campaign performance every day, we are the first to spot creative opportunities. We work with creative partners, client teams and our in-house agency team to quickly jump onto these opportunities (eg. managing creative fatigue, align to a new audience, change for a new platform or new placement, develop a new test version etc).

LBB> Each platform can be like a different party. How does Connected specifically tailor creative content to suit each one?

Francis> The role a particular channel has within the campaign has a big influence on how we creatively execute. So it’s not just about different specs and formats, but how our audience think and feel within that environment - that’s what shapes our creative.

This is where I think we often add the most value in the creative part of the campaign. As digital and performance media specialists we don’t only think about the hero creative - the big TV campaign or Outdoor billboard - but also how it might work in the tiniest of spaces and the quickest of scrolls. 

LBB> Finally, what predictions do you have for the short/medium term in regards to effective creativity? Do you think the market will continue to evolve organically, or are there likely to be any major disruptors on the horizon? 

Francis> We work in a dynamic industry that’s obsessed with finding the next shiny toy. Obviously AI is a major disruptor already - we are seeing it across both design and also within platform optimisations. I can only see this increasing. The tools will always change and improve. Ultimately, effective creative will always come down to one crucial question - are we genuinely addressing a consumer problem? 


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