Interviews

Toby Horry, Director of Brand Marketing & Content, TUI

From breaking the myths surrounding in-house creatives, to advocating for flexible working, Toby Horry is at the forefront of a new breed of strategic marketers eschewing short-termism in favour of long-term brand-building.

Nicola Kemp

Managing Editor, BITE

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Clients are from Mars, agencies are from Venus; this is the premise of the discussion Toby Horry will be having at the Festival of Marketing next month. Awkward nineties self-help references aside, there is no question that the relationship between clients and agencies is not only at the crux of business growth, but it also lies at the heart of brilliantly effective work.

While TUI’s HQ is in Bedfordshire and agency partner VMLY&R has a Fitzrovia headquarters, the brand and its agency certainly don’t inhabit different planets. Yet when you consider the media narrative surrounding the rise of in-house agencies versus the decline of the traditional, you might be forgiven for believing they do, or at the very least they naturally find themselves on opposing sides of one of the industry’s biggest debates.   

Bridging the client and agency divide

Yet rather than viewing agencies and clients as opposing forces, Horry has built his marketing career on the bedrock of experience gained agency side. His passion for strategic marketing is clearly rooted in his planning background. He had stints in planning at AMV BBDO and Dare, where he went on to become Managing Director. For far from taking naturally combative roles, the future of marketing demands more collaboration between clients and agencies than ever before.

Horry was appointed to the new position of Director of Brand Marketing and Content at TUI in October last year, following a stint heading up customer propositions at Tesco. He now runs an in-house content team of 60 people in TUI. “We have to have product listings every day of the year and it simply doesn’t make sense to out-source it all,” he explains.

At the helm of an in-house team, what does Horry make of former BBH-supremo Sir John Hegarty’s assertion that in-house creatives are ‘boring’? “Honestly it depends on what it is you are trying to do. If you are trying to come up with a TV-led advertising campaign, perhaps you want to go outside, but you can get quality creative work from internal teams,” Horry believes.

I would like to see an end to the constant notion that any given medium is dead...The truth is marketing evolves...The key is being smart and having a good strategic plan.

Toby Horry

The fallacy of the in-house vs. agency debate

Ultimately the industry conversation surrounding the rise of in-house creative teams is needlessly binary, casting brand and agency in unnecessarily oppositional roles. It’s an approach which obscures the fluid nature and relationships between agencies and in-house creative teams and the unavoidable fact that they need to work together. “The binary debate is unhelpful,” agrees Horry, who describes TUI’s approach as a “hybrid model” where in-house teams and agencies are both core to the brand’s marketing approach.

Alongside savings in production costs and economies of scale, the in-house model can offer significant benefits to brands, according to Horry. “Tesco and TUI are quite big and complex organisations. Understanding the multiple points of sale and being able to access people in house can be extremely helpful,” he explains.

The death of declaring ‘the death of’

In the midst of a marketing ecosystem where the death of one advertising medium is often mistaken for the automatic downfall of another, Horry’s view of his most hated marketing buzzword is refreshing. He says, “I would like to see an end to the constant notion that any given medium is dead; TV is dead, digital is dead, it is endless. The truth is marketing evolves and we are seeing a lot of different platforms work. The key is being smart and having a good strategic plan.”

For Horry, this approach extends to suggesting that marketers starting out in their careers don’t neglect studying the great advertising of the past. He explains, “I’m always wary when people want to scrap everything they have done in the past in search of the latest thing. We can still learn from great advertising from the seventies, for example.”

This focus on long-term strategy makes Horry a natural advocate of the IPA’s Effectiveness research and awards, which he believes is vital in underlining the importance of good strategic marketing. “Fundamentally marketing still goes back to having a good spread of media and solid strategic thinking. You need media spend to grow brands, and TV and radio are still some of the best channels for brand building,” he adds.

Meaningful metrics

Amid a fast-changing marketplace, Horry urges marketers and agency leaders alike to ensure the right metrics are in place to demonstrate meaningful success. “Influencer marketing, for example, can get very tactical very quickly,” he explains. “When the paper doesn’t make an attempt to prove marketing effectiveness beyond likes and reach you know there is a problem.” He believes if you took such metrics to a board their response would likely be along the lines of, “So what?”

This focus on the importance of strategic marketing is one of the reasons Horry declares himself to be a big fan of Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson - he is also a graduate of Ritson and Marketing Week’s Mini MBA programme and he reads his columns avidly. “He focuses on the importance of objectives and measurements which all too often get forgotten,” Horry adds.

