Meet The Team - We Are Social's ideas worth talking about

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 23 August 2023
Suzie Shaw.

We Are Social, the ‘socially-led’ creative agency, is all about ideas worth talking about. 

Suzie Shaw, CEO of We Are Social in Australia, said that although the company is structured much like a creative agency, it has deep experience and capability in areas that are very important to social, a key reason that ‘ideas worth talking about’ - ideas that find an audience, inspire conversation and get people talking – can come to life. 

“The reason we think that's better than garden variety ideas is that socially-led ideas are the ideas that tend to get the most traction - they're the ones that audiences feel that there's an opportunity to participate in, it makes them want to talk about it, and if they’re successful, earn an audience or earn reach beyond media; they essentially have a social currency about them,” she said. 

“In our view, it's the most efficient and effective way to build brands and build audiences these days.”

Shaw – who joined We Are Social Australia seven years ago after stints as MD and CEO of Host’s Sydney office – said that there’s three core components to an idea worth talking about.

“One is cultural relevance and our team are constantly looking at the cultural landscape and trying to understand what are people talking about, what are they interested in, can we tap into a passion point of a specific audience that might align to the brand that we're trying to build relevance for or advocacy for?” said Shaw.

“The second is a connection point - understanding who is the audience we're going after and how do we connect with them. The final piece is craft, because sometimes it's just remarkable craft that will make people want to talk about an idea. It's not always that it needs to be the highest production value; what might work best is that it feels really authentic and made by the person who's talking about it.”

Shaw said that the agency believes that socially-led creativity works because if you can inspire conversation, it will get more traction with an audience, and word of mouth is one of the key ways that audiences learn about new brands or products. 

“Being able to cultivate that word of mouth and get people sharing and engaging on behalf of the brand drives advocacy and efficiency,” she said.

“The social landscape creates this ecosystem where brands are able to sit cheek by jowl with audiences, where audiences are engaged in things that they're interested in and passionate about and brands are able to augment those experiences by building familiarity at a time when they're most susceptible to hearing about or learning about a brand.

“The way technology has evolved over time has just made it more and more of a positive environment for brands to turn up and convert early in, and as a result, investment continues to flow into social and out of more traditional media channels.”

Looking ahead to what may come to dominate the social landscape next year and beyond, Shaw identified three main areas that she believes are currently ‘underleveraged’ in terms of interest or investment but have the potential to be strongly impactful – TikTok, gaming and influencers.

“There's eight and a half million Australians using TikTok, it’s growing all the time and the amount of time that people spend on the platform is unprecedented,” she said.

“If you look at the diversity of what exists on that platform, both in terms of the type of content and the types of creators, it has opened up a whole new world of interests and passions for people who are thriving on TikTok as creators that didn't have a stage before.

“There are creators on there that have got audiences that are far bigger than mainstream television primetime TV shows or publishers - they've got big, very engaged audiences. I think there's still a gap between how much people are investing on TikTok and what the opportunity is.

“I think gaming is a big one too. The data around gaming that illustrates that a huge volume of Australians are spending high volumes of time gaming, and when they're gaming, they're not elsewhere. If they're gaming for two and a half hours a day, which many people are, they’re not spending that time watching television, listening to the radio or even on social media.”

Shaw said that presents a “really great” and unique opportunity for brands because gaming is an immersive experience for consumers that can’t be easily interrupted.

“If you approach it in the right way, integrating your brand in a way that is additive to the consumer gaming experience, rather than disruptive, there's a real opportunity to raise awareness and augment that gaming experience,” said Shaw.”

“And I'd say influencers is the other big thing - we see that brands have a lot of interest in influencers and we’re approached frequently about wanting to do an influencer campaign, but I think there's still some way to go in being a bit more strategic about the way that they're working with influencers.” 

Shaw said that influencers are simply the new generation of publishers, due to social media taking away the barriers to being able to publish and thus opening up the ecosystem for many different and diverse voices to present the publishing proposition to audiences, with influencers going onto build sizeable and engaged audiences and then monetising that audience through brand deals. 

“I think there's a lot of brands who are using influencers tactically - selling product or creating campaigns - but where we've seen a lot of success is being a bit more strategic about having ongoing relationships or building platforms and programs that brands can really build equity in. 

