Q&A with James Small, Anthony Nolan

Q&A with James Small, Anthony Nolan

Written by Lauren Howells on Wed 14 Feb 2018


Name: James Small
Title: Head of Digital Engagement 
Organisation: Anthony Nolan

What does your current role involve?

My role was introduced last year to provide digital leadership and to define and take forward a strategy for Digital Engagement at Anthony Nolan. The emerging theme from this piece of work is a drive to ensure that we are personal and purposeful in everything that we do. 

To that end, I see my role as being not just a champion for digital and for my team but as an evangelist for the user at Anthony Nolan. I’m lucky to work with some very talented people who are especially great at finding and telling compelling stories. Our next step is to ensure that we are telling the right stories to the right people in a way that inspires meaningful action - whether that’s through social media, email, digital advertising or our website.

How is your team structured?

Digital is configured as a virtual team across IT and Engagement, with some specialists situated in individual teams. One focus for us in 2018 will be to develop this model more widely - in part through a digital champions programme.

Digital Engagement is situated in the Engagement department, which encompasses Marketing, Comms, Policy and Public Affairs, Register Development and Fundraising. We’re a team of five, and act as a consultancy to the organisation, supporting all the teams above as well as our Patient team. I’m not keen on the ‘internal agency’ analogy - we prefer to work in partnership with our colleagues and be proactive in the support we provide, rather than reacting to requests as a passive service function.

As a small team in a small-to-medium charity, our roles are by necessity quite generalist and we all have to cover a range of skills. But digital marketing is split roughly along the lines of creative/analytical and we have a dedicated post to support digital fundraising.

What are the biggest challenges you come up against within your role?

It’s a nice problem to have but Anthony Nolan is a pretty forward-thinking organisation compared to a lot of charities of a similar size, and we tend to punch above our weight. We also have quite a young audience, who have high expectations when it comes to engaging with brands online. This can mean that we have a lot to live up to in terms of ambition for digital but relatively limited resources with which to do so. 

We also have quite a unique audience challenge in that we need to target young men to join our stem cell register, but our typical fundraising audience belongs to quite a different demographic.

The approach we are taking to address this is to try to scale up the relationship model of supporter stewardship through digital means. This means being as targeted as we can be in everything we do, and taking supporters on a journey rather than bombarding them with options. This is where personal and purposeful comes in. We ask: ‘Who are we talking to and how should we speak to them? What are we asking them to do and why?’

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing charity digital teams?

I’m in the doomsayer camp about recent changes to the Facebook algorithm. I believe that we’re facing a cliff-edge when it comes to engagement with and referrals from organic social, and this is part of a trend that Ogilvy predicted nearly four years ago. There are definitely some things that charities can do to mitigate the impact of this at the moment, but I think we need to look to diversify in the long term. And I say this as a representative of one of the charities who - accordinging to the the CharityComms Digital Benchmark - relies on Facebook for traffic the most.

I’m more optimistic about changes to the Google Ad Grants programme but if your charity relies on this as an acquisition source, I urge you to make sure that you are doing what you can to comply. 

GDPR obviously presents a huge challenge for the sector. But it’s important to see the opportunity here in terms of talking to the people who really want to hear from you.

More broadly, charity digital teams need to be mindful of the fact that users have increasingly high expectations of how seamless online engagement should be. But although we might not be able compete with huge corporations in terms of technology and innovation, we in charity digital should take comfort in the fact that we have the kind of relationships with our audiences that other sectors would kill for.

Whose work inspires you?

I’m impressed by Marie Curie’s approach to storytelling on social media, especially when it comes to mobile video. It feels like they’re starting to master the art of gathering content from the front lines and winning the argument about letting go of the brand a bit. The result is really compelling content that stands on its own.

I’ve always been a bit of a GDS fanboy. Six years on, it’s still a shining example of how culture can be transformed even in the most monolithic sector by making services about the people they’re designed for, not the organisations who deliver them.

How do you see Anthony Nolan developing digitally over the next year?

As our Digital Engagement strategy takes shape, we will be embarking on a journey to embed it across the organisation. This will likely begin with a user research project to build up a clearer picture of who our audiences are, and their needs and motivations. We will combine this with an analytics overhaul to ensure we’re acting on the right insights. 

This will hopefully provide a base for us to develop an approach to personalisation, and to bring other teams on board with our audience-centred approach. Some training in the principles of user-centred design and the digital champions programme will form a part of this.

Supporter journeys are going to become increasingly important to us at Anthony Nolan, and we have a post dedicated to driving this in our Supporter Relationship team. This will have a big impact on how we plan and coordinate digital comms.

What new technologies are you excited about?

I got enthused about Voice at a recent IoF event at Amazon. ComScore reckons that, by 2020, 50% of searches will be done by voice. While I always take these kinds of predictions with a pinch of salt, the implications of Voice for charities are well worth exploring now before we get left behind. 

I’m also interested in machine learning, particularly when it comes to personalisation. Ecommerce websites are getting pretty clever at serving different content to customers depending on what they know about who they are, where they live, etc. and we should be considering how we can apply this to our supporters and beneficiaries.