Finding The Balance Between Social Media and Personal Connections

Finding The Balance Between Social Media and Personal Connections
April 26 14:05 2017 Print This Article

Jon Cook is the Global Chief Executive Officer for one of the most revered ad agencies in the world. Their global network now includes 28 offices in 15 countries. Serving some of the world’s most recognized and respected brands, such as Bridgestone, Colgate-Palmolive, Ford, Kellogg, PepsiCo, Wendy’s and many more. Jon is a dynamic leader who has the unique ability to focus on what’s working and at the same time the agility to continuously pivot to meet the ever-changing times. I had the unique opportunity to speak with Jon as they celebrate an incredible 25 years of marketing. Here’s how it went:

Jay: So much of today’s marketing is focused on blasting a message through as many social channels as possible. What’s unique about VML is your mission to look deeper than just numbers and create personalized stories. What has directed you to take that approach and what have been the results?

Jon: I love the question and it’s something we take very seriously. The amount of technology that has become available over the last ten years is absolutely incredible. While the advantages are many, there’s a strong temptation to use tech as a crutch. The wide reach of social media can often distort your vision and lure you into trying to blast your message to millions of people, rather than focusing on creating personal connections with your more targeted audience. Our core strategy is to create persuasive content that produces action. It’s our responsibility to make sure to amplify our efforts with the proper social media channels with the discipline to make sure that social media does not allow us to become lazy. The most important variable in any marketing campaign is to understand what your audience wants to hear and that is where social media becomes the greatest asset you can have as a marketer. Listen, assess and plan accordingly.
Jay: Technology is a gift and a curse. It has enabled entrepreneurs to start a business out of their bedrooms and reach millions of people. At the same time, many brands struggle to reach the right eyeballs. They end up wasting money and seeing slow to zero returns. How have you been able to leverage social media for your clients in a way that brings them high quality results?

Jon: There’s no question about that, and we see brands struggle to find the proper balance all the time. I think one of the most important principles that needs to be understood is that in order to be effective one needs to understand the power of influence. While social media will give you numbers, the only way to create real influence is by connecting with the right influencers. We recently ran a tourism campaign that demonstrates the power of incorporating influencer marketing to your campaigns. Tennessee is known for its beautiful vacation atmosphere and while many visitors knew the rock and roll atmosphere on the west side of the state, we ran a campaign to draw visitors to enjoy an epic vacation experience on the east side of Tennessee as well. Rather than the typical travel guide as a means to spread the word, we wanted to really connect to families – so we sent a blogger from a popular lifestyle blog called Bleubird on a trip to the east side. We documented the entire experience and paired it with a performance of “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” by Dolly Parton, an advocate for the state of Tennessee and specifically the East Tennessee area. ( The results were staggering, and the underpinnings of its success was the real-life experience coupled with the thrust of the right influencer. Finding the right influencer for your brand is key to getting your message to the right viewers, but it’s also important to make sure you’re creating micro pieces of content along the way to use across all channels – both the brand and influencers – to scale the partnership.

Jay: Celebrating the 25th anniversary for VML is an incredible achievement. A quarter of a century is certainly a reflection of constant growth and value that you’ve been able to bring to your clients. With the marketing land scape changing so often what have been some core techniques that haven’t changed?

Jon: Looking back at the amount of change that has occurred over those 25 years and the ability we’ve had to remain marketing leaders demands a tremendous amount of credit to our leadership team. I think one of the most important qualities that we’ve show as a team and as a company is the courage to make brave decisions. In the 90’s we were a successful ad agency, which was followed by the influx of the digital space which required us to pivot and meet the demands of the times. As VML continued to evolve from era to era we were able to stay nimble and stay ahead of the curve. It takes a tremendous amount of bravery to step away from what has made you successful and jump into something else. The ability to navigate through change and all the while understand which parts to keep and which parts to move away from has been an important element of our success. Structuring your company with the right data resources to make sure you notice changes as soon as they occur, coupled with a thirst for innovation is a timeless framework which will continue to improve in the ever-changing marketing landscape.

Jay: In what area in particular does VML create the most impact? What do you want your clients to think of VML as most?

Jon: That question is a difficult one to answer because you want to be able to do so many different things for your clients. However, we always tell our clients, “We don’t want to be your biggest partner, we want to be your most important partner”. To become an entrepreneur is every American’s dream, which is great, but it also tends to breed the desire to do everything. At VML we’re about helping you understand what’s most important for your company and helping you create the capability to do that. Understanding the need to delegate and connect with the right resources for each step helps prevent the trap of doing everything yourself and allows for smart decision making.

Jay: What do you see coming down the line that brands need to be aware of in regards to creating the right message, reaching the right audience and staying ahead of the curve? On a similar note, what do you see coming ahead for VML as a company as you look towards many more years of continued growth for you and your clients?

Jon: I think we’re going to see a tremendous return to the fundamentals of marketing and communication. Brands will realize they need to take a more targeted approach. Locate your target audience and connect with them by creating authentic and engaging content. Social media will still play a key role in amplifying your message but only after you’ve created a core foundation of your consumers. The magic of effective marketing is rooted in the fundamentals of communication and we’re looking to the future with confidence that the same principles that has enabled us to succeed over the last quarter of a century will help us bring continued growth to our clients.

Jon Cook VMLA driving force at VML for 20 years, Jon has served as global CEO since 2011. During Jon’s tenure, the agency has grown from 30 employees in Kansas City, Missouri, to more than 2,500 on six continents.

Jon helped lead VML to Advertising Age’s 2016 A-List honors, which recognizes the industry’s top 10 agencies. He has guided VML through critical stages of growth and expanded capabilities, spanning the widest range of marketing disciplines and driving the agency to be the most contemporary marketing partner possible. Jon embodies the agency’s primary objective:to be the leading strategic partner for the world’s most forward-thinking brands. 

Jon graduated from the University of Missouri in 1993 with a Bachelor of Science in journalism, and he supported the Missouri School of Journalism 2008 centennial program in several leadership capacities. He relishes spending time with his wife, Lisa, and their three daughters. The family especially enjoys hiking together.