The Connected Leader - Rob Pierre

Michelle C.: Hello and welcome to the Get Social Connected Leader podcast where I, Michelle Carvill, interview business leaders around the practicalities of how in this hyper connected digital age they are embracing digital technologies to tune in and connect and communicate. You can find all episodes of the podcast, together with show notes via our website,

Michelle C.: In this episode of the Get Social Connected Leader podcast, I'm delighted to interview Rob Pierre. Rob is the co-founder and CEO of Jellyfish, a global digital partner employing more than 750 people across 21 offices in [inaudible 00:00:46], US and APAC. Offering consultancy agency training and technology services Jellyfish works in partnership with some of the world's leading brands to support their digital journeys and transformation. Clients include Uber, Ebay, Disney, Spotify, Ford, Aviva Investors, and ASOS. Jellyfish have won multiple awards for their work, and are also listed in the Sunday Times Best Companies To Work For. On an individual level, Rob has achieved at placing Campaigns A List, the Beamer 100, and also the Digerati, recognizing both his passion for digital and contribution to the industry.

Michelle C.: In 2018 he was also a London and south finalist for Ernst and Young's Entrepreneur of the Year, and a finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year at the Investors' All Stars. Rob subscribes to the concept that more is lost from indecision than wrong decisions, and as a result has created an environment where people are encouraged to challenge process and innovate.

Michelle C.: Rob, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast.

Rob Pierre: Absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Michelle C.: It's great to have your here. I wanted to have a chat with you because of course you are the leader of Jellyfish and that is a hugely successful digital agency, and of course so therefore you are advising clients around their digital journey, but of course there's also a very digital element to what you then do yourself as kind of leading by example, you know as an organization by installing the benefits of digital to your clients. Just tell me a little bit about the digital space and how you got into that space and your role personally around that.

Rob Pierre: I kind of fell into digital, if I'm honest. My background as very much a retailer. I was a very analytical retailer and also in sales and marketing, so it's was, it ended up being quite a natural transition. What I found is that most of the principles that apply to retail, for example Pareto's Law and you will sell 80% of your stock from 20% of your stocks numbers, it became a similar concept within digital where often you would get 80% of your exposure from 20% of your creative, or 80% of your traffic from 20% of your keywords. Actually it's just the whole measuring, test, analyze, refine, and the problem solving. So yeah, I fell into digital. A friend of mine had a digital, well not even a digital, an IT consultancy business, and started dabbling in paid search and digital marketing. We kept having conversations, and eventually we went on a train journey together. By the end of that train journey I said I was going to leave my job in retail and manufacturing, join him, and start a business that concentrated on digital marketing. That was late 2004, early 2005.

Michelle C.: Wow, and that's where it all began.

Rob Pierre: That's where it all began.

Michelle C.: Fantastic. That fruitful train journey.

Rob Pierre: Exactly.

Michelle C.: Of course so digital over, I mean we're talking nearly 15 years then aren't we, nearly coming onto 16 years of that shift, what are the shifts that you've seen about engagement. Because I mean you know I started my business probably around a similar time, and it really has shifted from back then where there was a lot of resistance around prove this to me, you know show me the metric, show me how this works. I mean I think there's still a desire and a need for that level of accountability and analysis and to be data driven, but there's been an absolute shift around how digital is embraced, from my perspective. Do you feel that as well from your perspective?

Rob Pierre: 100%. I mean just the fact that within the ecosystem a digital first organization like us is growing from strength to strength demonstrates that yes it's being embraced, it's being understood. In some ways the tangible nature of digital could be seen as as a real benefit, but it's also a bit of a curse because there's always a way, or there's always a perceived way, to analyze and demonstrate value or lack of value.

Rob Pierre: I think what's happening now is where once upon a time the performance agency or the digital agency was actually part of the roster. Now we've really just got a marketing agency that's in a digital world.

Michelle C.: Yes.

Rob Pierre: And that the difference. We're finding that we could actually lead the strategy, whereas once upon a time we were the performance bit at the bottom of the funnel that is where digital swept up all the great work that your strategy agency or your creative agency did. But what we're learning is that in this world where there's unlimited media, we can actually follow people on all different platforms, the big change is that historically you could out buy your competitors. You can bully your way to being a leading brand because if you bought all the available media on television, on video, all the billboards, what can a disruptive brand do. There's just no way to get the desired exposure.

