“Most Agencies Are Sh*tting Themselves About Digital:” Bold Media’s Toby Hemming

“Most Agencies Are Sh*tting Themselves About Digital:” Bold Media’s Toby Hemming

This cat-loving, Guardian-reading, TV-dodging PR is the son of a wizard. When he’s not chewing the fat with James Brown he may be found dad dancing to soft 80s rock. Just don’t ask him about phone hacking. Yes, it’s Bold Media’s director, Toby Hemming.

What’s different in marketing and communications today compared to five years ago?
Ask anyone in 2010 if they think they had digital nailed they would all lie and say yes. Ask them now and they will openly admit they are shitting themselves. That’s how far we have come in a relatively short time. I think we are living though the most exciting times possible within our industry. I still get so frustrated that many people seem to be complacently sailing into a sunset of oblivion, whilst the sharp minds just get on with creating solutions that really work.

What do you think are the most exciting things in the marketing world at the moment?
Blurring of lines between online, offline paid and earned – sounds obvious but the opportunities are immense. Where we sit as a business there is a clear fork in the road between old school PR, and clients with the imagination and ambition to connect with audiences in ways that are new and engaging. There is always going to be a need for strong media networks, and I’m 100 per cent committed to their survival. But we have made video series in Singapore, podcasts in Sydney and direct mail pieces in London that have had more impact than media releases – and have, crucially, been far more fun.

What made you jump from journalism to the dark side?
The truth is, I studied communications as a first degree with all intentions of winning a Pulitzer Prize. However, fate sucked into the horrific vortex that is recruitment and headhunting for ten years. I always knew I wanted out; so started writing music reviews for magazines that spiralled into news, and then features. It was only when I had the confidence that I enrolled on a Masters degree and talked my way into a corporate communications position at BSkyB in London. And the rest, as they say, is a cliché’.

What’s the meatiest story you ever worked on, either as a journo or PR?
I worked at News Limited in Sydney on The Daily Telegraph during the phone hacking scandal in the UK. Funnily enough, I still have “no comment!”

How do those other roles compare to what you’re doing now?
In-house corporate affairs is a great role, which I was lucky enough to do for many years. Being involved in corporate strategy and reputation at that level is incredibly exhilarating. Leaving to start my own business was a great jump and, in hindsight, something I was hugely underprepared for. I miss the simple things like a regular pay packet and IT, finance and HR support massively. Saying that, I can’t say I shed any tears for not having to sit through hours of board meetings and health and safety committees. Over three years Bold Media has evolved from my initial vision for an independent agency serving the industry, into something far more exciting. Whilst we work with the media, advertising and adtech industry to create compelling stories to take to market, the opportunity has become far greater.

What are marketing’s biggest threats and opportunities?
Pretty simple really, we are all doomed….

What inspired you to get into the industry?
I had a pretty good idea I could write. I soon found out I wasn’t half as good as I thought I was, but thankfully I still enjoy it. But, literary aspirations aside, I think I was labouring under the false impression that working incredibly long hours to impossible deadlines for unforgiving clients was somehow glamorous.

What gets your goat?
Bad writing, irritating jargon and so called ‘celebrity culture’. We can spend hours crafting concise responses for clients to present to the media, and then read seemingly quality publications writing headlines about “Obama throwing shade at opponents”, or editorialising about the younger sister of a family I’ve never even heard of in the US. I know this crap gets clicks, but there must be a point of no return before the whole vacuous business disappears up its own arse forever?

What’s your best way of dealing with difficult clients?
Patience and craft beer.

What has been your favourite job in media and why?
What I’m doing now, I love the industry; love my colleagues and love (most) of my clients. Saying that I really enjoyed both my jobs at BSkyB where I was the oldest trainee in town, working under a formidable but incredibly talented individual by the name of Robert Fraser, and the privilege of working with Michael Miller at News here in Sydney.

What would be your ultimate role?
Director general of the BBC, which was my ambition as a youngster. I’d say it’s a bit of a poisoned chalice now though, although I did see that Mark Scott from the ABC was stepping down at the ABC, so never say never.

What’s your proudest professional moment?
Apart from answering these questions for B&T? My first professional piece of media coverage in a local Somerset newspaper was pretty cool. And of course realising I had the ability to work for myself and generate a real wage not just for me but for others as well. That was quite a defining moment.

And your most cringeworthy?
Where do you start?

Have you ever met one of your idols?
I have been lucky enough to interview both ‘The Hardest Working Man in Showbusiness’ James Brown, and Nile Rogers from Chic. James Brown was clearly on another planet, whilst Nile Rogers was the ultimate professional; there are certainly some people in our industry that could learn from him.

Hipster coffee snob or tea drinker?
Tea, strong but milky. I have never understood the appeal of a cup of lukewarm milk with a half-arsed few stimulants thrown in.

News or Fairfax?
I’m more of a Guardian man, myself.

Cats or dogs?
Cats definitely, have you ever seen a police cat?

Guilty pleasure?
Late 70s early 80s disco music, but to be true I’m far from guilty about it.

What’s your favourite TV programme?
TV is one of the only contemporary media channels I don’t really engage with. Subsequently I have missed ‘The Golden Age of TV, and have never seen Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire or anything similar. I did used to have a soft spot for Only Fools and Horses though.

What’s your quirkiest attribute?
True fact, my birth certificate lists father’s profession as ‘Wizard.’ I’d be hard pressed out out-quirk that.

One thing no one knows about you?
If I could sing (or dance) I’d be odd-on favourite to win X Factor.

Your house is on fire and the arsonists have nicked your car. What would you save?
Apart from my wife and children? Definitely my record collection, I had vinyl way before it was cool – these youngsters need schooling.

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