Profile: Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook

Facebook’s new cheerleader

In her first major interview since joining Facebook in July, EMEA vice-president Nicola Mendelsohn counters claims that the site is ‘failing marketers’, discusses tax concerns and talks about women in business.

Booking a one-hour slot to meet with Nicola Mendelsohn is like trying to go from nought to a million Facebook page likes in 60 minutes – it’s possible but it takes a concerted effort.

And it is little wonder. Apart from holding the most senior role at Facebook outside of North America as its EMEA vice-president – and working a five-day week, not four as has been widely reported – she is also co-chair of the Government’s Creative Industries Council, director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, a ‘champion’ of the White Ribbon Alliance (the global campaign for safe motherhood) and has four children of her own.

Many other executives would be forgiven for appearing a bit frazzled, but Mendelsohn, who is wearing a beaming grin and her trademark designer shoes (Gina is her choice for today), takes it all in her stride with an almost infectious energy for the role, constantly motivating herself by packing her schedule with different things because “life’s not a dress rehearsal”.

It was this “passion and enthusiasm” that first impressed Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice-president of global marketing solutions to consider Mendelsohn for the role while she was executive chairwoman of ad agency Karmarama. Joanna Shields vacated the job in January and went on to lead the Government’s investment group for technology startups – the Tech City Investment Organisation – and Mendelsohn replaced her in July.

Everson says of Mendelsohn: “I was looking for someone who would not only be an inspiring people leader but also someone who can operate at chief executive level, advising our clients and agency leaders. 

“We have a mantra at Facebook to put our clients at the centre of what we do and, coming from the agency background, Nicola has a deep understanding of our clients’ needs and works timelessly with her team to deliver great solutions to marketers.”

The recruitment process was “tough” but “interesting”, says Mendelsohn. She was interviewed not only by some of Facebook’s most senior executives in its famous Menlo Park headquarters in California’s Palo Alto, including chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, vice-president of partnerships Dan Rose and EMEA head of vertical solutions Brad Little, but also by the people who now report to her.

Mendelsohn cites people and making sure the environments she works in are places where employees, and women in particular, can flourish as among her biggest professional passions.

Advertisers said they knew Facebook worked but it was too complicated to work with. So we listened and are simplifying the product

A marketing role model herself with a bulging contacts book, Mendelsohn is ideally placed to strengthen Facebook’s relationship with the marketing community – a bond that is perhaps less fractious than before its IPO in 2012, but is still not as strong as the couplings between brands and other media owners.

A report published by Forrester Research last month claimed Facebook was “failing marketers” by driving less business value than any other digital marketing service, including social rivals Google+ and Twitter, because it has “abandoned its promise” to revolutionise marketing with social ads and has instead “become almost entirely reliant on the traditional advertising models it once lampooned” – display ads and simplistic targeting.

The report, which polled 395 marketers and e-business executives, also found Facebook to be behind Google, LinkedIn and Yahoo in terms of their satisfaction with the social network’s customer service.

Mendelsohn “fundamentally disagreed” with the findings of the report, saying Facebook continues to evolve its target offering, but she admits it needs to get better at communicating its case studies. That was one of the reasons why it extended its partnership with analytics firm Datalogix from the US to the UK in May to help demonstrate the return on investment of Facebook campaigns.

She adds: “The key thing is we know 20 million people in the UK are on Facebook mobile every day. Clients have always wanted to be where the people are, and they are on Facebook and in a way that we have never experienced before – we have never been able to be with some at the point of purchase.

“Christmas is around the corner and we have research [by Warc] that says 84 per cent of presents bought in this period are bought by mothers. Mums spend three times longer on a mobile on Facebook in these couple of months and we also know that 12 per cent of all users have bought a gift after seeing it in the news feed. All these things coming together is extraordinary. It works, it’s as simple as that.”

One of the steps Facebook took in the UK ahead of Mendelsohn’s arrival to improve its perception among the marketing community was set up a UK advisory board. 


Facebook’s open culture is evident at the US HQ (top left), while servers in Princeville, Oregon (bottom left), handle 4.7 billion different pieces of content everyday

It comprises 15 senior brand and agency marketers from companies including Coca-Cola, Unilever and Tesco which meet each quarter to provide “warts and all” feedback on Facebook’s upcoming and existing ad products, its level of service and areas for improvement.

Mendelsohn describes the board as “real trusted advisers” whose input has already had an effect on Facebook globally.