Rob Pierre: Nowadays, if you use data well and you use all of the available digital platforms to access your audience, you can't be frozen out of the market. That I think is where we've seen this transition and this momentum with digital.

Michelle C.: Yeah, I mean 100%. It's kind of, it's democratized hasn't it? You've got some smaller agencies and some smaller organizations and even individuals really punching above their weight and making significant shifts because they know how to harness these tools effectively.

Rob Pierre: Completely. I mean my mum would tell everybody that we're one of the biggest organizations in the world because of course she's on my website looking at my profile probably. We cookie her, so she's now linked to us, and whichever website she goes to, she sees Jellyfish advertising. So she's like wow son, you're advertising on the Guardian and on ITP, or on any of the websites that she goes to, and she thinks that we're paying for this blanket shotgun approach, but actually we're just targeting her directly.

Michelle C.: Yeah, and that is powerful. What about social media technologies? Because there's paid and paid social where we can target people, we can profile people, you know that granular level of being able to, I should say, target them, follow them around, really get under the skin of an individual to a degree digitally, is something. What about the conversational, the community aspect side of it? Where do you feel that is balanced or fits in?

Rob Pierre: Well, it's interesting because social media has allowed us to join communities that historically weren't accessible to us. I think if I look back and think about why did I even start using social media, probably the first one I was using really actively was Facebook. Back then I thought it was a really good idea to upload my 200 photos from my holiday and expected that would be interesting to everybody. I was using it to contact my friends, my family so that the next conversation I had with them when I meet them face to face, you're not going through all the boring how are you. You've actually got some information and you can say, "Oh, I notice you went to Marbella, and oh that hotel looked great," or "you've had a baby," or whatever it is. It was a way in which you can stay in contact with people who are either close to you, or are family or distant friends.

Rob Pierre: Whereas it's kind of changed. It's evolved over time. Where you're actually building and joining communities where it might be an influencer and you're getting close to their lives and understanding more about them and engaging with them in a way that you wouldn't normally do. You're not even really using it to engage with your friends anymore and your family. It's so consumed that your feed is monopolized by either influencers or brands, or other communities that, like I say, you wouldn't normally have access to.

Michelle C.: And it is, in some ways that can be a negative thing, but in many ways, I mean if used the right way, I talk about all the time when I was writing my last book and I wanted to interview CEOs from around the world that were doing interesting things with social media particularly, you know they were really leading by example. I literally found these people on the very networks that I wanted to talk to them about and contacted them, and built relationships to the extent that we would then having regular emails that turned into conversations that turned into interviews. I mean indeed it was via Instagram Rob that I kind of harnessed you into doing this thing.

Rob Pierre: That's right.

Michelle C.: It gives us, as you say, this opportunity to tap into communities that we wouldn't ordinarily be able to, and I think that's an interesting point. Externally it allows us to do that. Last week I spoke at an event about internally. I think sometimes we forget the importance of internal social networks and that kind of disconnect that can sometimes happen within our own organization. What is, what's your view about internal social networks internally, and you being visible to your team, not just you but other leaders, et cetera, et cetera? How does that play out within your organization? Because I know you're spread around the world, aren't you?

Rob Pierre: Right.

Michelle C.: So that is difficult for you to be in every office and speaking to every employee and being visible. Are you finding the technologies help you with that?

Rob Pierre: 100%. I mean it's absolutely essential. I would go as far as to say it's imperative for our organization. Often it's how you use the platforms and what they're for as well because we don't want too many. It's already difficult enough to know what to post on Facebook versus Instagram versus LinkedIn, YouTube. There's so many different platforms and you don't want repetition, and you don't want, you want to use it to create inclusion, not silos. There's a lot of considerations.

Rob Pierre: But for example, one of our most popular platforms, what we've got over 700 people globally and we get a 93% participation on this platform, and it's a simple platform called Bonusly. That's where if somebody demonstrates our core values or helps you, everybody's given a certain number of points. You actually then allocate those points to people who have done something to support you and help you and, like I say, demonstrate the core values. You can put gifs and comments and hashtag the core values. That gets a prolific amount of uptake and engagement.

Rob Pierre: What we also find is that things like WhatsApp. That's probably the most dangerous one because that creates the little clicks and little groups. There's a lot of conversation going on in those sort of encrypted private dark social environments. They're the ones that I've got a sort of close eye on. I'm trying to make sure that we reduce that and we provide opportunities for people to do that over our intranet or our internal platforms like you said. It is very important. I think access to me and I think consistency with what's happening internally, but also my external channels.

