Meredith Carson calls her new company ‘story hackers and growth hackers’. She tells Austyn Allison what that means.
If you have been involved in Dubai’s media industry over the past 10 years, you are likely to recognise Meredith Carson from her time as group director of content at Omnicom Media Group. She was also head of digital at Action Global Communications in the UAE. And has held a variety of communication jobs in Australia, from radio to client-side marketing.
You might also have come across AJ Management Consulting, a tech-focused consultancy based in the US, which also has operations in Dubai. Both Carson and AJ are digital to the core, and the two have now come together to launch Bravo Romeo by AJ.
The name Bravo Romeo is a reference to the naval/aviation term “breakup and rendezvous”. This means to split up and come back together later. Carson explains: “It means, basically, stop what you’re doing, take a step back and now let’s get it together properly.”
Bravo Romeo is one of that new breed of agencies that is hard to define. Carson even goes so far as to spurn the ‘agency’ title altogether. “We are not really an agency,” she says. “We are a firm. That’s part of our renegade DNA; we will not be defined, we absolutely refuse to be.”
She describes Bravo Romeo’s small, Media City-based team, as “story hackers and growth hackers”, elaborating: “What we do is we organise around what the audience’s interests are. We map them to business and communications objectives on the client side. And then we find ways of telling stories around this that meet those mutual points of interest.”
In layman’s terms, she says, Bravo Romeo is a “marcomms management consultancy firm”, which puts digital first. On its website it calls itself as “a content marketing and integrated communications firm, with a digital edge”.
By inserting itself between clients and agencies it aims to mitigate two common problems client-side marketing teams face: they are either overwhelmed or siloed.
“You’ve got brand owners who in this day and age find it extremely difficult to keep their fingers on everything and stay up to date,” says Carson. “In a smaller team you’ve got the brand owners who have to try and understand programmatic, social, SEO, traditional, PR… absolutely everything. And what they end up becoming is almost a marketing general manager. They have got to be able to sell internally, they have got to be able to deliver, and the job itself is almost too much for one person.”
This means they can become “quite tactical, without having the ability to drive the narrative from a more strategic viewpoint”, she adds. And that’s without even adding analytics and data analysis into the mix. It can become stifling.
The other end of the scale can be equally as problematic. Carson says: “If you’ve got a very well funded, well resourced marketing communications team, then you start to get silos. You might have teams of specialists. You’ve got the corp comms team, you’ve got the marketing team, you’ve got the e-commerce team, you’ve got all these different teams, but they are not always working in unison, and it can become very difficult to harmonise them.”
This is where Bravo Romeo comes in.
“What gets me up in the morning is the ability to navigate between all of those different silos and to gather people around a core idea – what I call a North Star – which is that happy place between what the audience’s needs are and what the business objectives are.”
This is story hacking: finding a common direction for a client’s communications team to follow.
Growth hacking follows: “It is being able to develop products and services that stem from – and are actually co-created with – the audience. They stem from insights that come from the audience.”
Carson says: “That really, really floats my boat – when you can create products, services, stories and communications that directly address an audience’s needs.”
Bravo Romeo’s services shouldn’t be seen as another expense on top of agency fees. Rather, it produces efficiencies, she says. “Without having somebody that can pull it all together then you’ve got entities out there that are spinning their wheels. You’ve got PR out there that’s PR for PR’s sake, that’s not necessarily getting the pick-up that it needs and is not necessarily building into that bigger picture. You’ve got media spend on advertising campaigns out there, but again they are not being tied into or backed up by the PR. Or the social media is totally off on a different tangent, so you start getting really fractured narratives.”
Carson is a self-confessed aviation geek, and Katie Cuthbert, Bravo Romeo’s communications manager and “employee number one” came to the firm from a major regional airline. So it is no surprise that the aviation sector is one where Carson is keen to work. She says other sectors that interest her include media technology and government.
She enthuses about working with “real life stories”, giving the example of port operators as the sort of clients that offer engaging narrative potential. “The movement of goods and the movement of humanity, what powers humanity, really excites me. I guess it’s because it’s the ‘technosexual’ in me: planes, trains, automobiles, ships…”
So far Bravo Romeo has three agency clients and three brand clients. One client Bravo Romeo has worked on – through a partnership with Action Global Communications – is British Airways, for whom the firm produced a chat bot, the “British Airways BOTler”, which uses Facebook Messenger to encourage potential customers to book flights to London. It asks users about their plans for their trip and returns multimedia content tailored to their responses, along with offers on flights. Celebrities including David Beckham provided personal tips on what to do on a visit to the city.
In its case study, Bravo Romeo says of the campaign: “BA now has a sustainable owned digital media platform they can leverage for future initiatives, from compelling brand storytelling to customer service. BA derived a tremendous amount of useful data on audience content preferences and purchase triggers to further hone their content marketing strategy and devise ways of communicating with their customers in a way that is audience-centric.”
In the case of the BA bot, the curation of the content was decided as much by the users as by the client’s marketing department, but stories can come from anywhere. Even those parts of a company that don’t often contribute to its communication efforts can provide rich results.
Carson says Bravo Romeo’s work, particularly from an internal communications perspective, is also about finding interest within the company. “It’s about going in and finding the stories and sourcing the stories from the engineers, from the research and development department, from supply chain management,” she says.
Conversely, she adds: “It’s about finding those stories from the audience that are going to affect supply chain management being able to design services and products around them. It becomes quite cyclical.”
Bravo Romeo prefers to hold on to clients for longer than a single project. Not just for the financial security that longer-term contracts provide any start-up, but because its model is based on long-term thinking. The BA project, for example, is being translated into different languages and can be modified to promote other destinations, and the insights gleaned from customers telling the bot what they like to do on their journeys can be used to improve it again and again.
“We are more than happy to put teams together and train them up,” says Carson. “We can step away from it, but what I think we do where many management consultancies fall down is that often people put together strategies that sound very intelligent and make sense on paper, and then they hand them over and walk away.
“We take ownership of the strategy. We make sure it stays on track. We make sure the reporting builds into the measurement frameworks properly, that the correct stories are being told and that the tone of voice, the content pillars and the content strategy are being followed.”