“One of the things they said was that we’re too complicated. They know it works, but sometimes the struggle to work with us makes it too hard.

“So we listened and took that back to the products team and engineers and now we are simplifying the advertising product [reducing the number of ad units it offers by more than half]. They welcomed that with open arms because by listening to and understanding their challenges, we can address them and make it simpler for them to work with us,” she says.

The UK is a “priority” country for Facebook’s revenue growth, which is highlighted by the company’s decision to appoint WPP media agency MEC’s chief executive Steve Hatch as its first UK regional director earlier this month. It is also a territory that has been in the spotlight in recent months for reasons outside of the advertising sphere, which both Mendelsohn and Hatch will need to remedy.

Facebook was among companies such as Google, Amazon and Starbucks that have been criticised for being US companies that generate substantial revenue in the UK but only pay a small amount in corporation tax.

Facebook’s most recent accounts filed with Companies House show it paid no corporation tax last year, compared to £238,000 in 2011, despite research firm eMarketer predicting it generated £223m in UK revenue in 2012. Facebook’s accounts state its UK income was £35m last year, but like other US technology counterparts, the company funnels its UK sales via Ireland where corporation tax rates are lower.

The company maintains 2012 was an anomaly year given the cost to the UK business unit of its IPO, which it says ate into profit generated by the region. But what would Mendelsohn say to a user that asks why Facebook is not paying more in corporation tax, despite generating revenue by serving ads to them?

Christmas is around the corner and we know that 12 per cent of all users have bought a gift after seeing it in the news feed. Facebook works

“I would say we are 100 per cent complying with all the British rules and regulations in this area. We work closely with HMRC on this issue so we are complying. The other thing I would say is that this is not a question for you and I, it’s a question for governments to work on together and debate and come forward on.”

Of course, Mendelsohn’s remit is far broader than the UK. As well as increasing revenue for the entire EMEA region, she wants it to develop “some of the best case studies in the world and champion creativity”, because she believes the diversity of the area’s different territories means this part of the world has “the most incredible creative resource”.

In January next year she will visit Africa to understand the role of mobile for people who have skipped desktop computers and how advancements in the territory in technologies such as mobile payments could be applied
across the business. 

Elsewhere, she will look to unpick how users in parts of the Middle East predominantly use Instagram (the photo-sharing app it bought in 2012 for $1bn) to sell sheep and why other users in that territory spend more time on Facebook Groups than users from the rest of the world.

However, not all EMEA Facebook users post the kind of content marketers would like to be associated with. The social network came under fire from users and Prime Minister David Cameron in October for allowing the wide distribution of an “irresponsible” beheading video on its platform, and advertisers’ body ISBA attacked it last week saying there is “no right context” for abusive images.

It was also condemned by car sharing company Zipcar whose ads were displayed against some instances of the controversial footage. Facebook says a “bug” had caused this to happen and that an overhaul of its systems in the summer near-guarantees ads will not appear next to graphic or offensive content.

Mendelsohn says Facebook’s decision to allow controversial content to be posted in the first place comes back to the company’s mission of “making the world more open and connected”.

“We don’t want to have a platform where people share things for the sake of sharing gruesome horrible things, that’s not the point. But if people are in the business of wanting to share things that could maybe change society for the better, then that’s something that would raise this debate.

“What’s also clear is that we want to protect our advertisers and we have a very clear policy that advertising will not appear against something they would not be comfortable with.

“That said, users post 4.7 billion different pieces of content each day and from time to time there will be issues that will test the policy, so we will come back to them and we will be much quicker in terms of how we respond. I think you can see that in how we have evolved as a business even since I joined in the past few months.”


Mendelsohn’s Facebook EMEA mission will stretch far beyond applying her adland expertise to keep the social network front of mind when it comes to planning marketing campaigns. Moving Facebook forward involves growing revenue without irking users and keeping the company’s reputation on the right side of the thin blue line
in terms of data, privacy, tax and censorship.

Yet Mendelsohn feels she has not needed to change herself, in spite of entering this somewhat uncharted, and more corporate, digital media arena.

“I am as I am and always have been. I’ve probably got a bit cooler in my kids’ eyes, but obviously I can still be a bit ‘embarrassing mum’ at times too,” she jokes, but adds that she never comments on her children’s Facebook updates.

