How Ad & PR Agencies Are Getting On Board with APIs

This year has seen an increasing number of creative agencies incorporating APIs into the way they work. Sure, PR and digital creatives are using APIs in their monitoring and analytics to measure reach and impact of their efforts, but increasingly, they are using APIs to funnel realtime data into the very fabric of their campaigns and to ramp up audience engagement around a brand's story. ProgrammableWeb spoke with Arvid Dyfverman from the award-winning Swedish PR agency, Deportivo, about how APIs are at the very center of their creative campaigns.

"Using existing APIs is definitely becoming more and more common in the industry," Dyfverman told ProgrammableWeb. "But when it comes to mashups or even creating your own APIs, this is more common amongst web and ad agencies, not PR agencies." Dyfverman says there is still a split in many creative businesses where APIs may be used by PR consultants but that is separated from those involved in campaign production. As a result, Deportivo has been able to carve out a unique position in the industry.

"You can be very creative in combining already existing APIs – creating mashups is a powerful thing – but if you have the knowhow and resources to create your own APIs, that’s where things really start to get exciting. This is why we, at Deportivo, tend to see technology and APIs as part of our creative palette, alongside insights and ideas. Doing so allows for much more creative freedom when thinking up solutions for concepts, like our 'Twitter Dress'."

Case Study - Twitter Dress: This campaign aimed to share feedback from young people directly with leading politicians and influencers at a key Swedish industry event. Deportivo created their own API to combine an Arduino sensor and 3G shield with the Twitter API to display tweeted comments from young people into a LED banner sewn into the dresses of several event participants. In this way, young people's comments became the talking point amongst the political elite of high level politicians and influential guests at the event.

Case Study - Nordic Traditions: This campaign involved Deportivo creating their own API to manage access to a database about Swedish customs. This was combined with a mapping API to create an app so that users could research key dates in the Swedish cultural calendar and share details about where they were celebrating the day.

Getting started with APIs in the creative agency

Dyfverman points to some ways that creative agencies may start to integrate APIs into their work:

"All our planning and PR work is based around API usage. This includes social media monitoring, Facebook Insights, sales statistics, Google Analytics and the like. We also tend to combine these with traditional media monitoring. We often export the reports when possible and combine them with analytics data, app data, or sales data into custom dashboards or sometimes even just Excel.

"It usually depends on the project, but our monitoring through API usage is always based on what we want to know – ranging from how our apps are actually used or how well we managed to spread a certain campaign."

Dyfverman also points to the learning curve that creative agencies can better climb by using APIs in their work with project partners. When using collaborative, cloud-based tools, there is the potential for creative agencies to link and automate project reporting and tasks via APIs to improve communication and project workflow:

"When collaborating and managing our projects together with clients, we mostly tend to use Google Apps: particularly Drive and Docs. But we also use Basecamp for project management, Trello for production, and Tom’s Planner for planning."

So alongside integrating social media analytics APIs into custom dashboards, linking project work via APIs also enables creative agencies to build skills in managing APIs in their work.

Groundbreaking campaigns built on APIs

One of the most successful and far reaching of Deportivo's campaigns involved using the Facebook Graph Search API.

"Our campaign 'Catch Steve Angello' was the first major campaign using Facebook Graph Search. In this campaign, we helped MTV launch Catfish: The TV-Show and also helped them explain the term catfish (which is not a common vocabulary item amongst most Europeans). [Writer's note: A catfish is someone who creates a fictional online personality and Builds an online social network around the fake identity.] To do this, we decided to create our own catfish. So we hid Steve Angello, a famous DJ formerly from Swedish House Mafia, behind a Facebook profile with a made-up persona (“Pete Bowman from Australia”), and thus created the worldʼs largest game of hide and seek."

Dyfverman shares some of the key metrics from the campaign:

"The campaign spread to 124 countries.
"The media reach was 87 million - and in 97 percent of all articles and blog posts the term catfish was explained.
"We reached 8 million people through Twitter alone."

The campaign also won and was nominated for prestigious creative design awards including:

  • Gold in Lovie Awards, Social - Native Advertising
  • Shortlisted in Lovie, Websites - Website Single - Television
  • Shortlisted in SPINN, Mass Media Campaign of the year
  • Shortlisted in SPINN, Consumer Campaign of the year
  • Shortlisted in 100wattaren, International

While the Catfish campaign principally used the Facebook Graph Search API, a followup campaign for MTV extended the use of social media APIs to build engagement with the cable broadcaster's target audience. Dyfverman explains:

"After 'Catch Steve Angello' we actually made a follow-up campaign for MTV, this time for the TV-Show Awkward. We created a campaign called MTV Awkward Sunday, based on the insight that young people experience awkward situations all the time. When you tell somebody about it, the incident gets less awkward and the one telling the story is perceived as more interesting. Sunday was when the show aired, and the day that was least exploited by social media hashtags (Thursday is #tbt, etc.).

"In this campaign, users could submit their awkward moments using the hashtag #MTVawkwardsunday on Instagram, Twitter, Vine and Youtube. We then scraped these channels and created a campaign site that displayed all the submissions, where people could vote for the best ones."

While these campaigns focused on a major commercial brand, Deportivo employs a similar approach when working on social good campaigns:

"We also use APIs for spreading our messages on Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook. This was one of the reasons for reaching one billion people and spreading the message that more than 780 million people worldwide lack access to clean water, with 'The Sweat Machine'. It was also the solution to getting more than 35,000 people to sign up to make the UN convention on the rights of the child to become a Swedish law, in the campaign 'Escape Ends Here'."

Case Study - Escape Ends Here: This campaign used city projections to highlight the difficulties for young asylum seekers who had fled war-torn regions and unstable countries to sleep rough in Sweden. APIs were used to enable local residents to engage with the projections, learn more about these often-hidden, marginalized young people and to enlist their support by signing the rights' petition.

The API Business Model for Creative Agencies

As discussed in ProgrammableWeb's overview of API aggregation business models, creative agencies looking to integrate API usage into their creative campaigns need to consider how this use is priced in client service provision. Dyfverman explains how Deportivo does it:

"It depends on the project, but often our clients pay for a creative solution, not a technical system or a separate team of specialists. Our campaigns can have a fixed price tag and usually our work ends when the campaign ends. We pick the most suitable in-house team members, and sub contractors to each project group/campaign."

Dyfverman confirmed that detailed bugdeting work is undertaken first to calculate expected costs associated with using an API so that this can be factored into the client project price tag.

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Over the past year, ProgrammableWeb has met more than a few creative agency directors at various API industry events. We have also reported on how leading brands like Nike have used the Stupeflix API, and how traffic monitoring services like Load Impact work with creative agencies to ensure API calls are not overloaded in successful campaigns. Deportivo sharing their PR campaign approach at events like the recent NordicAPIs is also extending knowledge within the creative industries around the potential of using APIs to engage with audiences. We expect to see APIs be used by a growing number of PR and creative agencies in 2014, and we look forward to the exciting, imaginative solutions that are developed. All with the API at the center of the creative pallet.

By Mark Boyd. Mark is a freelance writer focusing on how we use technology to connect and interact. He writes regularly about API business models, open data, smart cities, Quantified Self and e-commerce. He can be contacted via email, on Twitter, or on Google+.

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