Rob Pierre: Things have changed. No longer can you be that inaccessible CEO that just shows up in the office and you've got nothing in common or you don't know much about them personally. I think people want to know who they're backing, who they're getting behind and the real personality behind a leader. I think consistency is important. What you say in your personal life and how you portray yourself both at work and in your personal life needs to be consistent. It needs to be something that the work, the team and the people within the work environment, that resonates with them and they can relate to.

Michelle C.: Exactly because it is, to lead you need the followers, and you want to lead by example. It's interesting, I gave a talk last week at this summit around employment engagement. It was quite frightening actually the statistics between the disconnect between the leaders of the organization and often the employees. There was costs around that. A disengaged employee is something like, I think Ernst and Young put it at $10,000 in profit per person per annum. If you've got a lot of employees, that's a lot of money isn't it?

Rob Pierre: Absolutely.

Michelle C.: To be [crosstalk 00:15:04]. Where I see and where I personally champion social is yes it's great as an external, it's great for you to reach out, it's great for you to find networks. I think some people think of as just, it's broadcast broadcast. In the page way, then that is exactly what it is. They are very well thought through, very highly targeted channels, advertising channels that can work around behaviors and around relevancy, which is more engaging than lots of other advertising opportunities. But in the same breath, they're also really useful as this internal glue, this kind of connectivity with teams that may be feeling disengaged, particularly with leaders that ... I actually heard from an L&D team that one of the problems they're trying to solve is that people within their organizations don't know what their leadership team does.

Rob Pierre: Oh geez. Yup.

Michelle C.: I suppose the social aspect can really help with that content because I talk about social enabling leaders to kind of walk the floor as you want to, get to know your people, but walk the floor at scale because it's impossible for you to be in front of everybody all the time, and to be listening and learning all the time because you've got a business to run and drive. But there does need to be that connectivity and that digital aspect enables that in a much more accessible way.

Rob Pierre: Exactly. I mean, I still, and I made a pledge to the business that I would to have an induction session with everybody that starts with Jellyfish.

Michelle C.: Wow.

Rob Pierre: Nowadays I would go to an office and it might be 30 people at a time, but I do sit for an hour and a half and we discuss the past, why the core values, the triumphs, the mistakes, what motivates me, a little bit about my history, my past. That is all for the purpose of making sure that I'm accessible and that they feel that as I'm walking the corridors that they can stop me and say, "Rob, I've got an idea." I use the analogy that we're like the Google data center, which is not one big supercomputer, it's multiple CPU units that all work together that can index the billions of searches every day.

Michelle C.: Yeah. I love that.

Rob Pierre: The more people that we have, the more unique points of view, the different personalities, the innovation, the creativity, the experience, we're becoming bigger and stronger, but only if we're all working together for the same goal and that you feel that you could contribute no matter where you are in the organization you can contribute. The only way that's going to happen is so that I'm not walking past your desk and you kind of look down and pretend you're busy because you think I've got nothing in common with this guy, what am I going to say, how do we engage in it in a useful and our conversations aren't completely awkward. All of these things contribute to that.

Rob Pierre: I do that physically when when I'm around, but if people want to access my channels, my Instagram is open. My LinkedIn is always available. I've kind of got this my own little rule that I will never approach somebody and I would never invite somebody to my social channel. But if they invite me, then anybody can do that. Because I also don't want to be that guy that I was going around asking for access to our team's personal lives and their social channels if they don't want that. It's also a fine balance for us to find what is that sweet spot for how we can engage with everyone in the organization.

Michelle C.: Yeah, that's great. I really liked that kind of analogy of the data Google center because it is, it's about the more engaged everybody is, the more ... It's interesting. On a couple of the other podcasts people have come out and said that it's through there social, almost internal social networking, with their own employees tapping into the richness that is going on within those organizations, that some amazing ideas have come out that just wouldn't ordinarily been able to have had the opportunity to be tapped into because there wouldn't ordinarily be a mechanism that enabled it. It's just answering a simple question, or that metaphorical bumping into the corridor, but done digitally actually really ignite a conversation. You know on a few occasions, just even in the podcasts I've been doing, it's come out that some great stuff has come out from that. If you're not exploring it, you don't have the opportunity to find it do you?

