We all need to ‘Grow’ up – Don’t forget yourself.

When you take a step back and really assess how you spend your day, it is clear that most of us fail in investing in ourselves. More importantly as leaders of teams and organizations just when we need our own selfs to be in the best shape, it gets harder to do and less focused on. Well I was lucky enough to join 30-40 other people from across the media agency landscape on a two day session organized by AOL. The programme was supported by some incredible people like David Bell – a legend of the industry (ex IPG), Jim Stengel – ex CMO of P&G and guest appearances from Tim Armstrong, fresh back from a run in Santa Monica and Keith Weed, CMO of Unilever.

Two days spent with leaders from across the media agency landscape, reflecting, discussing, debating and laughing about our industry. The sessions covered many topics from mindfulness to pitching, to self improvement and more. One thing that struck me above almost all, we don’t invest in ourselves enough and these two days, unexpectedly brought me to think more about what I am and do than perhaps any other in recent memory.

Through the two days we had a chance to reflect on what we do, how we do it, what our bosses do and how they do it. We had the chance to discuss some gritty industry issues and the implications for all of us, and we had to put to test some things I would probably have never done myself – practicing mindfulness routines for one! The whole time you were thinking and listening to all these industry greats and they focused the mind. We heard from all of them and their routines and there were some constants. Some constants that we all agreed we don’t follow ourselves well enough, but if we don’t do it for ourselves, how can we inspire others to do the same and succeed in their own right. About now I could write one of those LinkedIn posts ‘ten things successful people do’ because we heard from a number of them. The fact that Tim Armstrong fitted a session in with us on Skype between a run and board meeting said it all! I won’t though because I am certain more of you on both sides of the Atlantic will be doing these sessions and I don’t want to ruin it for you!

Everyone was encouraged to think about what they would change as soon as they got back to the office, and everyone took different things out of the two days but for me it was clear that we must act, we must all move from talking, thinking, suggesting to acting both personally and from a business perspective. Being deliberate as one member mentioned made a lot of sense, have a plan and stick do it, especially around the areas of health, holidays and giving oneself time to think. I enjoy exercise and it is important to me for my own mindset and well being in life. As Keith Weed said, you have to do what helps you whether it’s sleep, exercise or anything else, if it makes you operate better then you should do it. Too often I hear people feel guilty about going to the gym or people are quick as they go off on holiday to say ‘they will be on email’ no. Go have a break it is good for you and good for your teams.

As we moved through the sessions and the people in the room got to know each other better, to discuss more openly and I have no doubt have a warm bond with AOL and the team they brought in, it struck me how smart AOL had been. They were investing in us, more so probably than many people had had from their own businesses as regards their own self improvement. We spend so much time focused on others, we forget ourselves and the message was loud and clear – that has to change.  Importantly it also made me think about our own relationship with our clients. We do education days, we do news letters and trips to Silicon Valley and so on but I am pretty certain that we have not invested in our clients as we experienced over the last two days and that is an important point. As agencies we have to adapt, structure and restructure to keep up with everything around us but we have to bring value at all times to our advertisers and really invest in them as people as well as businesses if we want to build relationships and have a top table seat.

My head continues to whirl with ideas and I am still scribbling ideas, I have some homework to do as well which I really look forward to doing, that must be a good sign! If you are invited to attend the next AOL ‘Grow’ I recommend it, as a cynic about most courses, I can say this one will help you Grow.

PS – please make sure to ask people one thing that may not be known about them and to share. In our small room we had heroes, hostages, police cell dwellers, a man who had been trapped in a lift with Michael Jackson and more..

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Advertisers need a competitive market : The return of Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo

For those of you who have been living through the digital advertising era from the start can not help but notice a little resurgence of what used to be the only names that counted in digital media. In those early and exciting years AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, Excite ruled the landscape until they started to come under fire from the upstarts, not least a start up called Google. The pursuing years saw these companies lose their place in life as more and more competition entered the marketplace. It is not to say of course that they have not always been major players, but without doubt lost their way in the face of Facebook, Youtube and others.

In the last couple of years we have seen a come back, it started with AOL. Launching Project Devil to stamp some brand credentials on what was mostly a DR product through Ad.com, the purchase of GoViral started their video offering and then more recently Huff Post, all adding up to create some powerful content. The final act though has been to embrace the programmatic era and to beef up video with the purchase of Adapt.tv, rounding off what is now a far more interesting offer for agencies and seemingly leading them to a return to the top.

Yahoo have seen a similar track, they had a head start with Right Media in programmatic but did not know what to do with it and in my opinion lost a few valuable years vs Google when they should have been ahead of the game. RM was neglected and allowed to become a down market solution, when it should have been the forerunner of private marketplaces. The much hyped arrival of Marissa has had many words written about it so I wont focus on that but it appears that a series of purchases in mobile is starting to bear fruit. Marissa has in fact bought 35+ companies since joining, the largest of course being Tumblr. The good news is that mobile traffic for Yahoo is on the up, in fact it is up 47% year on year. The approach towards native ads such as ‘Stream Ads’ and away from banner should also increase yields and encourage brand advertisers onto mobile. If you believe the press releases Yahoo plan to phase out all banner ads by the end of the year.

