Third in a Series

Who's Behind the Agency Twitter Feed: R/GA

In Chapin Clark's Book, the Worst Thing Is Being Boring

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Chapin Clark
Chapin Clark
In a special series, Ad Age introduces you to three executives responsible for marketing their shops via social media. Yesterday we featured Melyssa Brown, and now we speak with Chapin Clark.

In the three years that Chapin Clark, R/GA's exec VP-managing director of copywriting, has been manning the agency's Twitter feed it has attracted 40,000 followers who enjoy his clever, sarcastic commentary on the news, advertising and media.

Case in point is a tweet he fired off recently, posted with a link to a Gawker story: "Lindsay Lohan set to play Liz Taylor in Lifetime movie. Still no word on who will play the young Liz Taylor."

As successful as he's been at getting a following, and as much time as he devotes to maintaining that audience and engaging with them daily, Mr. Clark, 42, has a much bigger role to play at the Interpublic Group of Cos.' digital shop, where his main duty is managing a copy department of 70 writers.

The executive talked to Ad Age about how composing tweets is similar to writing copy, how he deals with responding and what irks him about others' tweets. (Don't get him started on the use of inspirational quotes and of the words "leverage" and "influencer.")

Ad Age : What's the tone you're aiming for with R/GA's Twitter feed?

Mr. Clark: Rigorously skeptical, I guess you could say. I start from the perspective that a lot of social media and marketing -- not the tools, or their potential, but the ideas expressed -- is nonsense. But then I leave myself open to being convinced otherwise, because you do see things on Twitter that are affecting, entertaining, even memorable. I'm not so cynical that I can't still appreciate those things.

Ad Age : Is tweeting like copywriting in any way?

Mr. Clark: I'd say that tweeting is copywriting. More and more, writing for social media is part of a writer's responsibilities on a given account. But if you mean is tweeting like classic advertising copywriting, I'd say there are similarities. The best Twitter accounts -- or the ones I like, anyway -- are blunt, funny, angry, rooted in observations about how we're living our lives now, the absurdity of a lot of it. They're human, in other words, like the best ad writing. It makes you feel something. And then there's brevity, the need to express a full thought in a tight space.

Ad Age : What are some of your favorite tweets that you've written, or some of the most popular?

Mr. Clark: Ah, let me see, there are so many it's hard to choose. ... Just kidding. That would be pathetic, wouldn't it, reminiscing about glorious tweets of yore? Honestly, the ones that stick with me are the ones I think are absolute knee-slappers but get zero response. A couple of weeks ago, when Path [the mobile-focused social-media network] announced it had raised $30 million in funding, I wrote: "$30 million has just joined Path -- as with all such alerts, that 's the last you'll see or hear of that $30 million." Because no one I know uses Path anymore. All you get are auto updates that "so-and-so has joined Path," and then nothing. Anyway, I amused myself immensely with that one, but the reaction was crickets and tumbleweeds.

Ad Age : How do you handle responding to people via @replies and DMs. Do you answer selectively?

Mr. Clark: I try to respond to people as much as I can. I think that 's something people appreciate. It reinforces that there is a human being behind the account, someone who's paying attention and is engaged. There are people I'm friendly with -- real-life friends and Twitter-only friends -- whom I interact with, seek out, because I genuinely enjoy it. Sometimes I'll reply to someone I don't know when I have a relevant thought in the moment. I try to avoid responding to people who just want to criticize or argue. As much as I love a protracted and futile argument, it's never worth it. No one cares whether you get the last word -- or even knows that you're having the debate, whatever it is . Some days I act as a kind of switchboard operator, routing press or job inquiries to the right people at the company. So there's a very practical aspect to responsiveness, too.

Ad Age : Why do you think R/GA's feed has been able to drum up 40,000 people? Is your audience still mostly ad-industry people?

Mr. Clark: Yeah, I think @RGA is followed mainly by ad-industry people, students. I think most people are inherently distrustful of corporate accounts. That's just not what they're looking for from Twitter, which I understand. I think our success, such as it is , is one of counterprogramming. @RGA is human, it's skeptical -- or cynical, depending on what kind of day I'm having. It recognizes that there is a wider world outside advertising where a lot of interesting things are happening. It laughs at things that are absurd. All of which describes most people who work in advertising. Yet most agency accounts don't reflect these things.

Ad Age : Do you have any personal rules you follow on Twitter?

Mr. Clark: Sure. There are the obvious things, like don't say anything negative about a client or a client's core business. Don't curse. I try to always remember I'm speaking on behalf of a large organization, not myself. We're becoming a global company as well, and the account's audience is global, so I always have to remind myself I'm not speaking just to New York but to South America, Europe and Asia. A tweet that may be funny to our insular little New York ad community may seem idiotic or even offensive to others. Don't play to the room -- the audience is bigger and more diverse. Don't be too self-promotional. Yes, there is an R/GA PR function to what I do, but people don't want to read press releases. There are some agency accounts that are 100% self-promotional, which I think is a serious abdication of responsibility to your audience, who deserve to be informed, entertained, surprised. And don't be boring. That's the worst possible sin.

Ad Age : Do you have any pet peeves on Twitter?

Mr. Clark: Yes, although I feel "pet peeves" diminishes them. They are large. "Pet" in the sense that an elephant is a pet. You could fill a zoo with my Twitter pet peeves. Here's a partial list:

  • People who retweet others' praise of them. Not once or twice, but methodically. Systematically.
  • People who, when there is a breaking-news story, tweet the same headline or link the entire internet has been circulating for hours. Take just a minute to look at your stream before posting, you know?
  • People with large followings who dismiss others with small followings just because the latter have small followings. They'll put people down, like, "What do you know? You only have 300 followers." Follower count bears no relation to wisdom or even worth.
  • Inspirational quotes of any kind. Some days Twitter can feel like you're lost in a Successories catalog.
  • Any kind of marketing how-to tweets with words like "leverage" or "influencer."
  • The word "awesome."
  • Asking for retweets.
  • Describing anything as a "must read." There is no such thing. You liked it and would like to recommend it. Leave it at that .
  • People who tweet ad nauseam about their bad product or customer service experiences. A few weeks ago a certain high-profile digital-media pundit -- who wrote a book about Google with an abbreviation in the title and who has a beard but who shall remain unnamed -- live-tweeted his struggles with a desktop printer. For like two hours straight. This is someone who goes on TV to give interviews as a social-media expert, someone with 100,000 followers.
  • Klout.

Ad Age : What do you like or dislike about agency Twitter feeds?

Mr. Clark: My big problem with corporate accounts in general is that they're operated as if there's only a sender, no receiver. They pump out a stream of press releases and self-congratulatory items, seemingly without asking themselves: Why would anyone besides us care about this? You have an audience. You have an obligation to provide something of value.

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