In The Spotlight: Ben Bisco, head of digital at JD Williams

Ben Bisco is head of digital at JD Williams.

After a decade working for agencies across the north of England, he became digital marketing director at before moving to JD Williams.

He is the third digital marketer to feature in our ‘Industry Insight’ series. Follow Ben on Twitter.

What’s your background and how did you end up at JD Williams?

My digital career has been mostly agency. My first digital role was at WebEvents, a digital start up, in 2000. That ended catastrophically for many people, a classic story of boom and bust (although I should point out WebEvents regrouped, reformed and became something bigger and better). I was made redundant, a victim of the dotcom bubble bursting.

But I’d got the bug so, while temping for BT, I self-funded a CIM qualification hoping it would help me get me back into the industry. It worked: I started as a ‘search engineer’ at Stickyeyes, then left to join Brilliant Media, where I set up and grew a search offering from scratch, before joining Home to help create a full services digital operation.

After more than a decade in agency, I decided I needed to give client-side a go. I’d always wondered what it would be like and knew I had lots to offer.

An opportunity presented itself at and, after only six months, an even bigger, better opportunity came up at JD Williams. I knew JD well, having worked with them during my time at Home. They’re a fascinating organisation, with lots of interesting challenges. It was a no-brainer.

It must be very different role to your previous agency experience. What does a usual day involve?

I’m still trying to work that out!

I don’t think I’ve had a ‘usual’ day yet. JDW is a complex business, so my first few months were spent understanding everything and then finding out what my team and I could/should do.

But it’s definitely different to agency: instead of actually doing traditional digital tasks myself, I need to get things done via others – whether that’s direct reports, other teams or whole departments. My part in the mix is to work out what needs doing, define the outcomes, KPIs and processes, and then make sure the various teams perform to those.

And there’s definitely one client-side cliche that’s true: there are a lot of meetings!

Has there been anything about the move client-side that’s surprised you?

The role is to get others to act and perform differently to achieve our goals, so I talk/discuss/cajole/convince/instruct more than I actually do traditional ‘work’. But all those years of pitching to clients have really come in handy with this.

You have a portfolio of different brands; how much does your digital strategy differ between them? Or is there a blueprint for success that works regardless of the target audience?

I’d say 70-80% is the same basic blueprint, or at least the same building blocks. We then dial elements up or down according to the audience and the brand aims. For example all brands will have a grounding in DR with some level of PPC, affiliates, tech SEO, remarketing, programmatic display and CRO. The main variations will be budget, while with some we’ll extend to brand comms through premium display, PR, social and content marketing.

You have an in-house team; how did you come to make the decision to move your digital activity in-house? Where do you see agencies fitting within your future strategy? What role can they play to continue to add value?

I’ll answer these three questions in one go. We haven’t actually moved our digital in-house, at least not fully.

Our intention is to always do some work in-house and do some via agencies. This gives us the best of both worlds: we benefit from our agencies’ cross-market expertise and media partner relationships, while our in-house work means we retain and develop our own expertise. This allows us to direct, challenge and collaborate with our partners in a much fuller and more productive way.

We like to work collaboratively with our agencies, considering them as an extension to our team. We spend a lot of time with them and prefer working on projects together, as opposed to the agency taking a brief, disappearing for weeks and then returning with a response that may or may not be right. We prefer to ‘co-create’ (horrible trendy word that, but it does express the point well) as it means everyone is already bought in to the idea and no further selling in is required.

This makes things quicker and more likely to work. I’ll admit that we’re like this because so many of my team are also ex-agency. And it’s been difficult, and probably very frustrating, for our agencies to adjust. But it’s definitely the best way of doing things.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone considering making a move client-side?

Do it! It’s a completely different world to agency and a great way to expand your knowledge and experience.


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