Media industry must lead by example if it wants to thrive
A view from Sam Tomlinson

Media industry must lead by example if it wants to thrive

Some key themes emerged at Campaign's recent Year Ahead event.

Context is everything

As long-time believers in the importance of brand-building and the craft of media planning, and sceptical about an overemphasis on pure audience targeting, our whole team hopes 2020 is the year in which content and context are once again king (and queen!).

Premium publishers are a vital component of the UK’s creative sector that were sometimes ill-served in the past decade by the chasing of audiences at the expense of context. I hope 2020 marks a change for the better.  

Recruit and retain: embedding diversity 

It’s now broadly accepted that innovation, driven by diverse teams (across age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, social class and more), is a business imperative, not just a moral one. 

In 2020, I hope we can all take practical steps to embed diversity in recruitment and retention, creating cultures in which everyone can thrive. 

To give one example: when recruiting data scientists, we’ve learned that the best ones won’t necessarily shine in our traditional one-hour interview. Large organisations need to be flexible to recruit and retain the talent they need. 

The importance of expertise

Dominic Cummings was recently quoted as saying he wants "weirdos and misfits with odd skills" to advise the UK government.

If this results in diverse thinking, with fresh and imaginative solutions, it is surely a good thing. However, I sincerely hope that doesn’t mean that years of knowledge and experience will be jettisoned or ignored.

An infamous quote in the run-up to the Brexit referendum in 2016 suggested that the UK had had enough of experts, but personally I’ve always found expertise to be quietly reassuring. 

Realism about robots

As a child, Tomorrow’s World assured me that Japanese robots meant I could look forward to a lifetime of luxury and leisure.

In reality, the always-on nature of modern technology means we mostly work much harder than the generation before us (as I regularly tell my parents). 

So I hope in 2020 we have some realism about the role of robotics and the advance of artificial intelligence.  

Programmatic is a manual process 

Building on the theme of robots and AI: a well-kept secret about "programmatic" is that much of the work is manual – we see this time and again when we examine campaigns that start late, end late, are under-optimised or over-optimised, tagged incorrectly or not at all etc.  

Fixing these issues is primarily a manual process. It requires a human to set up the machines and to switch them on and off.

We can all relax in the knowledge that, happily and sadly, there will be plenty of work for humans for many years to come. 

Data provenance is now critical

Moreover, programmatic – like all forms of advertising – is only as good as the data it’s founded on.

The General Data Protection Regulation has, finally, got users asking questions about data origins. Where has this data come from? Is it properly permissioned? What can (and can’t) I use it for?

In 2020, these questions should go much further: how accurate is the data? Has it been verified? Fundamentally, do I trust it?

Data provenance – ie the origin, permissioning, accuracy and verification of data – should be a critical topic for everyone in marketing. 

The future of how media is audited – what we call marketing and media assurance – will focus on robust verification of data and process, not the benchmarking of prices.

A thirst for knowledge

To spot someone who will succeed, look for a thirst for knowledge and a desire to change.

The three critical workplace technologies of the past 20 years have been Word, Excel and PowerPoint; everyone reading this article will be all too familiar with them.

But the next 20 years will require more. At PwC, we believe the critical new workplace technologies will focus on workflows and visualisation, so we’ve initiated a digital accelerator programme in which all UK employees will be trained in Alteryx, Tableau and Power BI, rather than restricting their use to "the data team".

I intend to lead by example and find time to be one of the first on the programme – not one of the last.   

Sam Tomlinson leads PwC’s marketing and media assurance team
Picture: Getty Images

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