A life lived on Twitter

Ogilvy's digital guru was in London recently on a mission to convert firms not using social media, writes Alex Black

Rohit Bhargava
Rohit Bhargava

Rohit Bhargava is a blogger. He is also an author, marketer, public speaker and PRO, but through all these roles runs a common thread: most of what he does, or thinks, ends up being chronicled on the worldwide web.

Bhargava’s dedication to online social media is inspirational. US mag Advertising Age puts him in the top 50 of influential authorities on online marketing. His blog, the Influential Marketing Blog (www.influentialmarketingblog.com), is required reading for anyone in marketing, advertising or PR, and its posts attract thousands of readers and commentators.

His Twitter feed covers his global travels (1:35 AM Oct 31st from Twitter-Berry ‘On the flight from Paris back to DC – United’s seniority-based stewardess assignments result in an older/unhelpful crew’) and his conference engagements (8:12 PM Oct 31st from web ‘Heading to sleep, on an early 7am flight to New York tomorrow morning to speak at the SAMMA Summit’). It is followed by more than 2,500 people.

Bhargava has the unmistakable air of an American abroad as he strolls into Ogilvy’s state-of-the-art Canary Wharf office. His attire is smart casual, and his smile and engaging politeness are a world away from the awkward ‘geek blogger’ stereotype.

It quickly becomes apparent that beneath the skin of this 33-year-old who talks enthusiastically about technology and uber-cool web trends beats the heart of an incredibly focused and analytical marketing professional. The knowledge he holds in his head is like gold dust for any PRO trying to create a credible digital marketing strategy. In 30 minutes, he taught PRWeek more about how information is disseminated on the internet than most people learn in a decade of being a web consumer.

Bhargava’s Ogilvy career began just over four years ago. He reached the end of a five-year stint in Sydney, then returned to the US to help set up the global advertising outfit’s digital influencer team.

Now he leads a team of digital experts working across all manner of briefs for clients. Though based in Washington DC, Bhargava and his band of bloggers spend much of their time criss-crossing the globe, preaching the word of digital to the uninitiated, the unbelieving and the plain baffled.

His recent book, Personality Not Included: Why Companies Lose Their Authenticity – And How Great Brands Get It Back, was written in ten months after he ‘built up steam with the blog’. Its first print run of 20,000, which is large for a marketing book, has been translated into five languages. Since its May launch, 2,000 have already been shipped out to European bookshops.

Bhargava believes many people in the PR industry understand the digital sector and that the opportunities lie in educating current or potential clients. He says these clients either don’t get digital or ‘get it a bit, but don’t know what to do with it’.

For those who are just catching up, he believes it often takes just one thing to make it click. ‘It might be a reputational crisis that starts as a negative blog post then snowballs,’ he says. ‘Once people see how quick responses to the right audiences can turn a crisis around, they start to get it.’ Or it might be something everyday, such as the recent policy adopted by some tech journalists of refusing to entertain PR pitches unless delivered via Twitter. ‘The social media phone is ringing and people want to engage,’ he says, wheeling out a line he has probably delivered a thousand times. ‘Everybody else can hear it and if you don’t pick it up, people are going to wonder why.’

His tips for digital success are sometimes simple, sometimes complex, but always seem to make sense. He advises companies to ‘share rather than cede’ control of their blogs. Pressed as to how the long-suffering agency PRO can prove ROI on a digital campaign to a sceptical company boss, he turns his attention to the US airline industry. ‘The airline industry is utterly reviled in the US,’ he explains. ‘Look at, say, Delta Airlines, which has its own blog. Google it and five of the top ten hits will say how much it sucks, but the other five will be positive.

‘Then look at American Airlines, which doesn’t have a blog. All ten of the sites are about how much it sucks. Now ask how much it spends on advertising, and weigh it up against the price of a digital campaign.’

As Bhargava signs a copy of his book, he chats about his life. He has two young boys, is a keen photographer and is as sports-mad as the next American.

But it is left to Twitter to reveal what would make his life complete: 1:41 AM Oct 31st from TwitterBerry ‘Can’t wait until these flights get internet. Eight hours undisturbed online while travelling by air would be the world’s most awesome thing.’

 

rohit bhargava’s turning points

What was your biggest career break?

My first job in Australia. I turned up in Sydney in 1997, straight out of college, with a visa and zero contacts – and I was prepared to paint houses, or whatever, to make a living. However, I ended up getting a freelance coding job that was supposed to last three weeks.

After my second week, I was offered a web producer role at what turned out to be the start of the dotcom boom.

Do you have a mentor?

Guy Kawasaki has been a big influence on me, but the blog world is such a close-knit community it is difficult to focus on one person. We all help each other.

What do you prize in new recruits?

They have to be willing to experiment with new tools. Some kid straight out of college may well be a whizz with Facebook, but we might need a completely different approach for a campaign that he’s never even heard of. This is not the type of industry where I can hire somebody who knows everything.

CV

2004 Senior vice-president, digital strategy & marketing, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

2001 Executive producer, iLeo, Leo Burnett

1998 Consultant, Dimension Data (formerly Com Tech)

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