She also says her family life growing up has helped her get to where she is today. “I never realised how lucky I was to have a mum and a grandmother who were both working women: this was my normal. As I got older I realised that was an extraordinary situation and how many women had challenges placed upon them, I felt it was a conversation I really needed to be part of.”

One of her focuses is on women who are starting out in their careers. “Some people say ‘it’s all very well referring to women such as [easyJet chief executive] Carolyn McCall and [AMV BBDO chief executive] Cilla Snowball, but they’re so senior I’ll never get there’, which is why I think it’s really important to create role models at the beginning [of women’s marketing careers],” she says.

Shortly after joining Facebook, Mendelsohn held an event at her home for Facebook’s women’s group to discuss what it is like for females to work at the world’s largest social network. She has expanded that event to a conference where later this year Facebook’s women from across the EMEA region will share best practice, tips on achieving a harmonious work-life balance and will be able to meet some of the company’s own female role models – both those at the top of the company and women at the start of their careers.

Being a self-described serial networker has also helped her up the ladder, as well as describing her speciality as ‘Chutzpah’ on her LinkedIn page. She has certainly not been shy about celebrating previous business successes and in her agency roles she used to buy a new pair of Christian Louboutin shoes to celebrate a client win. Having skipped to the other side of the adland world, how will she get her fix now?

“I love shoes, I can’t deny it. I have quite a lot of shoes – I won a lot [of clients],” Mendelsohn laughs. “But I’m getting the biggest fix every day here. The learning curve is extraordinary, the people, the region, the place. No two days will ever be the same and that’s the most extraordinary rush, it really is.”


Facebook by numbers

24 million
UK daily active users (June 2013)

188 million
European daily active users (Q3 2013)

European advertising revenue (Q3 2013)

Total advertising revenue (Q3 2013)

Average revenue per European user (Q3 2013)

Average revenue per North American user (Q3 2012)

Source: Facebook Q3 earnings 2013 and 2012


Marketer to marketer

Mark Ritson, Marketing Week columnist, asks:  Surveys keep claiming Facebook is losing its street cred among teens. Is there any evidence to disprove this rumour – specifically, are younger users spending as much time on the site as before?

Nicola Mendelsohn (NM): One crucial area aside from numbers [Facebook’s chief finance officer David Ebersman admitted last month its number of teen daily active users decreased for the first time] is how marketers are targeting teenagers. A recent Cadbury’s Creme Egg [‘Have a Fling’] campaign was fabulous work by Fallon, targeting teens using TV plus Facebook – and it’s that incremental reach you get by bringing the two together that’s really powerful. It reached 15 million unique users by doing the two together, but most importantly a 66 per cent increase in purchase intent, which led to a 9 per cent sales rise.

Creme Egg is a product that’s been around since you and I were kids, so who are the new people buying them? I would imagine those were the younger generation, the ones it was specifically talking to on Facebook.

Lindsey Clay, chief executive, Thinkbox, asks: Facebook’s cultural significance is almost universally accepted and Thinkbox are big fans as it captures the effect that TV creates. However, scepticism remains around Facebook’s effectiveness as a paid advertising medium. How will you address this?

NM: If you look at the big increase we’ve seen in ad spend – up to $1.8bn in the last quarter – it’s testament to the fact that the top advertisers are working with us. We’re starting to have deep relationships with them across the board so you’d be hard pushed to find somebody who wasn’t working with us. Maybe we need to get better at sharing our case studies to help people realise this.


CV: Nicola Mendelsohn

2013 - present  Vice-president, EMEA, Facebook

2012 - present  Co-chair, The Creative Industries Council

2012 - present  Director, Women’s Prize for Fiction

2011 - 2013  President, The IPA

2010 - present  Trustee, White Ribbon Campaign

2008 - 2013  Owner and executive chairwoman, Karmarama

2007 - 2013  Chair of corporate board, Women’s Aid

2002 - 2012  Director, The Fragrance Foundation

2003 - 2011  Board member, CEW

2004 - 2008  European business development director Grey Communications Group

2004 - 2007  Deputy chairman, Grey London

1992 - 2004  Business development director, BBH

Readers' comments (1)

  • Facebook has peaked and it is trying to create more advertising revenue in a declining population pool who use their site. What that means is the business will eventually fail, since only a certain amount of revenue can be attained they have to rely on getting more clicks to increase revenue. With their many Orwellian policies i have found more and more people disconnecting from the Facebook internet site.

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