Saturday 26 June
Meet my colleagues Pedro Martins, Kate Vince and Stephanie Trivass for a coffee at Heathrow Terminal 3 before boarding our flight to LA. Our client eHarmony - an online dating site that is responsible for 2% of all marriages in the US - has invited its UK agencies to a five-day "shared learning experience".
We arrive at 9.30pm Pasadena time, feeling jetlagged and tired from watching trashy movies on the plane, so after picking up our four-wheel drive and checking into the Westin Hotel, we have a quiet dinner with Matt Isaacs and Jane Cartwright from eHarmony’s UK digital agency Essence and Julie Thompson-Dredge from its PR company Cherish.
Sunday 27 June
Jetlag wakes me up very early at 5am, so I hit the hotel gym with Pedro for an hour at 6am - there are TV screens built into the cross-trainers, so we watch CNBC News. Note the ads are very intrusive and the quality is very poor.
Next I meet Amir Haque, one of the partners at eHarmony’s US creative agency Donat Wald and Haque, at a bistro called Gjelina in Venice District, where we discuss a new business lead. The restaurant is very modern and trendy and I am staggered by how many people are playing with iPads over breakfast - the late 20s and early 30s are absolutely the iPad generation.
Amir and I discover we have very similar objectives for our companies - we are both looking at data and being far more diligent about calculating advertising payback. The industry has historically shied away from setting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that reflect sales and revenue objectives, but now data allows us to be far bolder. After the meeting, I meet the rest of the team near Venice Beach to drive around and take in the sights of Hollywood.
Monday 28 June
Arrive at eHarmony’s offices at 9am for a shared learning session on the brand, attended by all their UK and US agencies. Donald Wald and Haque show us their new creative ideas and walk the group through a storyboard for eHarmony. Next, there is a session on how the brand allocates its $100m US marketing spend. In the UK, where eHarmony has an annual media budget of £6/7m, we are more cautious with spending, but it was surprising how close the US and the UK are in terms of executing campaigns.
After catching up with the UK office back in West London, I go to the Apple store in Pasadena, where I fall in love with the iPad - unfortunately they are sold out, but I can’t wait to get one when I get back to London. In the evening, everyone meets up in a bar on Hollywood Boulevard on West Hollywood - it is good to spend time with the other agencies and to get to know them on a personal level.
Tuesday 29 June
Back to eHarmony’s offices in Pasadena, where research company Millward Brown takes us through their UK research in the morning, followed by an interesting presentation in the afternoon on how they are using segmentation techniques in the US. I catch up with the team back in the UK again, and then wander over to a Social Mixer attended by eHarmony’s key people: Scott Eagle, vice president of marketing, Sean Cornwall, who leads the UK operation, Barry Holloway, UK marketing director, as well as other key day-to-day American contacts. We enjoy jugs of beer and pizzas in a bar called T-Boyles, which is a great chance to meet informally and socially, before heading back to the hotel for a few drinks with the UK agency guys.
Wednesday 30 June
Start the day with a 9am meeting with 12 people from eHarmony’s US media agency Ocean Media. This is a very useful session where we talk about the data model Ocean has built in the US, which attributes website visits and registrations back to individual TV spots. We are due to launch a similar system in the UK so it is great to be able to quiz them about our teething problems.
Kylie Nebauer from eHarmony Australia is also there, so we catch up on how the UK and Australian dating sites - which both launched in 2009 - have progressed in their first year. I then head up to Santa Monica for a new business meeting with an e-commerce focused travel client, before meeting the others at the airport to catch our 11pm flight back to London.
Thursday 01 July
Land at Heathrow at 5pm, collect the car from Heathrow and drive home to Malden in Essex. On leaving the airport I join the rush-hour traffic and crawl along the M25 in for two hours before finally getting home to my family.
Friday 02 July
Spend the day working from home and catching up with my wife Louise, eight-year-old son James and ten-month-old twins Oliver and Eloise. I reflect on the trip and how it has focused my attention on how we must push the data side of the business. Ocean Media, which has many more direct response clients, showed me there is far more we can do in terms of data and direct marketing skills. The other benefit is being able to get to know the agency and the client outside the work environment.