TikTok, Rowing Blazers & Agency Awards: Rob Mayhew is The Influencer Adland Didn't See Coming

Kelcie Gene Papp
May 14, 2024

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If the brand marketing habitat had superheroes, you'd slap a giant "S" on the chest of Rob Mayhew. (Although it will likely end up covering Babar's trunk on his beloved sweater.) Never heard of the #relatable extraordinaire? Where have you been?!

LONDON - By day, Rob Mayhew is Creative Director at Gravity Road. By Friday, and under @mrrobertmayhew his TikTok handle, the adland superhero is creating relatable and hilarious sketches of agency life for his 150k (probably 250k if you're reading this in 2024) following and sharing them on LinkedIn.

Only relatively recently did he begin seriously cross-pollinating his content from TikTok to LinkedIn in December 2021, growing his following from 200 to 104,000 (as of October 2023). So prolific is Mayhew's content that TikTok invited him to represent them at this year's Cannes Lions festival again. And although he didn't make it onto a yacht or meet Dua Lipa, he made us laugh all week long. Mayhew is no stranger to social campaigns. For some 20 years, he has been creating, cultivating, and refining content for the digital world. He has been involved in the social media campaigns for Bacardi, Molson Coors, Lacoste, and many more.  

Maintaining a Healthy Working Affinity

He has established his credibility as someone who understands the client-agency relationship. "Clients are just people, and it's essential to treat them that way. I was client-side briefly as well," he says. "And one of the best things I ever heard was if you are working in an agency, you are 10% of the client's day." He says, "Your job as an agency is to make your client's job easier and help them to look good. Agencies always feel like they're chasing the client for things, but what we forget is that their job is so vast that we only make up a small part of their overall workday. To me, there's comfort in understanding that the client is a humanbeing. It allows you to do a  better job for them." When it comes to long-term client-agency relationships, Mayhew sees a lot of value in maintaining a healthy working affinity. "I think when an agency has had a client for a long time, there's a mix of both good and bad." He says, "The agencies have made themselves  indispensable as an integral part of their client's business. But that comes with problems."

Legacy Relationships  

He explains that these "legacy relationships" often result in clients developing some bad habits. "They end up abusing retainers. If a client is used to being able to call you on a Friday about something they want Monday morning and are getting it, it's difficult for someone at the agency to come into that relationship and try to change it." There's another side to this coin, of course. Many clients will jump from agency to agency to try a little bit of everything. "You just continuously pitch," Mayhew says of these brands. "They feel like they are going to get this rotation of creative ideas, but it's just not sustainable for agencies to keep putting themselves into that situation. I think it's always better to aim for longer-term relationships." He comments, "That way, you can build an excellent client servicing team, a dedicated creative team, and have a creative director who's present and understands the creative challenges.

When To Repitch

Unfortunately, sometimes, after a few years, things get stale. People leave. And that's why it's good to re-pitch for these things often." Mayhew likewise agrees that building out clients you already have is a much better approach to growth than constantly seeking new ones. "If we can help clients go into the impending recession as strong as possible and encourage them to spend their way through, maintaining their momentum, then that's great news for both sides and everyone's monthly mortgage payments." Mayhew continues, "You already have all the setup. You know the brand. You know who you're speaking to. Plus, you know who the gatekeepers are." He says, "Most importantly, you understand where their problems and challenges  are, as well as where their opportunities lie. You can tailor better solutions and be more proactive with your responses."    

Proactively discussing ideas with current clients could pay you dividends.  I ask Mayhew his thoughts on the pitching process as a whole and he shares, "I think it's quite easy to fix it. One is to pay your agencies to pitch. Be very transparent about the brief and clear about what you want - no surprises or left turns and last-minute changes. And give your agencies the right amount of time to do a good job." He says, "This backs up the fact that you need to pay the agency to pitch. Because sometimes, a client will pitch out even though they know who they will give it to. The response, and timeline they are looking for is key. I think it's about working together, not them and us."    

