Oct. 2017

 

SOCIAL LAB AIMS TO TRIPLE ITS SIZE WITH DUBAI AS THE FIRST STEP

Based in Brussels, the agency dedicated to marketing on social networks has exploded since its takeover by Ogilvy. Present nearly everywhere around the world, it is now attacking the Middle East.

Attention, this man is a manager in a hurry! He speaks quickly and readily talks jargon in “franglais”. In thirty minutes of interviewing, he managed to use the words relocker, pitch, headquarters, awareness, staffer, new bizz, reporting, offering, etc. Yves Baudechon, 56 years old, is ambitious. He has no time to waste.

In just a few years Social Lab, a social media marketing agency, created by its long-time partners, Gilles Bindels and Cédric van Kan, has grown exponentially. This is evidenced by its latest operation: the opening last month of a branch in Dubai to cover the whole area of the Middle East and Africa. And it’s not over.

33 million
It has 300 employees, two-thirds of whom are outside Belgium, and reports around $ 33 million in revenues, more than half of which is international.

Three partners created Social Lab in 2010, in the prehistory in the sector. As a result, they had a good head start. Since then, their small business has grown. It now has 300 employees, two-thirds of whom are outside Belgium, and reports around $ 33 million in revenues, more than half of which is international. The agency is present in New York (60 people), Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris (40), London (30), Amsterdam (25), Madrid, Singapore, and now Dubai.

 

Backing of Ogilvy

The recipe for this growth comes from support over the past four years from the advertising giant Ogilvy, one of the many advertising networks of the British holding company WPP, world number one of the sector. Ogilvy acquired 80% of the shares (the founders retaining the rest) to make it into its bridgehead on social networks.

“At the time, we were already present in Paris and Amsterdam, but we were wondering how far to go. We really wanted to develop a network from Brussels.”
YVES BAUDECHON

Instead of taking it easy or doing something else, the trio stayed at the helm with the goal of developing their baby. “At the time, we were already present in Paris and Amsterdam, but we were wondering how far to go. We really wanted to develop a network from Brussels,” says Yves Baudechon.

The deal? WPP-Ogilvy provided its network of clients, infrastructure and financing to enable Social Lab’s experts to focus on their business. In exchange, Social Lab was integrated into the Belgian subsidiary of Ogilvy, which was in a bad way at the time, and even took the lead, with social media marketing becoming the agency’s spearhead.

“It’s a new type of agency, and the model has been working so well that the boss of Ogilvy has identified five other countries where it could be duplicated,” says the CEO. Judging by the growth, the formula has worked. Five years ago, Social Lab had thirty people. It employs ten times more today. It works for major brands, whether global (Chanel, Nespresso, IBM, Philips etc.), European (Lee etc.) or Belgian (Carrefour, Ikea, National Lottery etc.).

 

Boosting awareness and sales

“Social networks have a transformative effect on the business of enterprises.”
YVES BAUDECHON, CO-FOUNDER OF SOCIAL LAB

“Our strength is not only increasing brand awareness through a presence on networks, but also to boost sales. We believe that the ‘social media’ has a transformative effect on the business of enterprises and one can expertly integrate content and amplification via networks, for example, allowing Philips to sell millions of razors around the world,” explains Yves Baudechon.

About 20 employees of Social Lab are based in the Philips headquarters in Amsterdam. For Nespresso, Social Lab experts manage the presence of the brand on networks via Facebook posts, videos at events such as the Cannes Film Festival, Instagram photos, etc.

The co-founder of Social Lab also cites the case of Ice Watch. “They want to go beyond the 1.5 million watches sold per year and consider that in order to do so, they have to go via social media. So we develop content that highlights the watches which are presented to relevant audiences in 18 markets.”

Facebook remains the most developed network, but Instagram and Pinterest are also used. Just like Snapchat, when it comes to touching young people, or LinkedIn for a more business target. About 20 of the 60 employees of Social Lab based in New York work for IBM. Twitter has lesser impact.

According to its co-founder, the model which mixes content and amplification, all with a global presence, is quite unique. “There are few global players like us,” he says, “and the growth potential of the large markets where we are present is enormous.” So Social Lab does not intend to sit back.

“It’s clear that belonging to a large listed group generates more complexity but at the same time it offers so many opportunities.”
YVES BAUDECHON

After Dubai, where the Belgian Matthieu Vercruysse, former head of Social Lab London, has settled in Ogilvy’s premises to develop business in this booming region, Yves Baudechon will fly next month to prospect South Africa. Next year, he would like to develop the model in Germany and South America – in Brazil or Mexico – the only continent that is not yet included.

The goal is ambitious: triple the size and chalk up $ 100 million in turnover by 2020. And when asked if the takeover by a giant like WPP – which has been suffering these last months – is not a brake in its development, Yves Baudechon is unequivocal.
“It’s clear that belonging to a large listed group generates more complexity but at the same time it offers so many opportunities, especially since social networks are becoming a priority for more and more advertisers.” See you then in 2020 to check the accuracy of these forecasts…

 

Social.Lab

 

L’Echo
Jean-François Sacré – 09 October 2017