5 minutes with… Jessica Houston, Digital Marketing Manager, PwC UK

This month I’m delighted to be speaking to Jessica Houston, Digital Marketing Manager at PwC UK. Jessica is an extremely talented digital marketing leader who has delivered some award-nominated campaigns and is also a Founding 50 member of the highly regarded ‘School of Marketing‘.

Here’s my 5 minutes with…

What is your marketing background?

I made the leap into marketing when applying for university. I originally had my sights set on Film Production but having gained work experience in marketing, I decided that this would better suit my skills and provide me with endless career opportunities in the future. I ended up studying Advertising with Marketing Communications at Bournemouth University. My first experience of working full-time was during my placement year at a company called EC Harris in a B2B marketing assistant role, and this is where I learned to love my craft. When I graduated from university, I took a few months out to go travelling around South America (which was an incredible experience). I then landed my job at PwC UK in November 2015 and I’ve been here ever since!

What does your role at PwC UK involve?

I currently work in PwC’s digital marketing specialist team, consulting with different areas of the business to plan and implement multi-channel campaigns in the UK, with some projects extending to Europe, Middle East and Africa and the US. My role is varied and involves working closely with our media agency to design and activate digital advertising campaigns as well as building our digital marketing capability in-house through training and development. In a single day, I could be covering discussions around web design, social media strategy, marketing automation and digital advertising across multiple areas of the business depending on where I’m aligned. I’m really proud of the progress we’ve made as a function over the last few years.

The other side of my role is people related. I am a line manager and career coach, mentoring junior team members and guiding them through their personal development which is something that I’m passionate about!

You’ve been the digital marketing lead on several highly complex, strategically important, award-nominated campaigns at PwC UK. What has been your favourite campaign, and why?

My favourite in recent years has to be our Value Creation in Deals campaign. In short, the campaign launched in conjunction with other EMEA territories and centred on new thought leadership we developed through a global Mergers & Acquisitions research study. It was designed to position PwC as leaders in creating value across the whole deals lifecycle and generate leads amongst our target buyers to drive commercial return.

We had a really close-knit team and delivered a lot of firsts for PwC when it came to digital marketing which meant we had a license to test new things and share our learnings with the rest of the function. As part of the campaign strategy, myself (and the team) pioneered:

  • A client-focused bespoke landing page featuring parallax scrolling UX
  • Marketing Cloud Journey Builder and Cloud Page (data capture) technology to automate sequenced email communications to users pre-registering and downloading our report
  • Advertising across new channels such as affiliate marketing, LinkedIn Lead Gen and PPC (pay-per-click)
  • Multi-channel attribution reporting, using conversion tracking, to optimise media buying in real-time and established a reporting dashboard to track cost per conversions. 

The digital world moves at such pace, so I’m consistently pushing to be at the forefront of change. This campaign is now held up as best practice internally, and many teams have benefitted from what we learned, which is fantastic!

We have readers from an array of professional services firms. What advice would you give to any large or small firms who are considering investing in a new automation platform?

Investing in a new automation platform is a huge decision, so my first piece of advice would be to do your research and consult all areas of the business before making a decision.

Investing in a new automation platform is a huge decision, so my first piece of advice would be to do your research and consult all areas of the business before making a decision. You’ll also need to consider how the automation platform will integrate with your current MarTech stack – the ultimate aim is to have fewer platforms that can work seamlessly together.

Once you’ve done your due diligence and chosen the right platform for your business, you’ve then got the challenging task of implementing the technology and developing a change management programme to embed the right skills and new behaviours internally. Some key things to think about:

  1. Define roles and responsibilities for different teams – is everyone going to have access or will you introduce different service levels depending on your requirements?
  2. Develop a training plan based on those roles. Everyone should have introductory training, but then I would take smaller groups through the specific areas that they need to learn.
  3. Communications planning – bring your employees on the journey from the beginning. How will you get them excited and ready to transfer to a new platform?
  4. Design governance and controls for using the platform (think naming conventions, branded templates, how-to guides)
  5. Stand up a support team. Do you need to acquire specialist skills to make the platform a success?
  6. Measure your programme! This is so important to understand the uptake of the new platform, it will help you to identify any training gaps or areas of focus and will help you to make continuous improvements.

Digital marketing has evolved massively in the past few years, what have been the most significant evolutions for you?

Marketing, and digital technology, is continuously evolving and there’s no sign that it’s slowing down, so I think it’s key to remain knowledgeable about what’s coming down the line to implement change and stay ahead of the curve.

Marketing, and digital technology, is continuously evolving and there’s no sign that it’s slowing down, so I think it’s key to remain knowledgeable about what’s coming down the line to implement change and stay ahead of the curve.

