For our latest In-House Life session, we spoke to Matt Watson (above), ECD at Pepsico’s London-based In-House Agency Sips & Bites. Matt joined the agency in October 2021 – his first in-house role – after it had been set up by Pepsico Senior Marketing Director Nancy Croix.
While Pepsico’s main UK office is in Reading, Sips & Bites has its own space in Farringdon. Over the past two and a half years, the agency has grown to around 25 people, working across creative, media, production and strategy.
Our wide-ranging discussion touched on a lot of areas, but I just wanted to pull out a few insights here.
Firstly, the importance of starting with a clear ambition (to produce conceptual creative work that would be as good as that produced by the best external agencies) and building trust with colleagues in the marketing and brand teams in order to achieve that.
Here’s Matt on how he went about that:
“When I came in, we needed to think about how we built trust within the business because we were a new team. Why would brand teams give us their briefs, when the business has an amazing roster of partner agencies? So we had to use the work and our thinking to do that. We changed our approach to go after fewer and bigger projects. So we focused on our first year on doing a couple of big campaigns really, really well. Rather than going after the low hanging fruit, we tried to punch up and then start to build a team around that type of work. It’s worked really, really well for us. I want to drive fame to the brands, and grow the brands by leveraging that and using creativity as a lever for growth. So we started there and we haven’t looked back.”
In many of our conversation with in-house leaders, we hear about the importance of finding a colleague or team who you can build a relationship with and who will give the in-house agency a chance to prove itself on a project. It may be an entirely new team, as in the case of Pepsico, or an established IHA which wants to expand its remit not new types of work. Either way, what we often find is that success on one breakthrough project then quickly leads to other areas of the business taking notice and asking for something similar, creating the momentum needed to grow.
For Matt, the breakthrough project was to create a Guinness World Record for the world’s biggest Wotsit, to mark the nationwide roll-out of Wotsits Giants. Following several trials, an eight-strong production team made the record-breaking snack at Walkers’ factory in Leicester. Nicknamed ‘Wotzilla’, it is 10.66 meters long, weighs 250 grams and is the equivalent to 164 regular Wotsits Giants in length. Wotzilla was proudly displayed in a glass case which was driven around on a truck and now resides at the factory (more here).
Matt told us: “It put us on the map. We got a Guinness World Record and we got an Effie. This is the thing about where we sit within our business – we can go to the factories, we can create new flavours, we can innovate, we can work with people to change the product. This idea just came up on a Zoom call – what if we created the world’s biggest Wotsit? The client was just ‘like let’s do it. I’ll call the factory tomorrow’. We can leverage our position in the business to make these ideas a reality.”
Sips & Bites works alongside Pepsico’s external agency partners. On the call we probably had more questions about how this relationships are managed and how Sips & Bites chooses which projects to work on (it doesn’t pitch by the way) than any other topic.
Here’s how Matt explained how the agency chooses which brief to work on:
“Some briefs are just better for an external lens. Others are better for us because we know the business and we know those teams, and we know that data and that insight better. And sometimes we can move quicker. Every brief is different. Sometimes you have to find the nugget in there, flip it on its head, and try to push the agenda within the business from a bolder, braver point of view. I have lots of conversations every day with the brand teams and I’m always pushing for the work.
“I look at briefs and go, What is the opportunity for us? How can we add value to the brand? How can we create an opportunity for the brand that I think works for us and our group of talented creatives and strategists, and then the rest of the team? And if I don’t think we’re the right fit, or if we don’t have the ability to create an opportunity for the brand, we’ll say no. I think the business understands that we know ourselves best. And we know how we can add the most value. And they back that, which is really refreshing.”
If you missed the session a recording can be downloaded here.