British Airways Head of Brands and Marketing Abi Comber Talks About Oystercatchers

Abi ComberAbi Comber: Well, we were looking to build on ‘to fly to serve’ as our promise with our digital technology, and make sure that everything that we brought to our customers was really relevant and in the context that they were searching for inspiration for booking their holidays. So we had a completely new model in mind and nobody else is working with it. So it was untried, untested and a real unknown entity. I needed some help; I needed some expert advice in two stages. Firstly, to trial and test the model and then to run the pitch if that was what we wanted to do.

Abi Comber: So I thought of the Oystercatchers probably more laterally for running the pitch, because I’d had experience with them Oystercatchers before with that. But the whole new model thing was something that I just wanted to collaborate with experts in the industry and in the field and there was a lot of unknowns to me about the industry, who the players were now and the market is moving quickly fast in terms of consolidation of agencies. So we decided to ask you to help us and help us you did. You ratified the model, you went out to lots of stakeholders and you brought just a huge amount of industry expertise to the party. And I think what we’ve come up with together is something that might just set a new benchmark for creative technology, for the agency model. So we will see.

Abi Comber: Understanding the internal stakeholders at British Airways against such a complex brief for a new model was incredibly important to us because unless we all believed it it wasn’t likely to be a smooth ride if we took it to pitch; and Angus took that job away from us and made it very objective, did the interviews, didn’t have any banked up history with any of the individuals and really cut straight through their answers to took the emotion out of it but ensured that we understood the passion point that everybody had what they wanted from an agency, in terms of pushing this forward. So that just really helped us to really inform it and keep it really objective, which is, I think, where the Oystercatchers probably helped us the most.

Abi Comber: In the whole process we came to you for help and advice, and an understanding of the marketplace and I have been overwhelmed with what you have brought to the party. The Oystercatchers know the people who are moving, know what’s happening with the agencies, know who’s pitching for something big and can’t take on another pitch or something at the moment, they know who is on the up and know who, unfortunately, isn’t. And we don’t get that point of view, we get a biased opinion from work that we probably like as consumers or as part of our category. So what I find you really bring to the party is just scope and size and knowledge at a depth that is very difficult for anybody else to get, without an unbiased opinion.

Abi Comber: Previously, my experience with the Oystercatchers has been about just the pitch, the pure pitch piece and we understood what the brief was and we set the brief, so really interrogating the brief that we were setting has been a real value add and also corralling us to get our understanding of the finances as part of the pitch in order before we went out there, has been really great and you brought individual experts from your business into play at the right times to deliver the right pieces and made that all deliver along the timescales without delaying anything. So that was great. Now we are partway through a great pitch, you are already starting to talk to me about how the chemistry is work with all the agencies that we work with. So it’s nose to tail right from the understanding of what we are trying to do exactly how it will play out when we appoint somebody in the longer term; and I hadn’t really asked for all that, so there is all of lots of additional value elements that you brought into play throughout the process.

Abi Comber: I would recommend the Oystercatchers, they were recommended to me many, many years ago and I worked with Suki for a big pitch a long time ago. You were the first place I went to just to kind of scout out what I needed to do and I looked on your website, and there was lots of people on their that I recognised who already advocating you on your website and off your website and I have industry friends who were putting their little videos up on Facebook. So yeah you are in social and you are walking the talk. And yes, I trust you. I trust you to do the right thing for me and for my business and keep me true to the brief and not let me get carried away with something that I think is the right thing to do, but actually delivers against the objective brief that we set out to deliver. You keep me true, I would recommend you.

Abi Comber: Success on this project looks like many things, everybody gets through it unscathed, it’s a big ask and we have got so much on the moment, making sure that everybody can keeps the momentum up and delivers it all with passion. Also success for me is that everybody who is invited to tender for this pitch and then was successful in getting through to the shortlist, sees that we really cared about them and their business and they understand what we are trying to achieve. And if they are unsuccessful, they still have a position on BA, which is a positive one. We have treated them rightly and fairly with the way we have run it with the Oystercatchers. But success for me, ultimately, on the very complex brief that we have given you to work on is that our customers understand who we are and have bonded with us and ultimately buy our products because of it. Because we will be where they are all the time with relevant messages that look attractive to them and they can’t do anything but want to buy our products.

Abi Comber: The thing that keeps me awake at night with responding to this brief is how do we deliver it quickly enough to make a difference? We are working specifically on a creative, digital, technology brief and the marketplace in terms of what the consumer wants is probably moving faster than we can appoint people. So ensuring that we are fleet-to-foot enough to deliver things in line with the consumer demand, and understanding the global marketplace; and not just assuming that everything works in the UK, which is our home and we are consumers within, is the way things tick around the rest of the world. We know it’s not and we must be insightful enough to understand our customers – wherever they live on whatever their needs are. Yeah, it’s moving faster than we are and we need to keep up.