‘I create viral social campaigns for a living’

From getting a polar bear to roam London to promote TV show Fortitude, to sailing a Thunderbirds craft down the Thames to promote the show’s return, James Herring has done all kinds of cool things to capture the internet’s attention. We chatted to him about creating viral campaigns for some of the biggest brands in the world.

James is a co-founder of Taylor Herring, an agency that creates campaigns for brands including Samsung, Google and Amazon and people including Kim Kardashian and Sir Richard Branson.

Here he tells List for Life what it takes to get into his industry.

1. Talk us through your career journey so far

In between studies at university I promoted a stand-up comedy night and through this got to know the managers of the acts from the London circuit. On graduating the comedy promoter Avalon invited me up to Edinburgh Festival to lend a hand looking after a bunch of their shows. I did a bit of everything from stage management, to handing out flyers. I even collared theatre critics and begging them to review our shows. Post Edinburgh Festival, Avalon asked me to stay on to help scout for new talent and develop their university circuit. A couple of years later I took on the role of managing artist PR and Marketing. As well as promoting comics like Harry Hill, The Mighty Boosh and Al Murray I took on some external clients and handled the launch of the first ever Big Brother, the Film Four channel and ITV2.

2. How did you start your company?

I launched Taylor Herring with my wife Cath Taylor in 2001. We felt like there was a gap in the market to do things differently. Peter Mountstevens joined the company shortly after that and we now run the agency together.

A viral campaign for TalkTalk featuring human emojis (Image Credit: Taylor Herring)

A viral campaign for TalkTalk featuring human emojis (Image Credit: Taylor Herring)

3. What have been your biggest ‘pinch me’ career moments?

We’ve been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of amazing people over the years – including the likes of Kim Kardashian, Sir Richard Branson, Lord Sugar, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Russell Brand, Robbie Williams, David Tennant and Jamie Oliver.

4. What kind of projects/clients does your company work on/with?

There are two sides to the company – media and entertainment clients and Consumer brands. On the media side we handle series publicity for blockbuster shows like The Apprentice and Bear Grylls’ The Island. We undertake a wide variety of projects for broadcasters including UKTV, ITV and NBC Universal. The scope of what we do is very broad.

5. What is a typical working day like for you?

One day we’re consulting Disney Parks & Resorts about the opening of a new attraction, the next running the red carpet at The Ivor Novello Awards. For consumer brands we create attention-seeking campaigns that are going to work for news media but also play out well on social channels. We produce branded content, viral videos, stage unusual events and dream-up ideas for eye-catching picture stories. We work for Kellogg’s, Samsung, Diageo, TalkTalk, Google, Paddy Power and Amazon.

This year we’ve unleashed an animatronic polar bear onto the streets of London, built a giant Stig statue and toured it across Europe, sailed a Thunderbirds craft down the Thames, unveiled a ‘dog kennel of the future’ at Crufts, created a viral sensation with a dancing dad at Thorpe Park and staged a surprise opera in a school for an Italian food brand.

6. What would your advice be to people wanting to go into campaign creating?

It’s not a job for people who want normal hours – especially while you are trying to get a foot on the ladder. Expect to be putting in extra slog over evenings and weekends – it comes with the territory. The PR industry is changing very fast and so are the skills required. There are also fewer journalists around and attention spans are getting shorter by the day. What the industry needs more than anything is creativity and great ideas.

Here are some of Taylor Herring’s viral campaigns –