Veteran Alcock adding wisdom to iCrossing's digi-youth

Digital agency iCrossing's latest senior hire, Mel Alcock, tells Media Week about the company's plans for global consolidation and its hip new premises.

iCrossing's Mel Alcock
iCrossing's Mel Alcock

Brighton is the silicon beach of England, home to a string of seafront dotcom firms such as gaming firm NCsoft, SecondLife and Walt Disney Internet Group.

The city's youthful, new-age business scene makes it the natural home for digital agency iCrossing, where "only a handful" of employees are over the age of 40. As befits a business with aspirations to become a "next-generation marketing firm", it is moving to new, state-of-the-art premises next January, sharing the street with Jamie Oliver's new restaurant and an entertainment venture from a famous dotcom player.

The new offices, designed by Brighton architects designLSM, will feature open-plan seating, a rooftop terrace with views of the Channel, and - more unusually - a fireman's pole between the second and third floors, so that iCrossing UK's 110 Brighton employees can arrive at meetings on web analytics in style.

Fireman's pole
So will iCrossing's latest senior hire, Mel Alcock, be hopping on the fireman's pole in the style of Bridget Jones? "Hell no," he exclaims. "I'm the OAP of the company."

However, Alcock, 47, is clearly excited about the move and views the change as "a bold demonstration of what we are doing going forward". He says: "The investment shows how profitable we are, what we have done and where we want to go."

Before joining iCrossing in January, Alcock managed the European business for Jetix, the Disney-owned children's broadcaster - a job that required him to be on a plane "almost constantly". He was worn down by frequent flying and commuting between his Haywards Heath home and London, so when a meeting with fellow Sussex resident and iCrossing UK chief executive Arjo Ghosh led to the job offer of chief client officer, Alcock was clearly delighted.

"It has fundamentally changed my life," he says, eight months into the newly created role he describes as "a wonderful rollercoaster". "The guys here embrace learning - they vacuum up terminologies and create new disciplines every single day."

Alcock has joined iCrossing at an exciting time - the company rebranded as iCrossing UK from Spannerworks in January, after Spannerworks was bought by US firm iCrossing in February 2007.

Global scale
As such, the company now has global scale, with 15 offices and 620 staff worldwide. Alcock's task is to help mature iCrossing and establish it as a "dynamic, aggressive, digital marketing company".

Day-to-day, he is responsible for delivering all commercial revenues for the UK, as well as new business and client retention. The company started as a search specialist but has since branched out into social media, analytics and website development, with mobile search earmarked as a future growth area.

"We are trying to provide the necessary disciplines and structures for iCrossing to attract the right business - this is critical," says Alcock. "Given the part of the journey that we are on as an agency - offering search and social media and other products - we are keen to work with clients who want to go on that journey with us."

Clients who have shown themselves willing to join iCrossing so far include Coca-Cola, Virgin and travel company TUI. Automotive is a key sector for the business, with clients including Toyota, Mazda and Nissan, as is retail (Argos, Empire Direct and Woolworths), and entertainment (GCap, Bauer and Channel 4).

Alcock's background in traditional media means that helping media and entertainment brands realise their digital potential is particularly close to his heart - for example, iCrossing's recent measuring engagement project for Channel 4 Education's online game Bow Street Runner.

He is currently "in discussions" with a couple of additional entertainment clients, one of which held a pitch last Thursday.

"In the early days at Jetix, if I created a particular programme, I could dictate the channel, the time and the platform. That no longer exists," says Alcock. "Now there are 357 variations of Power Rangers, and the majority of them are better than the original. Brands can no longer dictate to consumers - they have to be more astute."

Alcock is also responsible for linking iCrossing UK's commercial strategies with the businesses in the US and Germany, following iCrossing's acquisition of German digital marketing agency 3GNet in April.

At present, iCrossing has about 10 international clients, but Alcock hopes for "considerably more" by the end of the year, as the business begins to consolidate its global operations. "We are just beginning to cross-fertilise the team," he says. "Last week, one of my guys flew out to Boston for a joint pitch with the US. I am a real advocate of forming pitch teams from people who have direct experience of what we are pitching for, irrespective of whether they are based in Brighton, Munich or Arizona."

As iCrossing consolidates its networks worldwide, Alcock aspires to "move up into some sort of global capacity" at the company. There is only one catch - such a role would inevitably involve the dreaded long-haul business flights.

But Alcock is prepared. "I'll have to make sure I do it on my terms this time," he says.

CV
2008: Chief client officer, iCrossing EMEA
2005: Senior vice-president commercial affairs, Jetix Europe
2003: Executive director of commercial sales, Jetix Europe
2000: Head of commerce for interactive programming, BSkyB
1998: Head of online retail, BSkyB
1997: General manager, ScreenShop, Flextech
1995: Head of sponsorship, Flextech
1987: Media account director, Austin West Media
1986: Media planner/buyer, Foote, Cone & Belding
1985: Sales executive, Capital Radio

FAMILY: Married to Lesley with two children: Ellen-Tay, 12, and Jack, 10

DESERT ISLAND MEDIA: WiFi access, personal media player My Archos, box-set of Heroes series two

ALCOCK ON ...

THE ECONOMY: This is in danger of being over-hyped. Yes, we are in challenging times and, to a certain extent, this is materialising as short-term over-correction. Like all companies, iCrossing will be affected and we have to be prudent and responsible. But given the increasing importance of digital and the way our offering can be directly measured, I think we are better placed than most businesses in the media sector.

FURTHER ACQUISITIONS: We have the funds to be acquisitive and we are actively looking. At the moment, we are very well-funded and in a good position to consolidate, and we see further growth on the horizon. However, there is nothing imminent to announce.

CUSTOMER SERVICE: Brands that focus on delivering best-in-class customer service will succeed. For example, with the exception of the large multiples, the sooner other retail-based companies wake up to the fact that morning/afternoon delivery times are redundant and that customers demand weekend and evening offerings, the more likely they are to survive.

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