Matt Simpson faces battle to raise digital standards

Trading, training and measurement are all on the agenda for the IPA Digital media Group's new chairman.

Matt Simpson...first full-service digital specialist to hold IPA role
Matt Simpson...first full-service digital specialist to hold IPA role

Matt Simpson obviously likes a challenge. Less than two months after taking on the large task of leading OMD Group’s digital offering (across both OMD UK and Manning Gottlieb OMD), he’s stepped up to the position of chairman of the IPA Digital Media Group.

Replacing Profero’s Wayne Arnold, who has moved to New York to launch his agency’s US offering,

Simpson takes on the IPA role at a time when it is wrestling with more issues in digital than ever.

He says the focus of its activities will fall into three areas: trading, training and measurement. Overarching all of this, he says, is a key target: “The wider remit [of the group] is to raise the bar and the standard of best practice in digital and working harder with other bodies to achieve this.”

Simpson brings plenty of experience to the role. Before taking the OMD job, he worked at Starcom MediaVest Group for nine years and was appointed as the head of Starcom Digital in 2004 before moving on to a wider international role heading the effort on Procter & Gamble’s digital activity.

Steve Williams, the OMD group chief executive, who recently hired Simpson, says: “Matt shone because he had an interesting balance of core competence and craft skills together with a broader strategic perspective.

He has the experience of managing a big team and then, with Procter & Gamble, of a cross-territory strategic role. He brings a well-balanced per-spective and level of maturity.”

Williams feels that Simpson will be well suited to the IPA role: “The fact they’ve put him in this position has not been done lightly. It’s the first time a full-service digital specialist has held the position, so that’s credit to his skill and also to the quality that now exists within full-service media agencies.”

Colleagues at OMD say Simpson has already brought a refreshing approach to digital across its agencies.

They say he’s commercially astute and can argue his case in straightforward and effective language, not always a gift possessed by those from a pure digital background. One says: “There’s always clarity with him when he talks; ?you can have a proper conversation and he’s very commercially grounded.”

And the IPA role will bring its own challenges. While IPA Digital  has had some big wins since its inception two years ago (it grew out of the IPA’s Digital Marketing Group), it still faces battles on several fronts.

On the trading side, for instance, it secured a deal back in January with the Internet Advertising Bureau and ISBA that media owners would deliver 95 per cent of web ads booked by advertisers or agencies. This was up from the previous target of 90 per cent, but, crucially, some say, ?it failed to secure compensation for any under-delivery.

IPA Digital’s target is to reduce this variance to 2 per cent by 2010. But while the IPA will continue to issue trading guidelines to agencies, the prospect of a universal online trading platform seems to have receded.

Simpson says: “The IPA asked the IAB for its thoughts on trading platforms and it came back to say it was happy with any of them and any number of them.

Obviously, there would be benefits in using just one, but many agencies have already installed their own systems.

So, if it happens at all, it will be a long time away. It’s almost as if the horse has bolted and it’s going to be very difficult to rein it back in.”

Measurement of digital activity is a more pressing concern for Simpson, as the IPA is currently considering tenders from research companies to provide the next wave of online measurement.

This is something that is close to Simpson’s heart, as, in his previous job at Starcom MediaVest Group, he headed up the effort on Procter & Gamble’s digital activity and says that much more can be done to tempt

FMCG spend into digital: “Big FMCG players could make a massive difference in spending on their brands online, so it is important that we have a way of measuring in a similar way to other media. Not just examining the differences that digital can offer, but also the commonality with other media.”

Training is another big issue for Simpson, and he wants to see the IPA offering more in the way of specific training for digital specialists, having already done much in training agency generalists to understand digital. But he is still dealing with a large dearth of talent within agencies.

Simpson says: “The reality is that there has been an explosion of jobs in the last five years. The result is lots of graduates who are trained up for a year or two years and then leave.

It’s good, though, that more traditional media specialists are coming in [to digital media] and this is raising the bar because they are good media practitioners and understand the wider media market.”

And Simpson says that the group will be keeping a watchful eye on Google, especially given its recent deal with Yahoo!.

He says: “We are bound to keep an eye on a company with a stranglehold on a market, so we will be looking with interest at the monopoly and anti-trust situation in the US.

The IPA Search committee has Google high on its agenda, and it’s so dominant and so proven at making unpopular decisions among agencies that we have to keep watching.”