“We’re Samsung’s global influencer agency out of Australia and what we do for them is help them with strategy, identifying the role for influencers, recruiting and contracting the right talent and then activating those partnerships.

“It's very much an ongoing platform, and they're seeing great success and it's something they're continuing to invest in more and more, because they understand the power of influencers in terms of their profile being appealing, their advocacy being very powerful, and their reach being very efficient.

We Are Social also champions the likes of integrated campaigns, with Shaw saying that for a long time, brands have understood the power and importance of integrated campaigns, but it has become more challenging due to the fragmentation of channels. 

“One of the big benefits to integrated campaigns is cutting through the clutter,” she said.

“There’s more and more marketing messages and channels to get on top of and I think what we see is a fragmentation of both messaging and campaigning. There’s brands doing lots of little things and they know all the things they've done, but it's quite hard for a consumer to string all of that together.  

“If you can integrate through media channels, and with your messaging and with the way you're executing, whether that's through consistent talent or consistent messaging or timing, I think it just helps audiences. Impact and efficiency are the key benefits for brands, and that remains important, but it's becoming increasingly challenging in a world that's very fragmented.”

Shaw said that mainstream media isn't mainstream anymore - the way to reach the biggest number of people isn't just to put a TVC out, because social is where you're guaranteed to reach a large audience. 

“Unlike linear television though, you can't guarantee continuous viewing or simultaneous viewing, so how you create that sense of conversation or awareness is quite challenging and that's why I think you need to make sure that your campaign is integrated and you're lining everything up so that's creating that impact,” said Shaw. 

“Consumers love collective participation. It's part of the human condition. I want to experience something that I can talk about with you that I know that we've had that shared experience and it's part of the reason Tik Tok is so popular, because it turned up and gave people something to do, whether that was a dance or a challenge. 

“It facilitated this collective participation, which connects us and makes us feel like we're having a shared experience. I think being able to facilitate that as part of a campaign is really powerful, but doing it to ensure that everyone's having that experience at the same time is quite challenging.”

Having launched in 2008 in the UK – one of the co-founders, Australian Nathan McDonald, is still in the business as group CEO - Sydney opened in 2010 as We Are Social’s fourth office. Since then, the agency has grown to 17 offices and around 1,500 people worldwide, with 60 of those in Australia, spread across the functions of research and strategy, content creation, production and client service.

“We’re generally growing year on year; it's never a straight line, but I feel fortunate that in what has looked to have been a pretty tough year for the industry, we've done pretty well,” said Shaw.

“We've managed to maintain our team, which is good. Hanging on to those great people is a real priority and the team's particularly strong at the moment, so I’m hoping that we'll be able to just keep building on the base that we've got.”

Shaw said that there are four areas that clients consistently list as reasons why they enjoy working with We Are Social.

“Number one is our specialism. They come to us because they feel that their existing agency lineup or internal team doesn't have the skills and expertise they want and I think we try really hard to deliver on that, so they really value that social specialism,” she said. 

“Secondly, the way that we work - the pace of marketing has sped up a lot. The lifecycle of any content, not just social, is short and consumers don't want to see things twice, so brands need more content quicker and they need agencies to create content quicker. Being socially led, we've always understood that and managed to build a team and a way of working that enables us to be agile, be nimble, and be practical in the way that we create, and I think our clients appreciate that.

“The third thing is our team. We always get feedback from our clients, but also from our internal team, about how great our people are to work with, and I think that defines our culture.

“Finally, the quality of the work is always a positive point of feedback and pride for us. It's everything from strategic thinking to the creative output and we do put a lot of emphasis on quality. We know that clients don't pay us to get things wrong, so we've worked really hard to make sure everything is to a high standard.”



Ben Clare

Ben Clare, ECD  

What are you focused on for 2023?

Move faster, make smarter decisions, and impact the world in new ways. I want people to see We Are Social not just as an advertising agency but as a diverse company that understands culture better than anyone else.

What attracted you to We Are Social?

