Global Think-Tank: Ivan Pollard, Coca-Cola

The vice-president of global connections at Coca-Cola talks to Philip Smith about the role PR can play to help deliver the soft drink firm's nine-year plan

Coca-Cola's Ivan Pollard: from Getty Images

Constructively discontented is how Muhtar Kent, chairman and chief executive officer of The Coca-Cola Company, describes the scale of the company’s ambition and what he wants his employees to be. In that sense, with his ambition and ideas, Ivan Pollard, Coca-Cola’s vice-president, global connections, fits the mould.

Yet, in many other ways, Pollard can be seen as a mould-breaker. A media industry veteran in the UK, he has carved a role as a pioneer and an innovative thinker, with stints at the forefront of comms planning in the UK. These include long spells at leading independent media agencies including The Ingram Partnership and Naked.

Pollard is known as a livewire, full of ideas and a belief that brands and businesses can connect with consumers in more ways than ever in an increasingly complex marketplace.

Asked about his role as Coca-Cola aggressively follows its 2020 vision – to double the size of the business in the next nine years, Pollard talks about change, challenges and growing, if complex, opportunities for the corporation’s PR and media strategies in a changing world.

Pollard is charged with leading its strategy to communicate with consumers through all strands of media. He sees many opportunities, particularly for a business the size of Coca-Cola. These opportunities come through three main channels – as the current media buzz words would have it –via owned, bought and earned media, including PR.

Passionate about the comms possibilities that all three areas present to Coca-Cola, Pollard can see big opportunities for PR as a discipline and for his firm’s PR agencies in particular.

Media trigger

‘Earned media – what journalists write and what journalists think,’ he explains. ‘This is still as important as ever. It’s more important in one way because your website versus your magazine is a different beast: much more scalable, much more customisable, personalised, focused…’

The stories the business wants to broadcast can be amplified through social media. PR can be the trigger for the other forms of media as well.

‘Everybody has a responsibility for how a story grows and spreads. We want our stories to get bigger.’

Judith Snyder, Coca-Cola’s global brand PR group director, sums this up as bringing ideas to the table rather than just worrying about the application of those ideas.

Thanks to social media, they both see that PR is about talking directly to audiences, as well as journalists and media. So, in effect, PR needs to bring the consumers into the brief.

In fact, Pollard says agencies should think about context: ‘One of the things is the prefix (PR, Ad, digital...) that goes before the word agency. We are getting to the stage of not strike it out but put it in parentheses and look at the capability.’

But, for now, Coca-Cola has been asking its PR agencies to supply briefs such as this since the start of the year. An example of how collaboration, social media and content can combine was its Maroon 5 project during the spring.

Fans were invited to join the US alternative rock band online as they composed a new song in 24 hours. Fans could get a virtual all-access pass to the studio by visiting, where they added their own inspiration to lyrics, riffs and rhythms for the song. An array of agencies worked on the project, and the original 24-hour session concept came from Lexis PR.

PR-driven initiative

‘It was a really interesting experience,’ recalls Pollard. ‘The whole Maroon 5 initiative was driven by PR. The idea came from Lexis: the engineering for how it starts, how it spreads, how it scales and how it engages all came from PR.’

But inspiration can come from anywhere. Increasingly, it can come from Facebook fans and other consumers.

At Coca-Cola, this idea is taking shape through its Content 2020 advertising strategy. Storytelling and content creation are key to this growth, as Jonathan Mildenhall, vice-president of global advertising strategy and excellence, said recently.

So those other areas, outside earned media, cannot be ignored. Coca-Cola’s advertising, or bought media, is perhaps uniquely significant both in terms of spend and critical acclaim. From I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing to the Coca-Cola Santa Claus, the firm tells the best ad stories, Pollard asserts.

Advertising Age claims it is the sixth biggest advertiser in the world, with an estimated $2.44bn ad spend in 2009, but Pollard says the corporation’s role as a media owner can be undervalued or underestimated: ‘Coca-Cola is such a huge media owner.’ He estimates the scope of its influence as ‘1.7 billion cans and bottles a day; ten million refrigerators and coolers in the market; three million vending machines; and 20 million customer relationships’.

Huge brand portfolio

In many ways, ‘big’ feels like an under-statement in connection with this FMCG giant. In October, its reported net revenue and comparable net revenue were both $35.5bn for the first three quarters of 2011, ending 30 September.

Apart from the eponymous brand, it boasts a portfolio of more than 3,500 beverages, from diet and regular sparkling beverages to still beverages such as 100 per cent fruit juices and fruit drinks, waters, sports and energy drinks, teas and coffees, and milk-and soy-based beverages, worldwide.

So, the business’ employee distribution network, its billions of bottles and bottling plants become additional media opportunities. The question is: how do you tap into this opportunity?

Pollard adds: ‘I’ve been talking since 1995 about owned, earned and paid media, and increasingly realised there is shared media as well. Sometimes you may pay for a part of it, but then you gain more and more, and you may share that message with a retailer, for example Walmart.’

Sharing is another buzz word. Social media may facilitate this, but the brand’s role is to trigger it. Pollard recently noticed a comment on Coca-Cola’s Facebook fan page, where a fan relates the tale of a horse that will only drink its medicine when it is mixed with Coca-Cola.‘One hundred and forty of her friends may see that, one tells you and that’s the way these stories have currency. We are starting to think of the earned one (opportunity) here – how you get people to share their experiences.’

But the brand can create these opport-unities: ‘Stop thinking about winning a ticket to the World Cup final with Coca-Cola and start thinking about how, when I get to the World Cup final, every one of my mates is going to benefit because they are there with me. We are going to get to the stage where it is you and 200,000 of your friends and people who don’t even know you.’

Cultural shift

Countries develop at different paces, Pollard says, but have different opportunities: ‘We want the penetration of technology to be matched by the adoption of consumers – consumer behaviour – in turn matched by our ability to service that as an organisation. The pace is converging. In some communities such as Spain and Latin America people share more openly than the US.’

Pollard says he is undergoing a culture shift. He has moved from a small business to one of the biggest in the world, from London to Atlanta, and from agency-side to become the client.

He says moving client-side has opened his eyes. He always preached a ‘holistic’ view of media and marketing, but now has the opportunity to practise it in all disciplines: ‘If PR is the right thing, with a story, you work with a PR agency first… we always preached that. But when you are actually responsible for it and doing it, you realise how true that is.'


2011 Vice-president, global connections, The Coca-Cola Company

2006 Group partner, Naked Communications

2003 Partner, The Ingram Partnership

1997 Partner, Unity

1995 Media planner, Wieden & Kennedy, Amsterdam

1987 Head of media planning, Boase Massimi Pollitt


Liquid and linked

What Coca-Cola’s focus on content means:

 Everybody has a responsibility for how a story grows and spreads. We want our stories to get bigger. Help us make sure the story comes back to business needs.

Ivan Pollard V-P, global connections, Coca-Cola

With such massive changes in marketing, with the advent of more technology, we need to rethink our approach. We want ideas that run everywhere and fill every communication channel, creating liquid. We want to earn a disproportionate share of popular culture and we need to develop the world’s most compelling content.

Jonathan Mildenhall V-P, advertising strategy and content excellence, Coca-Cola

We are looking at owned, earned, shared and paid media, and we will look at mums through all those lenses. We recently invited 20 mummy bloggers to spend two days with us. We were very transparent with them. We told them about our sustainability initiatives and discussed with them what is contained in our products.

Wendy Clark Senior V-P, integrated marketing comms and capabilities, Coca-Cola

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