Hello! I’m Andrew Girdwood, although most people call me Girdy, and I work at Cello Signal as Head of Media Technology. Cello is a technology and marketing group, Cello Signal and associated agencies are part of it.
Could you give us a brief overview of what your role entails and what you love about it and/or your company?
Happily, I get to do a wide range of stuff at Signal. Today I’ve had my sleeves rolled up helping with technical SEO considerations for a website we’ve just launched. In believe we’re all essentially publishers these days and in such a world your website is a piece of media technology. It’s a media asset and it’s certainly technology.
In any given week I might be involved in bidabble media tech solutions (paid search, paid social or perhaps real-time bidding in display), out giving a talk on affiliate marketing, putting together a whitepaper for a client or something widely different.
What’s not to love about that? I work with great, smart, people on projects we’ve thought about before accepting into the agency.
Could you give us a brief overview of a typical day?
I’m one of those people who’ll spend a little while in bed in the morning catching up with social streams and breaking news. I like to be able to email clients, if needs be, for just after 9 if there’s been any overnight developments they’ll be interested in.
Then I’ll play some Ingress (team Enlightened – we can make the world a better place) while I walk into work. That’s a game that incubated in Google, split off and then raised funding. Name any other Google incubated project that’s been so successful? Niantic, the makers of Ingress, have just released a little game called Pokemon Go. It’s proving to be quite popular.
I’ll check emails for any ‘fires’ – client needs that should be addressed quickly and safely before they get worse – and then I’ll check my schedule. I’ll generally have a few projects to dabble into and at Signal that might mean checking in with the Kanban boards.
Even if a client isn’t paying us to think about their media needs I like to make sure they’re getting a good experience; sites are built with SEO considerations in mind, we’ll have thought about analytics, landing pages for display and affiliates. That means any build project we’re doing gets some love.
Better still is when a client is getting the full experience and I’m working with creative minds and the development team to build a kick-ass media asset of a site. We like agile development so while that means I’m involved in a wide-range of things there’s never too much on my plate.
One thing to note, though, is that over the years I’ve come to learn the importance of escaping the desk for lunch. It’s a great way to keep the mind fresh.
What would you say are the key skills required to be effective in your role?
Curiosity. Is that a skill?
You have to get excited about stuff and have a think what “that piece of news” means for your clients or the agency’s technology stack.
Ideally, you want to be able to try things for yourself. That’s one of the reasons why I blog so much. My blogs are wee test-beds of ideas and often house early adopter technology.
Tell us a little bit about your career progression. Where did you start out and how you developed into your current role?
The dot-com boom helped me go to University twice as a combination of SEO and affiliate marketing contributed to my living costs. I remember selling SEO tips to affiliate networks.
When it was time to ‘grow up’ and get a ‘proper job’ I joined bigmouthmedia as a technical search manager. I’m still trying to find out whether anyone had the job title ‘technical search manager’ or ‘technical seo’ before I did. Vanity, that’s the only reason.
As bigmouthmedia grew I moved into the newly created Head of Search position. I really got lucky there. My ideas on SEO – which I’m passionate about – were accepted by the agency even if it took the echo chamber of the community a while to reach the same to a conclusion. Bigmouthmedia grew into the world’s most successful search agency (depends on how you measure success) and I got to be their only ever Head of Search. After me the agency had Head of SEO and Head of Paid Search, or similar titles, as it grew so large.
Bigmouthmedia then went on a M&A journey, the big events being Global Media, then LBi, and then LBi was picked by Publicis Groupe and became DigitasLBi. I had the job title “Media Innovations Director”, which was a global role, when I left to join Signal.
I’d developed plenty of things to say about the word ‘innovation’ and how clients and agencies tend to use it – so when I joined Signal we went with ‘Technology’ instead. I guess by the time you publish this I’ll have been at Signal for about 4 months.
What’s the one thing you’ve always wanted to do?
Win the lottery.
Actually, this is a hard question. Why not just do the thing you want to do? It tends to be money that stops be backing that great Kickstarter, or hiring someone to write for the blog, or going to that expo, convention or festival so the lottery win isn’t that much of a flippant answer. Otherwise – I tend just to do it.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge?
I dislike marketing silos. You try getting a large agency to keep SEO in mind while building a complex website or getting a social media team to remember that the affiliate team has access to hundreds of publishers.
I don’t think the Holy Grail of marketing – that one agency who can do enough, at expert level, to be a single solution for most clients – has yet been claimed. In fact, the phrase ‘integrated agency’ is almost a negative these days. Would you agree?
Maybe I should change my ‘one thing I’ve always wanted to do’ to lifting that Holy Grail of marketing.
If you weren’t doing this role, what would you love to be doing?
I’d invent this and do it. Heck. I started so long ago it almost feels as if that is what the few of us around on Usenet at the start actually did.
Which brands do you think are getting it right in the digital space?
W_Well, I wonder…
I think Innocent do a great job of building ambassadors. I think retailers like Firebox and Amazon are mean but lean and successful. ThinkGeek is a retailer who does well through clever products and marketing. RedBull get paid by people to run their adverts. GoPro is literarily a product that sells itself.
Tell you who you should never pick a fight with in digital – Green Peace. They’re frighteningly good.
Do you have any recommended books that have had a big influence on your career / business?
No. By the time it’s written and published it’s old news. I was a geek at a young age, playing roleplaying games so I’d credit Warhammer Fantasy RPG as the book that helped me to pay attention to details, think about how teams can come together to solve problems. It also taught me to watch out for the corruption of chaos magic but thankfully that’s not so much of a risk in digital marketing.
If you were a superhero who would you be and what would be your superpower?
One of my most successful pieces of content was about superheroes. All I did was curate a collection of illustrations from an artist who had imaged female superheroes in sensible outfits. Go-go internet debate!
I’d love to have a superpower that let me know stuff ahead of time; tomorrow’s headlines, the next viral or topic of discussion on Reddit. That would be handy for digital marketing and with my lotto aspirations!
What advice would you give those starting out in business now?
Blog. Get WordPress running on a server, set up Google Analytics and try and earn some money from it. A shameful number of people in this industry are charging clients for the honour of hearing advice on more complicated matters without even being able to do these basic things.