Nowadays, the best advertising doesn’t necessarily look like advertising. It’s a computer game, a piece of utility, creator-led content, some unskippable entertainment or a perfectly timed post. It’s work that people seek out, share and come back to time and again because it earned their attention. To be able to make that sort of stuff, it helps if you’re sitting at the intersection of culture and commerce. And few agencies do so quite like We Are Social. 

What’s the biggest challenge in your role?

The constant need to bend time, to properly listen, to remain positive in the face of uncomfortable situations, and to help create an environment where people and ideas can flourish. And then at the end of the day, head home and try to achieve the same things for three small children. *FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE EAT YOUR DINNER!* I mightn’t always succeed at either, but as an eternal optimist, I’ll never stop trying. 


Kelly Spence

Kelly Spence, Head of Client Services  

What do you love most about your role? 

If I had to pick one thing it’s that I am constantly learning. Social is evolving in real time and you can never know it all. Our social specialism is our superpower, the agency at a global and local level is incredible at keeping its finger on the pulse and disseminating knowledge whether it be the latest trends, platform updates, cultural insights, data or the who's who in influencer etc. I’ve never seen anything like it!

What’s the biggest challenge in your role? 

Attracting, recruiting and retaining talent. Casting the right people is critical not only for clients, but for your existing team who inevitably pick up the slack if you get it wrong. We really pride ourselves on developing talent and spend enormous amounts of time on L&D which makes our team very attractive to not only other agencies, but also clients, publishers and platforms. Challenged with a talent shortage, unprecedented industry churn and agency growth, we’ve worked really hard to build and nurture a stellar team. 

What attracted you to We Are Social?

I started at We Are Social as a freelancer as I was looking to make the move client side when I came onboard to help on a few projects. Five years later I have more energy and passion for my work than I have ever had. We always describe the agency as ‘future focused’ and that could not be more true, it is an unbelievable learning environment with access to over 1,300 unique and passionate social specialists. 


 Ruaridh O'Donnell

Ruaridh O’Donnell, Editorial Director

What does a typical day look like? 

I guess there’s never a typical day, which is part of what makes working here so fun. We usually start the same way. My amazing team of editors and social media managers all get together for newsroom, and we identify what’s been happening on the internet across the previous 24 hours. From there, we try to work out if there are any stories we can tap into to make our brands part of the social conversation. After that, anything goes! It could be jumping on a TikTok trend, it could be creative ideation, it could be editorial strategy, it could be an influencer briefing. There’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure. 

What are you focused on for 2023? 

My recent focus has been supporting adidas during the FIFA Women’s World Cup. We’ve been working on loads of content activations at both global and local market level, as well as hosting the majority of their international staff from our Cleveland Street office. It’s been an incredible tournament to be part of, and I'm hoping by the end of the week, we’ll have a World Cup win to celebrate too.

What’s the biggest challenge in your role? 

The biggest challenge is also one of the most exciting, which is trying to stay ahead of the curve. Social moves at a million miles an hour, so there’s always something new to discover. I took just over a fortnight off in July, and by the time I got back, Threads had launched and Twitter had become X, so life comes at you fast. But the speed at which we can move is incredible, and everyone who works here loves that challenge. 


Cristina Forlani

Cristina Forlani, Marketing & New Business Director

What’s the biggest challenge in your role?

The hardest, but also the most exciting part of the job is navigating the ever-evolving landscape of digital marketing and staying ahead of the trends. Social never stops. With technology constantly reshaping the way brands connect with audiences, it's essential to adapt strategies rapidly to ensure they remain relevant and engaging. 

What attracted you to We Are Social?

We Are Social's innovative approach to blending creativity with data-driven insights is what drew me to the company - 13 years ago now! What keeps me here is the amazing people I get to work with every day, and the incredible career opportunities I’ve had over this time - moving from Milan to Sydney, working with some of the world’s most loved brands, developing an array of different skills, taking up a global role that allows me to work with colleagues across our 19 offices, and many others.

What do you love most about your role?

I love the dynamic nature of our industry and the opportunity to share our thought leadership and some of the great work we do. We are proud to have a strong reputation in Australia and we get to partner with forward-thinking marketers who want to push boundaries and deliver exceptional results.

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop us a line at

Sign up to the AdNews newsletter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for breaking stories and campaigns throughout the day.

Read more about these related brands, agencies and people

comments powered by Disqus