Speaker Spotlight: Mark Johnstone


If you've attended a marketing conference anytime in the last few years — or clicked through to a marketing blog — chances are you've come across Distilled. Over the last 10 years, the London agency have expanded from two people working out of their founder's front room, to 60 people spread over three time-zones. Along the way, they've earned a reputation as some of the smartest thinkers and practitioners in SEO and digital marketing. 

We're delighted to have their VP of Creative, Mark Johnstone join us for Full Stack Marketing. Mark's been running Distilled's 10-strong creative team since 2012, but he started out in the SEO department. I can't wait to hear his perspective on how to bridge that divide, and how the creative process behind genuinely effective digital campaigns works.

What does Distilled do?

We're a digital agency, specialising in SEO. We do a lot of content marketing and digital PR, often — but not always — with a focus on SEO.

What is your role there? What does a regular day look like for you?

VP of Creative. There's no such thing as a regular day, but I'm sure that's not very original to say. I spend a lot of time generating and refining ideas, pitching ideas to clients, and steering content through the production process.

Tell us a little about your professional background.

My academic background is in maths and statistics. Prior to working in marketing, I used to be an event manager (a career I started in Edinburgh before moving to London). I started out in Distilled as an SEO consultant, before moving to set up and build the creative team.

What are you going to talk about at Turing Festival? Why do you think it's important?

How to come up with ideas, and how you determine which ones are likely winners. I think there's a general lack of insight in this area. A lot of people simply resort to group brainstorms and going by their gut feel or the HIPPO (HIghest Paid Person's Opinion.) Having the ability to deconstruct an idea and seeing where it's strong and weak can allow you to have much more constructive conversations, and give you greater confidence in determining which ideas are worth pouring effort and resources into.

For companies that are getting serious about marketing for the first time, where do you think they can get some quick wins? 

This isn't quick, but it's cheap, and it's important. Go around telling people about your business, and watch their response. Watch, don't listen! Do they seem compelled and intrigued? If not, try telling it a different way next time. Keep doing this until you've got a concise, clear, and compelling proposition. It's tempting to skip to quick tactics, but all marketing is about amplifying your communication, and you want to amplify a clear, crisp sound, not a bunch of muddy noise.

What common mistake do you see marketers making that drives you nuts?

Trying to be present in every channel, because they think they should or because their competitors are doing so. If I see a company that has every single social channel going, none of which are particularly working, I think 'why not just do one until you start to see success in that channel, then grow it out from there?' Any one of those channels could be powerful if you nail it, but all of them done poorly will do nothing but waste your time and money.

And finally, just to give our readers a little more context about you, our quick-fire round:

  • Tea or coffee? Coffee. Flat white.
  • Wine or beer? Beer. Getting into my craft beers. Do like a glass of red now and then too.
  • Twitter or Facebook? Facebook.
  • iPhone or Android? Android. As a creative, I love Apple, but I just don't find the iPhone as intuitive. Maybe it's just about what I learned first.
  • Favourite city? Tough one. New York, Barcelona, London, Edinburgh, Melbourne, Amsterdam. Can't pick!
  • Last book you read? The War of Art.
  • Last gig you went to? Glastonbury. Still recovering, I think.