Introducing ‘An Englishman in New York’ – ‘Add a couple of zeros!’

Introducing ‘An Englishman in New York’ – ‘Add a couple of zeros!’
Opinion: An Englishman in New York

In a new column, TPA Digital founder Wayne Blodwell writes about the wins, fails and OMGs when it comes to UK media businesses trying to set up shop in the US. First off, how to get your head around the sheer scale of the US market.


Maybe it’s fitting that my first in a series of regular columns for The Media Leader is being written by the World Trade Centre, which, outside of the USA 1994 World Cup, was my first real exposure to America when the twin towers were tragically flown into. I was doing a summer placement at Carat at the time and remember the minute’s silence like it was yesterday. But, here I am, writing a column about what it’s like for an Englishman to work in New York.

This monthly column will focus on what it’s like for someone steeped in the customs and practices of the UK to take the plunge, relocate, and set up a business in the US. It’ll cover everything from the many cultural differences, how to navigate tricky practical areas like Visas and, of course, the best places for a media lunch! I’m really excited to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) on a regular basis and welcome feedback on anything you’d like to see covered — you can message me on LinkedIn (there’s only one person named ‘Wayne Blodwell’ in the world, can’t think why!)

The obvious starting point is to focus on the scale of the ad industry in the US. When I first started musing to people over beers in Soho or coffees in Covent Garden that I was thinking of relocating to the US for work, the common response was: “add a couple of zeros!” Obviously what they meant by this is the size of the market dictates that there’s more adspend and therefore more financial impact a consultancy like TPA Digital can make.

I started to laugh it off. Of course I was aware of how much bigger the US is than the UK. Exactly five times, looking at industry estimates. No big deal.

But, when I moved here and started to experience what living in a country as large as America really is, it really started to sink in. The sheer land mass of America, the diversity of people from state to state, and the amount of advertising spend required to make a dent in reaching the right audiences… it’s not just about a scale of numbers, it’s a greater scale of complexity that dwarfs what we’re used to in the UK.

There were three main standouts that hit me immediately:

1. Brands have much larger teams to manage the budgets

2. There’s more third party companies but far less competition

3. The ad experience is terrible

Let me unpack each…

Brands have much larger teams to manager their budgets

A marketing department at a brand is pretty complex in general, but when you see US marketing departments they’re huge.

In many UK-based marketing departments you don’t see too many specialist roles (e.g. head of programmatic, director of digital analytics etc.). Those roles are tough to justify the overheads against smaller adspend.

In the US, there are far more specialist roles in the marketing departments and that makes navigating them a little more complex.

More third-party companies, but far less competition

The American Dream is centred around opportunity and, because of that, the mindset towards starting a business is very different — failure is much more accepted here, as is seeing new opportunities.

In the UK, when you have a new idea it’s often met with “hasn’t that been done before?”. In the US, you’re more likely to hear, “that sounds great, how can I help?”

There are far more companies in the US and, given the size of the market, you don’t need to have much market share to do well — because of that, and maybe ironically, there isn’t the same hunger and competition that there is in the UK.

If you’re a managed service trying to add value to an agency, you have to jump through many (many) hoops to get a test in the UK, here, the mindset is “we will test you alongside 10 others and see how it goes”.

The ad experience is terrible

I didn’t want to be too controversial towards US advertising as I’m just getting started here, but honestly, the ad experience across all media is terrible.

The volume of advertising in the US is unbelievable and the actual ads themselves are on a vast spectrum of quality, but to meet all of the supply that exists it means that standards have to drop so that more advertisers can advertise.

In the UK, there are far more regulations around what can and can’t be shown or said, as well as the volume of ads (particularly in radio and TV).

I’m definitely enjoying getting to grips with the culture and industry here and it’s vastly more different than I first expected. The US and the UK are primarily English-speaking countries but oftentimes (a word Americans use a lot…) it feels like we’re talking entirely different languages. Perhaps that improves with experience.

I look forward to finding out more and reporting back in this monthly column.

Wayne Blodwell is founder of TPA Digital, an online advertising consultancy

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