Categories / Social Media / Technology and the Internet

Change or perish in the digital age: Andrew Thomas (Ogilvy) and Circus Social

“Massive change. Fundamental consistency. That is why we’re still in business.”

In the face of accelerating technological and cultural shifts, brick-and-mortar businesses are wondering how to stand the test of time and stay ahead of the curve. Look around and you will find many examples of businesses struggling to adapt in the digital age. The newspaper or publishing space stands out as a classic example of an industry struggling to reinvent themselves, now that everyone ditches newspapers in favor of digital news.

The latest edition of Meet the Masters, a series of talks organized by *SCAPE, allowed me to gain insight on how one world-famous advertising firm is looking small to grow big.


Clicks and bricks

Andrew Thomas is a president at Ogilvy & Mather, a powerhouse advertising, marketing, and public relations firm that surely needs no introduction. Globally, some of their clients include Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and BP (oh, just some brands you may or may not have heard of…).

Andrew recognized that in the fast-moving digital age, great brick formalized networks such as Ogilvy needed to move and think differently, especially against start-ups who are light, smart, and fast. Increasingly, social media became the goto platform for brands and marketers to connect with people.

Recognising that social media has changed how we do what we do, Social@Ogilvy was one of the first players in the space of social media consulting, and Shalu Wasu was the head of the social media practice.

The birth of Circus Social


After a while, Shalu wanted to do something different. Social media marketing was broken in his point of view: Brands were still regarding social media as a publishing space instead of tapping into the deeper engagement opportunities it could provide. Shalu felt that the best way to reach these people is to tap into the APIs that these platforms had to offer. He wanted to set up his own company supporting social engagement through software.

As Shalu told Andrew on his plan to embark on his own start-up idea, Andrew saw instead the opportunity to leverage on Ogilvy’s backing to help Shalu to build his own company.

Shalu had his start-up incubated for a year under the Ogilvy umbrella. That was how Circus Social was born.

I like to describe myself as “Andrew’s Experiment.” – Shalu Wasu

Today, Circus Social builds innovative social software paired with social ideas. More than 500 marketers have signed on for its plug and play apps since launching from three different continents. This was one custom app that they created for SMU for its student admissions outreach program.

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 12.20.57 AM

(Shalu later said that he did not have a coding background, but that never stopped him from hiring a team of great programmers to deal with the technical side of things.)

In the meanwhile, Ogilvy has also benefitted through aligning with the software-oriented people at Circus Social and the capability to support the technical side of social media campaigns. Circus Social is now partly owned by Ogilvy, which has a minority stake in the company. Ogilvy recognized the challenge that clients had in social media, and now can offer a one-stop solution with the specialist social software capabilities.

To Andrew, this collaboration also signaled a fundamental attitudinal shift in Ogilvy of not having to own all parts of the business, but to co-create with a start-up like Shalu’s Circus Social.

The social media magic bullet

During the talk, there were several questions whizzing on the elusiveness of getting social media right for brands. One such question was: “How do you sustain audience interest in social media?”

Shalu and Andrew shared that the right question to ask is: “How do you sustain interest in the brand?”. They quoted examples of brands that had done well with engaging social content – noting popular trends and leveraging on those with quirky replies.

There are really smart campaigns as well, but the “best idea today is yesterday’s cold mash potatoes”. Brands should also focus on always-on content, rather than spurts of engagement through campaigns.

  • Work quickly
  • Create interest in the brand
  • Safeguard your brand

Their best advice was to for brands to come up with social ideas, instead of focusing on social platforms and social media.


Meet the Masters is a regular event organised by *SCAPE. Sign up to their mailing list to get notified of their events and talks.


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