Rob Pierre: Completely. Well another platform that we use as Slido. We do a company all hands video meeting every month. Basically everyone can dial in. I'm now having to do it twice because some of our territories don't work on a Friday, and the the countries in the Asia region, we just can't get all the time zones, so we do it twice. But underlying is a platform called Slido and everybody can ask a question anonymously. Then the entire company either thumbs up or thumbs down to see whether they want me to answer it in that update.

Michelle C.: Wow. I love that.

Rob Pierre: And basically I'm obliged to answer the top three. People have the power [inaudible 00:20:51]. The idea is, like you say, to stay connected. The pub chat is what I'm trying to eradicate, the grapevine where people misinterpret or come up with one and one makes three when they're observing things within the organization. I just want to bring everything to the surface, give everyone a voice, and try and keep that connectivity and that communication channel wide open.

Michelle C.: Yeah, that is wonderful. I mean that is exactly what would happen in the external PR world wouldn't it. If there was a rumor, or if there was something going around, it's great that the CEO can just kind of nip it in the bud immediately with a press release that says actually this is the reality that is going on. That's happening more and more. That is wonderful that that spirit then is being translated internally in the same way, isn't it?

Rob Pierre: Right. Exactly right. It's a very successfully, I mean it works extremely well and it has brought so many subjects. It gives me a chance to explain that sometimes also from an individual lens your paradigm is one way, but then, like I say, if you aggregate everything, I've got the curse of the aggregated view, so anything that you're thinking from an individual standpoint multiplied by 700 and it paints a very different picture. It's really interesting.

Michelle C.: Yeah. One of the things that came up, and it does come up, is that yes it's great for leaders to be connected, but oh my goodness the time investment Rob that you're giving to this is, I mean is it now do you think that this is just, it's inescapable, it's something you have to do as a leader to be ... I mean we always talk about being accessible as possible and all these things. Do you think this is the future of leadership? Are we there? Is this it? How challenging is it all, balancing it all? How does it feel to be doing all of that? Is it the right thing? Because it's very different, isn't it to what we would have experienced when we were employed by the leader who sits in the boardroom that nobody even sees. This is a very big shift.

Rob Pierre: Yeah, and I think it's organically happening and I don't think anything feels right until it's habitual and/or it becomes a cultural norm and it's been iteratively and organically happening right in front of our very eyes, so yes I think it is. My philosophy is more about quality than quantity. Once it's frequent enough that people remember you're there and you're accessible through that channel, I try to add humility and humor to my posts and let them give a little bit of insight into my family and our lives because I'm often asked you how do I achieve the work/life balance with all the travel. I always end up doing the cheesy cliche answer, which is I don't work a day in my life.

Rob Pierre: There's lots of things outside work I enjoy more than other things. There's things at work I enjoy more than other things. If I have to go to the gym two or three times a week, actually I don't enjoy that as much as a brainstorming meeting at work, but it's something I have to do. I just see my life as one big prioritization. I'm trying to do the right thing to all the people that that mean something to me in my life and hopefully that shows. The question is through digital and social channels it's just what content you put on which platform, and, like I say, make sure that the quality's there, the honesty is there, and it's real. That for me is the most important thing.

Michelle C.: Yeah, fundamental because we can all see when it isn't, isn't it?

Rob Pierre: Oh my goodness yes.

Michelle C.: It's like a human, it's a trait. We're designed to sniff it out. What would you say, quite a big question, but you know so far with this new style of leadership, I mean it's the way that you've been operating for a while, and like you say it's constantly iterating and learning, what's been your biggest learning so far around being a digital leader, being a social CEO? What have you learned so far? What can you share with others that you think would be useful?

Rob Pierre: Yeah transparency is key.

Michelle C.: Yup.

Rob Pierre: I think that's it. I think the new workforce absolutely require that and demand that of you. There are many places to work and particularly in my world that it's definitely a sellers market. Anybody with the requisite skills are highly in demand and it's our responsibility to offer the environment, the progression, the investment, and just the time and respect. It's our responsibility to do that. Once upon a time, I think you could hide behind a hierarchy, but you can't do that anymore. I think you need to listen to the young innovative, creative people, but you've also got to try and put some structure and actually support with the life skills that come with that.

