Helping big brands like O2, Sony and Lacoste create unique cultural content, pd3 is changing the way enterprise connects with the consumer
Making a genuine connection with the consumer is perhaps harder than ever. In a content-saturated age, you need to know how to forge a meaningful point of exchange and this means knowing how to create a place for your brand as a part of a wider culture. Founding an agency to help brands generate interesting media and content may seem like a rather tall order. But for Paul Tully, founder of cultural marketing agency pd3, it was merely making necessity out of virtue.
Tully has always naturally gravitated toward interesting cultural content. “The whole purpose of me getting into it was because I just loved it,” he explains. The mid-1990s saw the entrepreneur based in Shoreditch’s Hoxton Square – a place he believes is the creative capital of the world – and regularly rubbing shoulders with some of London’s brightest artistic talent. “If anything, at that time I was working in entertainment,” he says. “I was putting on gigs, events and exhibitions, which I really enjoyed doing.”
Finding himself handling the sales and marketing around arts and entertainment was very exciting for Tully but he began to realise he was sitting on an entirely untapped resource. “I suddenly realised that there were always people who were up in big bright lights,” he comments. “There was all this creative talent around me and I thought I should take those people to brands.” This concept helped form the basis of his first agency: Tully & Co.
Tully & Co. was built on very natural relationships; being informed by Tully’s connections with local talent meant it was in a position to disrupt more traditional approaches to promoting brands. “It was all about doing something new and fresh,” he says. “It was one of the first youth agencies around.” However, gradually, this type of agency began to become much more commonplace and Tully felt a key differentiator of the business had essentially been eroded. “The marketplace was becoming very cluttered with youth agencies and I always want to be ahead of the game.”
And this is where pd3 first sprang from. “It was all around doing things new, fresh and first,” he explains. The enterprise was built around creating meaningful content, that captured cultural value and using this to enrich brands. “I wanted to work with brands that were creatively ambitious and who wanted to create the kind of work and experiences that my friends and I actually wanted to go to.”
So, in 1997, Tully pooled all the resources he had at his disposal and self-funded his start-up – which might be a slightly grandiose term for the enterprise’s humble beginnings. “It was just me, myself and I,” he laughs. “It was literally a little laptop, a fax machine and a desk that I shared with other like-minded people.” He explains that money really wasn’t the fuel that drove the pd3 vision and bootstrapping was the most natural way to enable the agency to achieve its aims. “If anything, it was just founded on passion and love for what I was doing.”
But mighty oaks from little acorns grow. And over the years the agency has established a very strong base in the world of marketing, working with high-profile brands like Sony, Lacoste, Nike and Saab, not to mention becoming one of the pioneers of an entirely different method of promotion: cultural marketing. “We’ve always flourished with projects that are culturally focused,” Tully continues. “It’s our passion, it’s our expertise and I guess over the past five years we’ve seen the demand for credible, cultural communication grow and grow.”
To prevent any head scratching, cultural marketing as a term is a fairly simple to grasp. “It’s the creation of brand-funded cultural content,” explains Tully. In essence, cultural marketing allows brands to facilitate the creation of unique and engaging entertainment and media and turns traditional marketing on its head.
‘Little Boxes’ – created for O2 by pd3 and featuring the band Walk Off the Earth
Rather than funding 100,000 banner ads, through pd3‘s ‘Thinking of Katie’ campaign, mobile phone network O2 paid for Tinie Tempah to carry out an intimate one-person concert for a single die-hard fan. The associated online content alone has since generated over 800,000 views and assisted O2 in creating an indelible cultural moment. “People love seeing great experiences and people go to experiences that they want to be involved in,” says Tully.
Tully believes this is simply part of a trend that has been forming for a very long time. “As a result of the digital revolution, the consumer is more in control of when and where they interact with brands,” he says. He makes reference to a quote from co-founder of noted advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Sir John Hegarty: “We’ve moved from the age of interruption to the age of engagement”. As customers are used to actively seeking content out, they have less time for media that insists itself upon them. “Brands have to earn the right to be heard and taken into consumers’ hearts and minds,” Tully continues.
It’s this emotional connection that the entrepreneur feels is of growing value. “Products have become increasingly homogenous,” he says. And given that companies can often have similar price points for similar products and services, we’re long past the age where price can be a significant differentiator. “It’s all about a consumer’s feeling and emotion towards a brand,” says Tully. “That makes their purchasing decision.”
Given the wide variety of their content – whether it’s getting Canadian band Walk Off the Earth to cover Little Boxes on instruments made from cardboard boxes or its promotion for Ken Follett’s novel Fall of Giants that created the ‘world’s first 3D audio enhanced publication’ – pd3 is creating anything but homogenous brand experiences. And given that consumers are increasingly hardwired to seek out original, engaging content, it seems the agency’s journey is long set to continue.