I think the most significant change in recent years has been GDPR and cookie consent as this underpins how we communicate with our clients. The tighter restrictions have meant designing robust strategies for gaining permission and managing data. Introducing the cookie banner to our site has also had an enormous impact on our analytics reporting, particularly when it comes to reviewing post-click data from advertising. With talk of a cookie-less world soon, as marketers, we’re going to have to start exploring new channels and tactics for personalising our communications and measuring the effectiveness of our campaigns.

I think the evolution of ad formats and targeting capabilities across different channels such as Google, social media and programmatic advertising is also worth noting. Understanding the future roadmap for these channels and therefore being able to brief our design teams with new specs to test and learn has been a fascinating part of my job!

If you were told you could only report on 3 key metrics, what would they be?

There are a lot of vanity metrics out there that don’t really mean a lot so they would be the first to go for me! It’s all about metrics that matter, depending on your objective and the type of activity you are running.

At a high level, it would be brand tracking, engagement and conversion. There are a lot of vanity metrics out there that don’t really mean a lot so they would be the first to go for me! It’s all about metrics that matter, depending on your objective and the type of activity you are running.

You are a Founding 50 member of the School of Marketing – congratulations – what has your membership taught you?

Thank you. The School of Marketing’s mission is to inspire, educate and upskill the next generation of marketers, and enrich the learning experience. We’re basically marketing, marketing!

When the opportunity arose, it was a real aligning of the stars. I’ve always been passionate about continuous learning and playing that mentoring role, so when I was accepted as a Founding 50 member, I was super excited! Over the last two years, we’ve held events with top industry experts for young people, hosted a competition with the Festival of Marketing bringing together aspiring marketers to work on a product and marketing campaign, presenting back to industry leaders, and we’ve designed a workshop to be delivered in schools. I also act as an editor, regularly contributing articles for the website.

Giving back to the community and working towards a common purpose of providing life-changing experiences for aspiring marketers has been a real motivation for me. Nothing like this existed when I was considering a career in marketing! It’s also been an invaluable network to me personally; I’ve built friendships with my peers and have gained unique opportunities to meet, and be mentored by, industry experts, so I’m thankful to everyone I’ve crossed paths with along the journey. What’s more, this is only the beginning! We’ve got a lot of great things in the pipeline for 2021 including our first digital apprenticeship programme so if you’re interested, keep your eyes peeled.

I know you love reading marketing and business books, what would be your number one recommendation and why?

I don’t have one favourite, and that’s because all books teach you something different and I like to look for inspiration in places that aren’t immediately obvious. My first ever mentor gave me a copy of We, Me, Them & It: How to write powerfully for business by John Simmons which I think had a significant impact on me as a writer and prepared me for my first corporate role. It remains a centrepiece on my shelf today! I also absolutely love reading stories from adventurers such as Levison Wood who has taught me a lot about setting goals, pushing boundaries and perseverance.

When it comes to marketing, there are so many books out there. At the beginning of this year, I set up a marketing book club at PwC and so far we’ve read Ogilvy on Advertising, Alchemy by Rory Sutherland and we’re currently reading This is Marketing by Seth Godin! They’ve all sparked ideas in how we work effectively as a marketing team, but I think the beauty in these books is taking some of the learnings and just testing what works for you and your business.

The world is struggling through Covid at the moment, how have you had to adapt your marketing approach?

Like most companies, we had to pivot our marketing approach to respond to the needs of our clients. This was our priority. We wanted to help them find answers to critical questions and plan a way forward.

As a trusted advisor, our clients were looking to us for timely, practical advice on how to navigate the situation. We rallied a firm-wide team of experts to build, develop and produce a content pipeline, at speed. This included developing a rolling live blog providing timely updates, a podcast offering in-depth discussions on a range of topics from mental health to finance, a range of guides about accessing government support to dealing with the heightened risk of cyber threats and a series of 24 industry reports.

Over time, this content has evolved into a monthly business email update that we send to our clients with the latest news and insights from around the firm. It’s definitely a period where we have learned a lot about marketing and also what we can accomplish as a team in a short space of time – it has been a real team effort!

Finally, thinking back over your career to date, what’s the best piece of marketing advice you’ve ever been given?

When joining PwC, my first team leader, Laura, encouraged me to never lose my passion for learning, increasing my network and trying new experiences. She wrote this in my first piece of feedback, and it has stayed with me ever since because it is so embedded in who I am. The first blog I ever started was called, ‘You learn something new everyday’ and I genuinely believe that we do. Having that focus to continuously seek out opportunities to develop your craft, in my mind, puts you miles ahead of the rest. With the world moving at such pace, we need to remain curious and continue to learn, and that’s advice I would pass on to any marketer, or frankly anyone, anywhere!