Mayhew drives home his point, reiterating that you have to make the client look good, do things on time and budget and go above and beyond. Help them by creating presentations that they can then share with their stakeholders. These are the basics but frequently forgotten because clients often don't feel human."   In the case of the client-agency relationship, Mayhew offers a few examples from his career. "For instance, I do a lot of social media work for various brands, and I can tell you that they're scared of TikTok," he says. "They think it's too young, but I know they want to be seen as an entertaining brand and are keen on being more relatable to their target audience. When they say that, I know right off the bat that TikTok is a great fit for them. Still, it's easier for me to go in and sell that to an existing client than to a brand-new one. I know who to speak to, and their challenges and I can better frame my response to them. I can say, 'these are the things you want to achieve with your social; here's how we can make it happen.'"  

Of course, even those long-term clients have to come from somewhere. To that point, Mayhew isn't afraid to acknowledge that everything is a process to a point. "Those things are built up over time," he says. "You might start with a client that's quite small and has a small budget. You might think you'll win a pitch and get hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of work. But in reality, the process can be quite slow."    He explains,  "You have to chip away at it. And there's nothing wrong with that. After all, you must show them you can get the basics right. If you're an agency that's just not delivering on time or budget, they will not give you the bigger projects. They need to be able to trust you, and I think once you've got that trust, you can start to sell different disciplines and different parts of your business."  

Most agencies are terrible at PR

In Mayhew's opinion, agencies don't just have a responsibility to promote their clients, but themselves as well. He feels, unfortunately, that many of them are either reluctant or unable to do so. "Most agencies are terrible at PR," he says. "You go on any agency website, even their socials and digital, and all you see are the basics. But when you walk through their door, you're like, oh, okay. You're this vibrant agency with this great culture. None of that is reflected in what we know about you."  He explains, "I think that's where LinkedIn has helped agencies. It's easier to show you are an authority in a particular discipline - digital, PR, or social, and brands can see what you stand for a bit more if you put out regular posts. Let's take social [as a discipline] on TikTok or an Influencer, for instance.

If you're an agency, for example, constantly posting thought-pieces in this area and sharing other brands that are doing great work, you are showing that this is who you are, that you are an authority. So they [potential clients] will go to you in a few months when they are looking to do some influencer work." Mayhew notes, "It's time and money, you know? It's one of those costs agencies can't allocate that time to a client, so it's difficult to justify," "Still, the agencies that do really well are those that do invest in their own PR. The Founders are very active on LinkedIn. The website, the creds, and all the videos they post on Instagram. It's not about 'hey, look at all the great work we are doing. It's more than that. It's interesting thought-pieces, for example."   Expanding on this Mayhew says, "Thinking about crisis management. Take a look at Ukraine, for instance, and how brands reacted to that." He comments, "When I was at FleishmanHillard, we had to direct clients on if they should bring out these campaigns now that are positive or not positive. There are lots of interesting, culturally relevant topics that agencies can be sharing their thoughts on via LinkedIn."

Mayhew is adamant that LinkedIn can be a substantial advantage for agencies willing and able to use it properly. And while many feel the site has  evolved into little more than another "content machine," he sees it as much more versatile. He continues, "If I want certain people to see some content I know I'm going to write or do a sketch about in a few weeks, I'll connect with them in advance because I know they'll see my content. So, if I know I'll be doing a Heinz Salad Cream sketch about my obsession with Salad Cream, I will connect with the brand managers ahead of time. With LinkedIn, you can gamify your interactions. I did the same thing back when I was freelancing. Just follow the agencies you like and follow the brands you like. It takes seconds to do that, and it's so rewarding."  

Awards - The Ones Worth Entering

We delve into the topic of awards, which Mayhew believes is a "business in itself." He says, "Even these 40 under 40 awards are fantastic, but it's a few hundred pounds to nominate yourself."

To clarify, Mayhew says, "It does matter sometimes. Some, of course, hold a little more weight, like PRWeek and Campaign. But even with those, you've got - Best Agency, Best New Agency, Best Agency Mid-size. I don't think there's an agency out there that isn't 'best agency' right now. Everyone's won 'best agency' in some sense."  Mayhew underscores the value of entering an award for a small agency. "If you're going for a big piece of work and want to share that you've won a Cannes Lion, that is valuable. But I think it's more of a reward for the staff. People are talking about agencies almost creating false campaigns to win awards. They're not client campaigns but creative. But then you question whether it should be real campaign work being nominated for the awards." He says, "What should be more attractive to a client is the pitch response rather than the awards. What is the agency's gender pay gap, and how are they doing for diversity and inclusion?

