2 Minutes With ... Rebecca Ball, Director of Creative Strategy at Edelman

On 'BotSpot,' 'Stop. Think. Call.' and being a Jack of all trades

Rebecca Ball, director of creative strategy and innovation at Edelman, has over twelve years of agency experience, working with business, science and technology brands large and small. She started her career in client leadership and media relations and today uses her journalistic understanding to help companies define compelling creative platforms, clear narratives, exciting creative campaigns and tell bold stories about their impact on the world.

Rebecca is the creative lead for some of Edelman's largest brands including Meta and Shell. With a deep interest in how B2B companies can tap culture to create more powerful campaigns, she's also led narrative and creative projects for the likes of Microsoft and DP World.

We spent two minutes with Rebecca to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations and recent work she's admired.

Rebecca, tell us ...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

Nominally in a village in Berkshire. Actually, in various fern-covered bases in the woods behind my house. Now I live in a little terrace in West London with my two dogs.

How you first realized you were creative.

I don't think I realized until other people told me. I realized I liked to make things. I didn't really understand that I was conceptually creative until much much later. I was the kid obsessed with amassing every craft kit or magazine possible, convinced that one day I would be a candlemaker or a jeweler or an archaeologist. 

A person you idolized creatively early on.

My mum. She went to university to study teaching and specialized in art and design when she was in her early forties, and I was a kid. She was the first in our family to go to university and I remember being in awe of the projects she brought home. My dad was an engineer so with her eye and his mechanics, the idea of creativity in the making of things was very core to my childhood.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

When my art teacher in secondary school asked my opinion on her personal project. It must have been such a tiny thing for her, but I still remember the validation to this day.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

DALL:E2? I jest. I'm going through my ceramics era (hitting that mid-life crisis early on) so I'm currently idolizing Eva Zethraeus. She's a ceramicist who creates these wonderfully alien coral-like sculptures. Also really fascinated by Neri Oxman, a "bio-architect" who uses biological/organic processes, computing, materials engineering to create these huge experimental installations like the Silk Pavilion, constructed by 6,500 live silkworms assisted by a robotic arm.

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

I'm obsessed with Ologies by Alie Ward. It's a hilarious science podcast. Each week there's a new "ology" to get stuck into with awesome anecdotes about drunk butterflies, beer science, secret mushroom networks, ad infinitum. The hosting from self-professed "internet dad" Alie is superb and there's always something unexpected to learn. When hunting for the weird, wonderful and WTF is your day job, it's a great way to feed that curiosity.

Your favorite fictional character.

His Grace, The Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel "Sam" Vimes—the originator of the world's most elegant description of entrenched socio-economic unfairness, the boots theory. He's this deliciously conflicted character—an idealist whose sense of justice and rightness is warring with the disgusting reality of human nature.

Someone or something worth following in social media.

Can I get away with two? Vulgadrawings by Lily O'Farrell. A feminist cartoonist with an incredible wit. She does explainers of everything from incels to almond mums.

Depths of Wikipedia. Just the weirdest stuff imaginable from the absolute dad drawer of the internet. Helpfully doing the legwork so you can spend two hours falling into an Instagram rabbit hole of weirdness instead of six hours on Wikipedia itself.

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.

That was just as I'd moved officially into the Edelman creative department and was beginning to define my role as a creative strategist within our integrated services team. Previously, I'd been embedded purely in our technology practice. I'm introverted so the virtual nature of things allowed me to build a network and meet more people in that practice than I think I would have been able to in person.

It also saw me taking a year off rugby (turns out covid and contact sports don't mix), buying a house and renovating it. I'm now a dab hand with a circular saw and a tile cutter. It's amazing how many skills you can acquire when you can only leave the house for an hour a day.

One of your favorite projects you've ever worked on.

I mainly work in security, technology, science and B2B. In 2017 we did a campaign called "BotSpots" with Symantec where we worked out the botnet hotspots of the world using data like number of bots per capita (how many humans for every online bot perpetuating spam, scam or DDOS attacks).

Consumer cyber security is kind of like an insurance brief. People know they ought to have it, but they don't really care about it. When its working they don't see it. They only engage with it when something terrible happens. Which isn't the grounds for strong brand affinity. People can obviously intellectually engage with this idea of security being good and scams being bad, but it doesn't change behavior. BotSpots was a way of bringing it quite literally into your hometown, showing how you were living side by side with a botnet army. It was fun not only because we got loads of coverage globally and got to interview some gloriously nerdy threat intelligence experts; but because we could see it was supporting a behavioral change with the web and sales data around our "BotSpot" interactive world map.

A recent project you're proud of.

I'm a bit of an efficacy nerd so it would probably be a recent campaign we did with WhatsApp around two-factor authentication. We recruited Joel Dommett (who'd been a victim of a cat phishing scam) as our "scambassador" and worked with Friends Against Scams and National Trading Standards to protect people against impersonation scams. There had been a rise of scammers texting things like "Mom, I've been mugged, and I'm locked out of my account," asking either for cash or for you to send on your WhatsApp PIN suggesting it would help them reclaim their accounts. Sending on that PIN would give them access to your account. Beyond education there was a simple technical fix—getting people to turn on two-factor authentication. We did some silly social content and some research. It was awesome to see the spike in two-factor switch ons around the campaign. Super simple, but effective.

Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.

I really loved the Adobe Stock Apparel line. When Adobe launched its royalty free stock image service it just nailed its audience. Making a laughingstock out of the frustrations of dealing with awful, awful stock images day in day out. To this day I'm still hunting for a laughing woman eating salad t-shirt.

Someone else's work you admired lately.

Back Up Ukraine. Such an intelligently executed and timely project using an innovative technology to preserve the shared culture of Ukraine that was being destroyed so indiscriminately. Participatory, timely, purposeful, it had all the ingredients of a great earned campaign—solving a real-world problem in a beautiful way. I also loved the unintended consequences of people not only scanning these monuments and buildings, but scanning their homes, their sleeping dogs. 

Vice said it best: "Each scan is a tiny act of resistance, a moment in time preserved in digital amber and safe from Russian aggression."

Your main strength as a creative person.

Jack of all trades. I've done all the jobs—client lead, journalist wrangler, copywriter, strategist and now creative strategist—so I have empathy for each side of the process and a good understanding for how each discipline can work together most effectively. The ex-PR person in me also acts as a great bullshit detector for whether a campaign genuinely has that earned spark. I'm also a reasonably structured thinker and love building the argument that our response is the indisputable answer to the client challenge. 

Your biggest weakness.

Rejection sensitivity and asking for help. It's been a journey to separate the self from the work when you're getting knocked back. And on the second, as much as having a varied background is a superpower, it also means I have an awful streak of martyrdom telling myself "I should be able to do that" when I should just ask someone to help.

One thing that always makes you happy.

My two French bulldogs. Their stupid little faces are just the best cure for anything that ails you.

One thing that always makes you sad.

That it's all fleeting. That we don't get to hold on to anything for very long. So, we better do a damn good job of enjoying it whilst we have it.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

If I was starting out now, I'd be playing rugby. I currently play for Wasps in the Premiership, but I didn't start playing until my early twenties. There are such huge opportunities for young female players now. The decisions I had to make between making enough to live, or getting into a lot of debt to chase a dream that wouldn't be able to pay me a living wage for another decade won't exist in the same way for this generation. 

However, assuming I don't get to bend time in this hypothetical scenario, then I'd be making ceramics. Maybe that will be the main gig one day.

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