Grech: chief executive at Tech City UK
Grech: chief executive at Tech City UK
A view from Gerard Grech

Tech City UK chief: Why Britain is the new digital frontier

Ahead of his speech to a room full of leading marketers and adland's finest at ISBA's Annual Lunch today, Gerard Grech, chief executive of Tech City UK discusses why Britain is a digital force to be reckoned with.

Britain’s advertising industry combines powerhouse business acumen with some of the most creative and disruptive thinking I’ve seen in my career. The blend of innovation, know-how and ambition resembles what’s happening in our digital technology sector.

The union of our advertising excellence and digital technology expertise is already driving real innovation.

Since joining Tech City UK in February, I’ve noticed many parallels between advertising and technology businesses. Both deploy a mix of imagination, inspiration, metrics and persistence to change norms and move sentiment.


The opportunity for our two sectors to collaborate is exciting and full of promise. Opening the door to the UK’s digital businesses and tapping in to their expertise will drive up innovation and efficiency, making this generation the most effective marketeers yet.

While marketeers view success as selling products, my objective is to support our digital business community in selling theirs. Tech City UK is there to help them grow and to ensure that the broader sector thrives. Our digital technology businesses – from nimble start-ups to scale-ups and famous household brands – are the backbone of our internet economy, and their success is crucial if Britain is to remain competitive on the world stage.


We have already seen great innovation around new services and new ways of doing old things.

So I am urging marketeers to constantly challenge themselves to take advantage of the expertise and energy of the digital technology sector. It’s a sector that is open and accessible and which I believe is our most fruitful avenue for growth and real change.

I believe that Tech City UK is uniquely placed to leverage all the traditional advantages of the UK business environment along with a new determination to focus on innovation and growth. We connect, we educate and we champion the digital industry.

From our base in East London, we have already seen great innovation around new services and new ways of doing old things. ‘Digital’ no longer means different or niche. No business can afford to ignore what tech can do for it, whether that means expanding into online commerce, deepening brand engagement through effective social media use or rethinking your audience.


The union of our advertising excellence and digital technology expertise is already driving real innovation in areas such as programmatic trading, big data (particularly when it comes to understanding audiences) and ecommerce.

Consider programmatic trading, which has simplified what used to be a very arduous process and made effective targeting far more plausible. It enables efficient targeting, buying and optimisation of ad inventory and by narrowing your target; you actually broaden it because it’s more likely to result in meaningful and productive action and long-term relationships.

Recent data from MTM suggested 28% of the display ad market in the UK was traded programmatically, representing £500M of the total $1.86B display advertising. This is predicted to grow to 75% over the next three years.


Advertising is being entirely disrupted by technology here: with real time bidding taking over from the IO. UK built companies such as Strike Ad are making it possible for buyers to purchase programmatically across mobile devices, and Adbrain makes it possible to bid and optimise audiences across any screen.

Technology is driving change in other areas aside from the buying process. Struq enables consumers to be targeted with campaigns across any device. And wireWax turns videos into taggable media which allow the viewer to interact and purchase via the medium.

Screens, data and smart tech

In an IP world, targeting is transformed – the individual consumer can be targeted at a micro level – across every screen including the smartphone, tablet or IPTV.

Getting smart about targeting, buying, optimizing your audience means getting to grips with audience data. Data management platforms such as Infectious Media, who recently collaborated with ISBA on a guide to real-time advertising, deliver campaigns for brands directly leveraging big data about the audience. Tech companies are also finding new ways to allow consumers to interact with brands, for example Thread connects people to stylists who will help them shop and build the ideal wardrobe without leaving their home.

At the same time, more and more big brands are investing in the power of data and technology.

The Internet of Things

Tech City UK is working closely with several household brands, including EE, John Lewis and Unilever, to accelerate the Internet of Things space.

The Internet of Things is the magical intersection where the physical meets the digital. This results in products such as software-enabled music instruments, devices to monitor your health or meters in your home to monitor the use of energy. We’ve recently launched a £1M grant fund with the Technology Strategy Board, making funding available to early stage technology companies to drive innovation.

More than ever before, consumer behaviour is altering the way brands need to interact with their audiences. And as consumers engage with technology, harnessing it helps you reach them. Technology is pushing the industry ever forward.

There’s never been a more exciting time to build a brand.