Sometimes it's not what brands an agency worked with or the awards they've won. It's easy to put Google's logo on-screen, even if you haven't worked with them for three years, and pass them off as a client." Mayhew agrees that it's hard to run an agency, though, so anything that gives you the advantage, you should take it.  

Embracing TikTok - Ryanair and Duolingo

But what about those agencies and brands still reluctant to embrace social media on any real level? They might see someone like Mayhew, who has a seemingly-endless fountain of content and feel unable to replicate what he does. "Well, the first thing is, it's not too late," Mayhew says. "People always think, 'oh, we missed the boat on this,' but that's not true, especially for TikTok. I thought I was starting late, and I started a year and a half ago. Next, take it seriously. Because, of all these social media apps, TikTok is actually a discovery platform. That means that every time you post, it will be seen by new people." Discussing investing time and energy in TikTok, Mayhew says, "Whether you're a brand or an agency, the algorithm can be very generous. You'll be able to grow quite rapidly as long as you're creating content people want to see. With TikTok, you have both an entertainment platform and a discovery platform. People go on there like they do on Netflix," "But within that entertainment, there are people on there to educate themselves and follow things that interest them.

A lot  of the time, people are searching for marketing, how brands work, and there's a whole industry on there for Excel tips. People make hundreds of thousands of pounds selling courses on Excel spreadsheets." He says, "There's a couple of big brands that are all over TikTok, like Ryanair and Duolingo. They've built up millions of followers because they entertain – they just have fun with it. Occasionally, they'll start to talk a bit more about the features of what they sell." He advises, "Even if you've just got a receptionist willing to do these things, download TikTok and spend two weeks on it, enjoying it, letting the algorithm do its work. The more you search for things that interest you, the more you'll start to be served content you like. Soon, you'll see there's a whole universe of agency and brand marketing content on there."  

TikTok - Getting Started

Mayhew recommends, "Find a theme that you could talk about - it might be your agency - relatable and ideally a bit funny. Go in with a simple idea and create content - two, three, four or five times a week. Try it for three months. You could use a junior person within the team who loves TikTok and let them go with it. Just consume all the other marketing, agency and educational content on there, and you'll just learn what worksand what doesn't. Make sure you can come up with thousands of ideas that are easy to do. What can you bring to it? It might be deep-diving into the strategy of a brand. But don't get bogged down with team content sign-offs. TikTok doesn't work that way."

But still, for some of us, TikTok isn't easy to sell to the agency's C-suite. And if you are not on TikTok, you think everyone on it is just children, but that is far from the truth. Mayhew advises, "Share the statistics from TikTok Business. Look at the demographics. Go with a few slides and say this is where our audience and potential employees are. But you can then repurpose that content for LinkedIn as I do."  

He says "Demystify the myths, and show them what the Washington Post, Ryanair, and Duolingo are doing. Then ask for three-six months and say we can pick two or three per week to share on LinkedIn.  Explain that it will be great for recruitment and brand awareness for your agency. Also, when you have a firm understanding of TikTok as an agency as I have as a content creator, you can now confidently go and pitch TikTok to a brand." Mayhew explains that he takes his TikTok channel very seriously. He dedicates every Friday to creating content, amassing a library of 1500 sketches.

Mayhew can now confidently go and sell TikTok into brands.

All in all, Mayhew's primary message to agencies, clients, and everyone else looking to develop new business online is to embrace TikTok with open arms. That means promoting your clients and yourself and taking every possible chance to get your name out there. "It comes down to creating relatable content," he says. "Be genuine. When you look at agencies on the app, you can always pick out the ones who really love it.

Rob Mayhew has just spent the past few months creating the perfect notebook for anyone who works at an agency or brand. You can personalise the cover (including picking what sweater he wears) and even put your own avatar on the back. Fun and useful, and if you want to buy a few for your team drop Mayhew a DM on LinkedIn for mates rates. Complaints about the price? He asked Mark Ritson how much he should charge for the book, so please fire his way.

In the UK? Order yours here. From around the world? Buy your copy here.

Kelcie Gene Papp
Founder & Editor