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Our PLANOLEADERS series proves that social media has truly made a dent in how modern marketers think about digital content in their overall strategies, and this idea couldn't be more relevant when it comes to today's interview. Enter Andres Ortega, the Senior Manager of PR and Influencer Marketing at West Elm. With a robust communications background and a passion for storytelling, Andres has been able to lead initiatives across the brand's PR and influencer divisions to cultivate buzzworthy stories and collaborations with emerging and established voices. Andres' digital prowess and broad career experience left us wanting to know more about his day-to-day at the design giant, so we recently visited him in action at West Elm's stunning HQ in DUMBO, Brooklyn. Read on to learn more about Andres and discover his thoughts on influencer marketing (both online and offline), industry best practices, and the importance of building relationships.
Please introduce yourself!
My name is Andres Ortega, but friends call me Dru. I lead the PR and Influencer Marketing team at West Elm, which is a dream job. I found my way to New York 11 years ago after earning my degree in Public Relations with minors in Entrepreneurship and Business Administration at the University of Florida. My first job was at a PR agency doing corporate communications and investor relations but longed for more creative work. Ten years ago if you had told me that I'd be working in home/design PR and Marketing, I would have never believed you, but turns out it's been a dormant passion, and I can't imagine doing anything else.
Before West Elm, what were you up to professionally, what role did digital play in your job description, and what have been some notable moments throughout your career so far?
PR has hallmarked my career, and it's been evolving from traditional PR to more of an integrated marketing function, which is empowering. As a PR person you often think in headlines and story leads, so it gives you a holistic perspective on communicating and conceptualizing ideas – from generating a news story, executing digital marketing, engaging influencers, and curating an experience. That perspective has been true since I started when the only social media was Twitter and Facebook (which hadn't yet been thought of as the marketing tools they are today), and I was working with bloggers as influencers for campaigns with Target. My most notable moments have been the consumer experiences and launches like Missoni for Target, Liberty of London for Target, Nate Berkus at Target, launching One Kings Lane's proprietary bath and bedding collections, and today traveling to open West Elm stores across the country while meeting new people and exploring new communities. I'm grateful to have had these experiences and lucky to have great mentors, managers and team members that are willing to take chances, think creatively, and trust me!
How would you describe the differentiation between the PR and Influencer Marketing aspects of your job? How do you think these two departments intersect and inform one another?
PR is multifaceted – it's storytelling, branding building, relationship and reputation management, and fostering goodwill with stakeholders. It's evoking a feeling or creating emotion for your brand or product that allows people to connect with it, talk about it, recommend it and advocate for it. Whereas influencer marketing blurs aspects of traditional PR with social media and leans more heavily on the storytelling, advocacy, and brand building aspects. It's changing every day and to build a successful campaign you want both to be weaving the same story, so they are symbiotic and can lead to creative programs when used effectively together.
What role does social media play across both influencer and PR initiatives, and how do you plan strategies that are holistic and consider all of West Elm's digital channels?
What drew me to PR was that every day is different. It keeps me on my toes and challenges me creatively. Some days I'm at my desk writing and taking meetings and calls while other days I may be on set for an editorial photoshoot or conducting media interviews on-site at a new West Elm store. It's all-encompassing, pulls me in a million directions, but ultimately satiates my short attention span and need to be creative every day. Today, you can't have a wholly integrated campaign without social media as a key component. If you look at your everyday behavior, we spend most of our time on social media, so it's important to know where your audience is and what content they are seeking. We layer social into everything we do and think of ways to amplify our partnerships across more traditional channels like email, website, blog, and our catalog with the goal of being at several touchpoints for new and existing customers.
One's approach to influencer marketing varies between industries. How long would you say it's been a priority for West Elm?
West Elm embraced bloggers very early on, and our social media team has been at the forefront of content marketing since the beginning. Because we've always had a catalog that provides our customers with inspiration for bringing their personal style home, creating meaningful and beautiful content has always been a part of our brand DNA. Today, we pride ourselves on maintaining those relationships and building new ones that feel genuine in our brand, our values, and our campaign goals. Authenticity is important to us, so some of our most successful campaigns are those where we've identified the right partners to create compelling content and marketing. Personally, working with Garance Dore on her Santa Monica home has been a highlight. Not only is she a talented artist and style maven, but she's an incredibly sincere and kindhearted person. Taking a morsel of an idea and growing it into a full-fledged marketing campaign was so rewarding, and seeing it through to the pages of the catalog, email, in the press and on her social channels was encouraging.
West Elm is known for putting on fun, intimate events within its many retail stores. How does influencer marketing fit into the brand's offline strategy and would you say you leverage micro influencers when putting on local or city-specific events?
We know people crave experiences and interaction. Our events and activations are meant to create a connection and build community in the cities where we have stores. Influencers of all levels and followings are members of our communities and the tastemakers of their hometowns, so we do engage them for our events and new store openings. Together with our neighbors, the media, and customers, influencers make up our constituency when we think about marketing an event or new store opening, and they often bring interesting, hyperlocal perspectives to their content that only their voice, experiences, and perspectives can produce. It's genuine, it's authentic, and it's relatable. That's what we love.
How do you see the future of social media and influencer marketing evolving in spaces like interiors and art/design?
We're at an interesting time in social media and influencer marketing. The more time people spend scrolling through their feeds, the savvier they are getting. If two out of every three posts they scroll by are #ad or #spons, they are going to look at the platform differently. We wouldn't sit through a TV program full of commercials, listen to a radio station full of auto dealer ads or flip through a magazine made entirely of advertisements, so I think the industry will need to adapt to retain users, and content creators will need to evaluate partnerships more closely to maintain credibility. At its most useful, social media can connect like-minded strangers, turning them into "friends" who share common interests, send recommendations, and provide inspiration or insight. I hope we can hold onto that aspect of it.
Based on your experience at West Elm so far, what are your recommended best practices for those looking to create influencer-driven (and social friendly) partnerships and campaigns in this category?
- Be intentional. If you can substitute your brand for any other brand in a campaign, then it isn't going to move the needle the way you want it to.
- Second, throwing money at it won't necessarily equate to value, so identify what value means to you before you spend your budget.
- Lastly, find influencers who are on the ups and invest in their growth alongside them. One day they will be the big one everyone will be chasing after, and they'll have you to thank for taking a chance on them and their business, and you'll both win.