Being proactive about getting beyond the London advertising bubble is crucial to Horry’s outlook. He explains, “If you only ever experience your own business, if you only ever concentrate on yourself and your direct competition, then you need to get a fresh perspective.”

If you only ever experience your own business, if you only ever concentrate on yourself and your direct competition, then you need to get a fresh perspective.

Toby Horry

Sustainable travel

Having a fresh perspective is increasingly vital to the travel industry where consumer behaviours are changing rapidly, while the very recent demise of Thomas Cook underlines the challenging commercial environment.

For Horry having a good strategic plan as a marketer in the travel industry increasingly demands embracing the importance of sustainable travel. In the wake of the Climate Strike, the world’s biggest strike highlighting the climate emergency, it is a cultural shift that is difficult to ignore. “Travelling responsibly has become the new normal in a relatively short period of time and customers are more prepared to act” explains Horry. To this end, the TUI Care Foundation is harnessing the power of travel as a force for good by connecting holidaymakers with good-causes and raising funds for local communities across the globe.  

In the midst of Brexit and the ‘Instagram effect’ where ‘touch and go’ tourism is on the rise it is not just the rise of sustainable travel that Horry has to contend with. He identifies Brexit fatigue and uncertainty as the two big trends for the year ahead which are not helpful on a macro-level. “The fundamental picture hasn’t changed that significantly. You do get fluctuations but to pin it all on Brexit isn’t actually true,” he continues. He points instead to the rise of what he calls the “last-minute mentality”. In an age where any given service is available at the click of a finger, he believes there is a growing trend towards consumers leaving things like booking a holiday to the last minute.

Stereotype smashers

Yet perhaps more fundamental than the shift in social media, technology and customer journeys is the challenge of marketing in an age where attitudes to long-established, yet nonetheless toxic cultural and gender stereotypes, have shifted irrevocably.

“You have to be constantly aware of what those stereotypes are and not fall into the trap of simply parroting them back to our customers,” says Horry. “We have hundreds of thousands of touchpoints with our customers so its about constantly pushing ourselves.”

In practise this means ensuring that diversity remains front of mind. He explains, “You need to make sure that it is a conversation that is being had. There has been lots of press and controversy on the recent ASA gender stereotyping cases but what that does do is ensure as an industry we are having that conversation.” When clients and agencies are allies in that conversation, talk will quickly translate to meaningful action.

Get out and see as much of the country as possible. Don’t fall into the trap of getting into a marketing bubble. There is more to life than London.

Toby Horry

Key Taekaways: Toby Horry’s guide to how to thrive in marketing

  1. Recognise the importance of mental wellbeing. “It’s important to recognise the importance of mental wellbeing,” explains Horry. This can be about making small changes to your working life: “Doing a bit more exercise can make you better in your job and give you more energy.”
  2. Don’t specialise too soon. For marketers starting out in their careers Horry advices chasing more generalist roles and experience and not falling into a specialism too soon. “Be aware when you get into your comfort zone,” he adds, advocating both training or moving jobs to broaden your skillset. “It doesn’t need to be the nuclear option and quitting but you really need to understand the true breadth of marketing experience,” Horry believes. This extends to attempting to gain experience both client side and agency side. He says, “I’ve been sat agency side before thinking why aren’t they [the client] returning my call. I would really advocate for getting both brand and agency experiences to really understand the scope of business.”
  3. Understand the financials of the businesses and brands you work with. “It is very helpful to understand the nature of the business and have that understanding of the economics. One of the things I see agencies doing now is spending a lot more time at the client’s offices to really understand and experience the pressures they are facing,” says Horry.
  4. Embrace the power of flexible working. Amid an increasingly toxic debate about flexible working in the advertising industry, Horry is refreshingly articulate when it comes to recognising the value and importance of embracing new ways of working. “As a business we are doing more in terms of flexible working. If you trust people, they will trust you back,” he explains. According to Horry, four years ago there was much more presenteeism in advertising agencies. “Flexibility massively opens up the talent pool. It is not a panacea for everyone, but it opens up the biggest door for a wider range of talent,” he adds.
  5. Get out of the London bubble. When the success or failure of so much marketing is based on really understanding the end consumer, puncturing the London advertising bubble is vital for success. “It is good to have breadth in your career and ensure you have empathy,” explains Horry. “Get out and see as much of the country as possible. Don’t fall into the trap of getting into a marketing bubble. There is more to life than London.”

Toby Horry will be speaking at the Festival of Marketing on the 10th and 11th October at Tobacco Dock. Tickets are available here

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