Will Platt-Higgins: A journey from Bristol to Facebook

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By Holly Beaumont, Investigations Editor

Will Platt-Higgins is Vice President of Global accounts at Facebook in New York. However, it was not so long ago that he lived in Clifton Hill House and sat in lectures in Wills Memorial Building. Will took time out of his fast-paced career at Facebook to talk about his advice for students and life after Bristol.

Despite the 3000+ miles between us, it’s fitting that I got to know Will and learn about his life thanks to his company’s invention, WhatsApp video call.

Will explained that before working at Facebook, he was the Executive VP for Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency for 11 years. I was interested to find out what advice he would have for students seeking careers in industries like these.

Epigram / Will Platt Higgins 

I ask him about the qualities he thinks employers would look for in a candidate. He proposes his first piece of advice stating, ‘This to me is the stuff that I wish I paid more attention to as a student.’

‘What I think differentiates people are a number of things. One is hunger. How much do you want it? The drive and the hunger are going to single you out and help make you successful.’

‘The other thing is, what else have you done? How have you invested your time beyond your studies?’

‘One of the of questions we sometimes laugh about is the airport lounge test. If you get stuck in an airport lounge: would you want to be with this person?’

‘I think, increasingly, saying you have a degree from Bristol is a yes, and question. You could go and coach netball to children, you could get an internship in Goldman Sachs, you could volunteer in South America it doesn't matter. What matters is and what.’

He references an anecdote of running a golf course for a year in the year after he left Bristol. ‘I didn’t even play golf’, he laughs. ‘Just do something that challenges you and that you find interesting’.

Whilst discussing what makes someone employable, I press Will to blow his own trumpet, and explain what skills he believes he possessed to earn the roles he’s had. ‘We’re English’ he reminds me. ‘We don’t like to do that’.

However, he does give me an interesting analogy. ‘One of the of questions we sometimes laugh about is called the airport lounge test. If you get stuck in an airport lounge, or for a seven-hour flight delay, would you want to be with this person?’

‘There are a lot of breathtakingly intelligent people at the company. But those of us who are not rocket scientists have other things to bring to the party. I think what's helped me succeed is I’m a genuinely curious person. I'm interested in other people.’

Given Will’s proximity to the social media world, on the much-hyped addictive nature of apps like Facebook, he says: ‘I certainly wouldn’t dismiss the challenges. I have kids. I don't want my kids to be staring at their phones all day long.’

‘On the flip side, he counters, ‘I think it is incredible that you and I can talk. I can see crystal clearly, I can hear crystal clearly and we can actually get to know one another a bit and you’re three and a half thousand miles away from me. That’s incredible.’

‘I’m a genuinely curious person. I'm interested in other people.’

We discuss the growing importance of the virtual connection that social media can provide at a time of physical separation by Covid.

‘When the pandemic started we saw massive increases in video-calling on WhatsApp and we saw it first in Italy. Group calling was up something like 1,000%’

‘So, what happens if you're in the product development world is you say “okay, if that’s the case that more people want to do video calling, then how do we make it easier for them?’

He then went on to tell me about the creation of Facebook Rooms to provide an informal, group video-call forum to satisfy the wants of Facebook users.

Working in advertising for eleven years, before Facebook and other similar apps were created, Will has been at the heart of a shift in the advertising world.

He has experienced both big-budget, John Lewis Christmas type TV advertising, as well as ‘6 second ads on Instagram and 2 or 3 second bumpers on YouTube’.

Consequently, he has seen advertisers have to adapt their content because far less eyes are on television screens than they once were.

‘When I turn the television on...’, he holds his tiny remote control up to his camera for my observation. ‘This tells you everything you need to know. Right? It’s set for Netflix and Amazon and HBO and all the rest of it.’

‘That tells you everything you need to know about how the industry has changed. So, if I turn the television on, I go straight into those interfaces, I’m not seeing ads.’

‘That's both a challenge for the advertising industry and for their clients who say, well, if Will and Holly are not watching my stuff anymore, how am I going to tell them about the new Rimmel London eyelash-extending mascara?’

‘That's why the attention has moved over the digital channels, because that’s where the eyeballs are.’

‘So if I turn the television on... I’m not seeing ads’

Despite his immense, continuing career successes, Will looks back on his time at Bristol and is critical of his work ethic.

Upon asking, ‘If you could tell your 19-year old self one thing what would it be?’, he does not remark ‘everything works out fantastically’, but rather ‘study harder. Take more advantage of the academic opportunities and study harder’.

His English modesty clearly still prevails despite his 21 years living in America but fortunately for us, so does his wisdom.

Featured Image: YouTube / DMEXCO


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