In what's become a natural evolution from startup to mega-media company, Facebook hosted its first Studio Live agency event in New York today to teach creatives how to bring their clients onto the platform beyond free brand pages.
It took zero dollars on consumer marketing to get Facebook to more than 600 million users, but for agencies and their big brands, the social network has begun to roll out the red -- well, blue -- carpet. To continue on its climb to topple the biggest online ad sellers, Google and Yahoo, even Facebook is going to have to play the agency game -- which means free lunch, sizzle reels and trotting out executives to sell, sell, sell.
At a Soho loft space in Manhattan today, Facebook hosted its first U.S Studio Live event as the next phase in its agency offensive amidst street -art posters, faux-graffiti and exposed brick. Last month, Facebook launched a social network specifically for agencies and campaigns, Facebook Studio.
The event, co-hosted with ad awards show The One Club, was billed as a way to arm ad agencies with the tools to make more creative ad stuff for Facebook. VP-Global Sales Carolyn Everson told attendees that the company wants to stay small, so building a creative team is out of the question. "You communicate with brands and do the best work, so we'll give you the tools and support to be an extension of our team," she told the house, which was packed with at least 200 people.
Facebook's pitch was less warmed-over and sales-oriented than the Yahoo or Microsoft presentations digital buyers are used to, largely because the event had a laser-focus on user insight and better creative. The social network highlighted case studies from Nike , American Express, M&Ms. and others, as well as few glowing testimonial videos from marketers. Some agency folks, such as Saatchi & Saatchi participation planner Jared Grant, said there wasn't much news for those well-versed in social media, but the fact that Facebook was hosting and opening up to agencies was pretty darn nice. "They're making it easier for us and it's a step in the right direction," he said.
The creative ad shows are also creating stages to highlight agency work on Facebook. The One Club announced a new Facebook category for its upcoming awards show, as did the Clios earlier this year.
Channeling founder Mark Zuckerberg, a main theme of the day was "hack," bringing agency folk into the world where Zuck and his pack of twenty-something engineers stay up all night to develop new products for the social network. The word "hack" appeared on stickers and stencil graffiti peppering the event space. The day ended with a hack-a-thon for agencies, who were divided into groups to come up with a Facebook campaign for the nonprofit Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network. But instead of the Chinese takeout and hoodies endemic to real Facebook hack-a-thons, this hack lite for agencies was an hour-and-a-half long and clustered around the round tables usually found at weddings.
Facebook also rolled out prizes and candy carts chock full of Swedish Fish and other junk food, which, again, was reminiscent of the treats from old-school digital media players Microsoft and Yahoo at conferences. Wait, does this mean Facebook will soon -- GASP-- sponsor industry conferences?
Even before all the agency love, Facebook has been raking in money from advertisers. The seven-year-old company brought in nearly $2 billion in global ad revenue last year, up from $740 million in 2009, according to eMarketer. This year, Facebook is expected to top $4 billion in global ad revenue, with more than half coming from the U.S.
However, Facebook is still the No. 3 U.S. digital ad seller this year, behind Google and Yahoo. (Facebook today was caught red-handed in attempts to smear Google in press coverage highlighting how competitive the company is with the Mountain View titan.) Plus , social media currently gets only a sliver of advertisers' media budgets. Facebook's 2011 ad revenue equaled just above 1% of the $170.5 billion in total U.S. ad spending across media.
And its aspiration to grab from other mass media such as TV was a major theme of the day. "Don't be afraid if you're not reaching TV audiences of millions of people," said Paul Adams, Facebook product manager, who presented on user insight.