Upcast Social Brings Facebook Ads API to Europe

Upcast Social is a London-based marketing firm specializing in managing Facebook campaigns. It was one of the early companies to be certified as a preferred marketing developer (PMD) for the Facebook Ads API.

AdExchanger spoke with CEO Jim Brigden and Client Services Director Josh Wallin.

AdExchanger: What’s the origin story for Upcast Social?

JB: Upcast originally came out of I Spy, a UK-based ad agency specializing in search. Over 2009-2010, we started going beyond search advertising. We started moving into a bit of social advertising with Facebook, and also a bit of conversion and analytics. The agency’s pretty successful and well known in the UK.

There were 50 people working for some pretty big clients, a rather large ad agency. In 2010, we started doing more Facebook advertising, and we started looking around for technologies to manage campaigns more efficiently. There weren’t many doing it at that time, so we decided we could do it at least as well, and we pitched it to the needs of I Spy. And we started winning clients off the back of that.

Is Upcast an I Spy holding, or has it spun off into its own company?

It’s a separate business. It’s got separate shareholders and a separate P&L.  I Spy makes up a tiny percentage of Upcast revenues these days. It’s one agency, and there’re lots of other agencies that license Upcast now.

How much of your business is devoted to the Facebook Ads API?

For Upcast, 95% of our business is from Facebook ads, from the API side. We do make money from managing campaigns, but it’s mostly Facebook ads. We wouldn’t position ourselves as a Facebook business but as a social advertising technology business. Facebook is a dominant force in social media advertising at the moment, so that’s where we make most of our revenue.

How are you helping clients bring Facebook ads together with other channels — for instance, display and search? 

We’re very integrated with Google Analytics, so we track sales via Google Analytics, and we can integrate with other tracking platforms. So we’re good at helping other agencies to understand cross-media paths. I Spy as a search agency is very much into how search and Facebook fit together.

What are your observations about how the Facebook Ads API has evolved over time?

A lot of people  are building technology to fit with Facebook because it’s the most open platform. You know, we’ve seen a huge growth in the number of ad API providers. The last time I looked a couple of months ago, it was over 30, and I guess it is more than that now.

So that kind of tells you, lots of people are trying to build applications and ads and stuff around the whole Facebook piece. I was there when the search revolution happened, and with the search API program you never had the same volume [of API vendors] — it was probably 10 or 15 major players, just a handful.  It seems to me that with Facebook, there’s lots of people just wanting to get into Facebook early, not miss out on the revolution that will be happening around social right now. But there’s a hell of a lot of competition very quickly, and it’s a very good business.

With so many parties bringing their technology and services layer to the Facebook API, what’s distinctive about Upcast?

The fact that we’re Europe-based and I’ve got a support and service team in London [means] we’ve lots of European business. We’re working with agencies from as far afield as Turkey and Poland, through to the Nordics, through to Latin America, and we’re also starting to go into the Far East.

We’re really good at installing the technology, training, helping people get the most from Facebook advertising.

Josh Wallin: From a technical point of view, we pride ourselves on having the features you need to keep your [preferred marketing vendor] badges. But we’re also proud of having all the newer proactive features a lot quicker than anyone else, so we’ve [added] CPM bidding and mobile literally as soon as we could, and that’s one of our strong selling points. Our tech team is very flexible, very fast and experienced, and they can generally turn around all the newest features for agencies very quickly.

What do you see as the future for the Ads API? What does it not have that it needs to have, and what direction do you see it going over the next 12 to 24 months?

JW:  The issues in the road map, technically, are how we’re going to deal with, integrate, and sell to our clients things like: the ad exchange, if there was a wider-reaching Facebook network, and if they roll out premium ads to the API [Facebook did this shortly after this interview was conducted].

Quite often, new features get released to the API vendors, like Upcast, before they go into the self-serve [channel]. Because Facebook is releasing so frequently now, it gets pretty mad. But I would think that the future will bring more types of marketplace ads, more premium ads, more control over the actual amount that you’re invoicing — from a tiny amount to massive branding campaigns that you can run from your own machine.

JB: I would also predict a lot of movement into the mobile space as well, where a huge number of people access Facebook. At the moment, you don’t see a huge volume of ads from Facebook going to the user on their mobile, so I’m predicting that in the next year or so, you’ll see a lot more mobile development on Facebook.

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