Inside Facebook UK: full stomachs and aspiration
Something stirs in the heart of Covent Garden. An unassuming office façade a stone’s throw from the Seven Dials is now home to the ever-expanding UK arm of one of the world’s most talked about companies.
It’s been two weeks since Facebook UK moved into its new home, having outgrown the previous space in Carnaby Street following a year in which Stephen Haines’ team is believed to have generated around £180 million in ad revenues. Stacked boxes and busy delivery men reflect the transition that’s in the air.
Upon arrival I’m forced to sign an on-site visitor “non-disclosure agreement”, just in case I become aware of any “non-public information relating to Facebook and its products…” In which case, “I agree not to disclose” and “to take all reasonable precautions to prevent its unauthorised dissemination”.
It’s an interesting form to present a journalist. The agreement is not just binding upon me but my “heirs, legal representatives and assigns” too – blimey.
First impressions are everything you’d expect. A smiley Joanna Shields flickers acknowledgement as she descends to the free café on the mezzanine level dropping down from reception. An army marches on its stomach, mused Napoleon.
BBC News beams from a nearby flat-screen and two lifts opposite the main desk are a hive of activity as bright, young(ish), things pass through, talking excitedly and with purpose.
Those seasoned in more traditional media offices might be relieved to hear it’s not all picture perfect at Facebook’s shiny new building. The front door’s intercom is not working (yet), and once inside you’re greeted by a lobby that can best be described as functional.
The lifts are similarly cosy considering they need to handle the footfall of nearly 150 staff already, a figure that has ballooned from 100 just a few months earlier. Due to an idiosyncrasy of central London buildings, the second floor actually belongs to next door, ensuring a heavy demand on the limited space.
The smell of poached salmon and steamed veg lingers as eager employees transport plates of food from the café to places more conducive to continuing their work.
But I’m quibbling, the general mood is undeniably upbeat and alive – no apparent fears of a double-dip or scars of recent cost-cutting initiatives here. Even the guy on the reception desk is decidedly perky: “Yes, there’s still loads to do but everyone’s really excited y’know, a good atmosphere.”
A recent recruitment survey placed Facebook among the most desirable media companies to work for, suggesting it should have pick of the crop when it comes to talent. This perception is maintained by the presence of Facebook’s European press officer, Iain MacKenzie, formerly of BBC fame.
Appointed five months ago, the tech hack from the Beeb had to endure a gruelling 13-stage interview process, despite having been approached by Facebook for the role.
An exciting media space it’s not
In addition to the good quality free food, another outstanding feature of the café is the beginning of the UK’s own version of the ‘Facebook Wall’, with scribbles and musings daubed across a large whitewashed wall. It’s a nice touch that can be viewed from reception and reminds everyone of the company’s already legendary Silicon Valley heritage.
The bustling entrance leads to three sprawling levels, including a cavernous fifth floor area, referred to as the Doctor Who floor, for meetings and thinking room, complete with decked out balcony.
The third floor is called the Harry Potter floor and houses platform development, finance, communications, PR, marketing and human resources. The fourth floor is referred to as the James Bond floor and hosts what is simply referred to as “monetisation”, including pan Euro and EMEA sales, UK sales and IT.
It all represents an exciting new media space. Except, of course, it isn’t, at least according to Facebook.
For despite being predominantly driven by ad revenues, fuelled by agencies spending on behalf of marketers around content displayed and distributed in channels to individuals, the media tag doesn’t sit well with Facebook. Sound familiar? It should, Google’s positioning has always been similarly ambiguous.
Are both merely “masquerading as technology companies” as WPP’s Martin Sorrell repeatedly suggests, or do they really just symbolise how the old rules of engagement and categorisations simply no longer fit in the age of disruption?
“We don’t think of ourselves as a media owner,” admits Carolyn Everson, global vice president of marketing solutions at Facebook. “We think of ourselves as a technology company that provides an open platform that businesses can take advantage of for their own good.
“We have assets that are like media. Yes, we have impressions, and the ability for a marketer to reach a significant audience. But I think that for people who just use us for that are missing the bigger opportunity – to actually think about how business is going to change on top of social.”
Regardless, Facebook is fast becoming a destination for brand campaigns, with the world’s largest advertiser, Procter & Gamble, notably turning to it only last week to launch its first global corporate marketing campaign to coincide with 100 days until the London 2012 Olympics.
Advertising represented 85% of Facebook’s total $3.7bn revenues in 2011, and that was before any fMC initiatives and the ability to monetise its mobile offering. Everson, for her part, has been saying all the right things about the “critical” lead role agencies and clients can play in the company’s future journey.
Marketers and rival media owners should be in no doubt as we edge ever closer towards the largest internet IPO in history; Facebook UK is open and ready for business.
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