Rob Pierre: What I've learned is that taking life experience and trying to articulate that in a way that is palatable to the new ambitious, almost aggressively ambitious, workforce is what I've learned. Also, I've learned that there are no veterans in digital obviously. Anything you knew more than two years ago is verging on irrelevant. It's one of those things that if that's the case, you can imagine. All of these young, ambitious people who are coming in, two years within their role, they could look around and there's no one that's more more qualified than them. Yeah.

Michelle C.: Yeah, that's an interesting thing isn't it because they've got to keep learning and evolving. As an organization you've got to keep growing them as well, haven't you?

Rob Pierre: Absolutely. Are you hearing those beeps?

Michelle C.: No.

Rob Pierre: Oh that's just my end, okay.

Michelle C.: No, I can't hear any beeps.

Michelle C.: This leads me to my learn about the leader. Now I have done a little bit of learning about you Rob in as much as I follow you on Instagram, so I know that you love golf, but I'm not going to ask you anything about golf.

Rob Pierre: Oh okay.

Michelle C.: I'm going to you some three quick fire questions that are away from the digital and the social landscape, just a little bit about you. So let's see how we go with them. Some of them are pretty big questions, but it's just whatever comes into the top of your mind.

Rob Pierre: Okay.

Michelle C.: If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

Rob Pierre: I'm going to go with most of the voting systems.

Michelle C.: Oh, yes hallelujah.

Rob Pierre: Out there. I think that, I mean a very crude and a way to possibly resolve some of my objections to the way things are done is that maybe even if it was the shortest questionnaire to identify whether people have the facts, or the basic facts around what they're voting for and can make a more informed decision. I think that's the one thing. We're seeing too much evidence where I totally believe in freedom of speech and having the right to have a vote and to have your say no matter what part you play in society, I just would much rather it was a slightly more informed.

Michelle C.: Yeah. It's so antiquated, a lot of the systems as well, aren't they? It's really not been brought up to the current environment that we're all living in.

Rob Pierre: I totally agree.

Michelle C.: That needs to be thought through. So yes, very good, I love that. Which book have you read recently Rob that's inspired you?

Rob Pierre: Outliers I think.

Michelle C.: Oh, great book.

Rob Pierre: Malcolm Gladwell. Yeah, I think, yeah that's really helped me feel confident about what we're doing and not constantly look at the past and for ways in which to succeed in the future. I also think that it really told me about the when and that not to get too sort of arrogant and complacent about where you're at because sometimes you genuinely are in the right place at the right time and you should spend time exploiting that luck or the circumstantial benefit that you've got and make the most of it. I think there was a lot of great takeaways from that book.

Michelle C.: Yeah, it's a terrific book, but I like all of his books actually. I don't think he's written a bad one yet. What's the best, this is last but certainly not least, what's the best piece of advice you've been given to date?

Rob Pierre: Oh, that's good one. I think ... Am I allowed to kind of change my answer slightly that it's not necessarily advice, but it's something I read that somebody said that really inspired me and I kind of took that as advice? Would that work?

Michelle C.: You have full permission to do that.

Rob Pierre: Okay, great. It was something I read recently that Michael Jordan said, the the basketball player. He said, "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." And that, if I could give anyone advice, I think more is lost from indecision and wrong decisions. I think that we need to be live and nimble and quick. You've got to be in it to win. Minimal viable products. Get something out there. Get it working. Learn what didn't work. Iterate. In this very quick, fast paced world, particularly with digital, it's the constant failure. I don't like the cliche ...

Michelle C.: Fail fast.

Rob Pierre: Fail fast and stuff. That kind of loses the whole message.

Michelle C.: It does.

Rob Pierre: I thought he really summed it up when he said that.

Michelle C.: Yeah, I love that. That is great. That is great. Rob, it's been an absolute delight to have you on the podcast. Thank you so much. There's so much insight, and it's really interesting to get your position coming from the agency side as well. I really value your contribution, so sincere thanks for that.

Rob Pierre: It's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Michelle C.: You've been listening to the Get Social Connected Leader podcast. Thank you to my guest and indeed thank you to you for tuning in. Please do feel free to share the podcast with colleagues and friends who you think will enjoy it, and indeed subscribe to tune in for more episodes. You'll find the podcast on all the usual platforms, and all episodes are also on our website, You'll also find some really useful digital and social resources on that site too, so be sure to check those out. For now from me, Michelle Carvill, your host on the podcast, thank you so much for tuning in and goodbye.

Michelle C.: P.S. If you're a business leader with something to share around digital and social technologies and you're keen to be guest on the podcast, then I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at