A Day in the Life of ad:tech London 2019

Simon Watson, Head of Digital


If you ever needed another indicator of just how much technology is progressing, the fact ad:tech 2019 was busier than I’ve ever seen it speaks for itself.

Having said that, certainly from the exhibitors with stands, it became apparent fairly quickly just how many technologies offer in essence the same service – particularly from a CRM perspective. That and free socks. Yes, it appears socks was the faff of choice this year and somehow, I came away with 4 pairs! I needn’t have packed any spares for my few days in London. But that’s all the fluff as, for me, the value lies in the talks and panels from industry experts.

It was strange to hear an ad:tech talk beginning with: “I’m going to start this session with talking to you about doors”.

It was Norman Doors that were being referenced to, which are poorly designed doors that confuse or fail to give an idea whether to push or pull it. Why do push doors even have handles? I’ve done it myself – pulled on a door when its meant to be pushed. It was designed to get us thinking – why would you make something you want people to engage with more difficult than it needs to be? Website UX, forms with more fields to be completed than required, TLDR emails – the list goes on…

A phrase I heard approximately 300 times over the two days was “data is the new oil”, however only two people gave it any real context.

The first was Jo Fawcett of the Azzurri Group. Firstly, she explained that without data then seniority or any company biases that exist likely become the truth. I’ve seen examples of this first-hand where marketers thought they knew exactly who their core audience was, only to find that some research, a deep dive into historical data or conversion data actually revealed a different audience than expected.

What perhaps resonated with me most from Jo’s talk was her real data driven marketing activity, where she’d used data from Zizzi restaurants in Cambridge and Newcastle to inform differing media and creative decisions. Data from the Cambridge restaurant showed diners weren’t staying long and usually only had one course – which she mainly put down to tourists wanting a quick and handy meal so they could get back out and enjoy the city. Creative messaging in Cambridge reflected this conveying convenience and media was targeted to obvious tourist spots, such as train stations to reach potential diners arriving into the city.

On the other hand, diners in Newcastle spent far longer at their tables, tended to have two or three courses and drank more alcohol – which she put down to diners visiting the restaurants as part of an occasion. Media and messaging again reflected this with a wide drinks menu being communicated as well as discounts for groups. Not rocket science – just proper data-driven marketing.

Jo reflected on Netflix for doing this brilliantly, with individuals’ home screen based on taste alone, regardless of gender, age, geography or anything else. Worth all the effort, as apparently this data driven personalisation has saved Netflix $1bn in retention.




The second person was Riaz Ali, Head of Business Intelligence & Optimisation at giffgaff, who spends much of his time focusing on data to simplify the user experience during sign up. He stated that 95% of websites make a user type their Pa$$w0rd twice when configuring an account. giffgaff’s wealth of data, however, showed this step is not needed as people almost never get their password wrong. Who knew? Again – data-driven decision making put into practice.

This was the year at ad:tech where we heard from a panel of recent graduates, all from Brixton Finishing School, on “How to win the talent war – why we would want to work for you”. The graduates told us that they don’t just want to know about the job and package that comes with it – they want to know about the company culture, its diversity and inclusion policies, how environmentally friendly they are and how they support mental health. Young people entering our industry really care and want an employer that does too.

In the same session I learnt a shocking lesson on unconscious bias which exists amongst employers in the UK (at least I really hope it’s unconscious). A study revealed someone with the name Adam was 3x more likely to receive a job interview than someone named Mohammed, regardless of the identical education, skills and experience which were on their CVs.

Working for an agency, one session I was particularly looking forward to was the Advertising Agency CEO Panel – and I was even more interested given the above eye-opener, and thankfully diversity and inclusion was something they touched on.

Attracting new talent into the industry is often a topic of discussion at events like ad:tech, and the CEO’s each spoke about the need for the industry to attract a far more diverse group of people from different backgrounds and cultures. And further to that – not just graduates with degrees in “the Arts” – we need people with maths and engineering degrees, data scientists and passionate school leavers who’d rather jump straight into employment. Diverse groups of people create energy, different sets of opinions and thoughts as well as opportunities to branch into new areas. We’re an ideas industry – diversity and inclusion is absolutely essential.

One thing from the panel which will probably stick with me for the rest of my career is a statement from one agency CEO: “we only have people on loan”. It makes perfect sense, of course – I’d just never heard of it put like that. There’s an obligation from both parties to serve the other well, for the employer to nurture talent and treat and compensate employees fairly.

But then something I disagreed with a CEO on the panel on was that “churn creates vitality”.

We’re proud of our staff retention rate at Republic of Media and would far rather have happy staff wanting to do great work for happy clients – which in turn should drive new business and growth, giving the opportunity for new amazing people to enter the business to create a stronger and more diverse workplace.