So that leaves Microsoft. Working with Microsoft over the years has been like watching a wildebeest bog down in sinking mud, struggling harder and harder but just getting into a worse and worse situation. Microsoft have always had the ingredients to make an incredible meal, but somehow the planning and then the execution always fell short. I have for many years looked to Microsoft to turn that corner, they have the four screens, an incredible offer in the Xbox and Kinect, turned a corner in mobile and yet stiching these things together always seemed elusive.

I remember for instance sitting in a presentation in Cannes where Microsoft was presenting the new Windows8. It looked great, but telling to me was little or no information about how advertising would work within it. The potential tiles as Ads in W8 was clearly an early example of a Native Ad – although luckily the term had not been coined yet! However these tile Ads would be perfect for programmatic – unique to Microsoft but definitively able to be automated. However no one had planned that far ahead, the company worked in silos. What a shame for them and us.

Programmatic as a whole also demonstrated a lack of future planning. When Google was buying companies and integrating them, Microsoft was desperately trying to protect its direct ad network business. Even today they are behind the curve, they started fast and then went backwards a little with limited targeting capabilities and a seemingly disconnected leadership who were not willing to move faster and embrace programmatic. The recent launch of Microsoft Video Network is both a step forward and a step sidewards versus competition. Microsoft are taking their valuable data and applying it across the video exchanges, where AOL are buying the tech outright rather than licensing. Where Google are buying Invite and Doubleclick, Microsoft bought 5% of Appnexus. Even the Crown Jewels of Xbox and Kinect have been under utilised, I am still yet to see an Ad pushing Xbox as anything more than a games console when in reality it is so much more, I think we will see that change over coming months as Google TV, Apple TV and others ramp up their efforts.

But is not lost because the big picture for Microsoft is changing. The new leadership for a start. Microsoft ended up choosing from within, disappointing for some but as Satya Nadella says himself ‘he is now looking at the business through fresh eyes.’ He is also super bright, passionate and has accelerated change in just a few short days. Recently there have been a couple of large events, the launch of Office 365 and most notably onto Apple devices and the Build 2014 conference. Both these events have revealed that Nadella has big plans and wants to shake things up. Microsoft had already started changing with One Microsoft where they tore down siloes and made sure that cross divisional work and idea sharing started to happen, so someone creating software for the phone was thinking about advertisers as well. The example I sight above about the tiles would probably not have happened today.

More importantly Nadella has pushed through changes inconceivable a few years back. What has changed. As Nadella describes it, we are now in an era of ubiquitous computing. Connected users, devices all relying on the cloud for delivery of ever more complex solutions. Not for today but importantly for Microsoft they see their customers as consumers and IT professionals, the corporate world and only Microsoft really has the range to answer to both of those – this should rediscover for them differentiation.On average the consumer is carrying/using four devices and Windows and Microsoft want to span all those devices seamlessly, they want the canvas for software, Apps and their developers and users to be as wide as possible. So what are they doing?

1. Windows is being introduced across all devices including Kinect for Windows. A huge step forward for users and developers a like. Design once for all devices is crucial in this connected world. Still Apple and Android want people to design for mobile and desktop/laptop. As a user the more seamless the App the better the experience across devices.

2. Use the power of Office – making it available cross all devices is huge, anyone who uses iPads know the big issues is with opening Powerpoint in particular, but to make it free is a massive step for Microsoft, putting it all in the cloud also makes it entirely portable and for developers they can use Office 365 log ins as an identifier

3. Welcome to the new world of Kinect. App developers can now design Apps once that include Kinect technology to make incredible user experiences, this will make that box in your room, even more interesting and put Microsoft right back in the game as far as Apps. Likely end result being even your PC being able to work through motion.

4. Smaller signs of change have been to provide solutions that allow people what they want on their desktop like the start button. Some describe it as retreating, I call it sensible. Microsoft is listening and that is the main thing that we all want and need.

There have been other innovations with Cortana the voice assistant, great that it has been introduced but not sure it stands out vs Siri and of course has arrived considerably later, but again an extra ingredient to create experiences for users.

Microsoft really wants to get into the Internet of Everything and with their very close partner Intel they can start to revolutionise the home and out of home with Windows being the glue to make it all happen.

Microsoft have realised that the world has changed and you need to pull users in with what is still a great set of products used by over a billion people. Microsoft have the opportunity to be a partner to your life in a way that no one else can, I say an opportunity. It is what they do with it that counts. Microsoft have a leading position in the home with Xbox, software and cloud computing has always been their strength, it is just application they must work on, phones and tablets need more work but by making life easier for developers and IT professionals they can solidify their position spanning consumers and corporate.

Overall Microsoft, more than anyone has the plumbing, the hardware and most importantly the software, and they are focused on a mobile world. They need to make room for the marketeer in all of this and bringing them to the table, we as advertisers are desperate to make sure that Microsoft is central in plans but they need to make this easier for us. As with AOL, Yahoo I hope that we see a strong resurgence from Microsoft and it seems that Satya Nadella has the right ideas and guts to push them through. Just don’t forget that the advertiser would like to be involved.

AOL may have had it right all along!

Does anyone remember the sitcom from the US called ‘Soap’? It was about a mad bunch of individuals who were pretty dysfunctional. At the start of each episode there would be an introduction recapping the previous episodes. That summation was invariably confusing and left you having no idea what was going on. The image below may jog your memories for those of you over 37 I am guessing.

The Soap cast

Confusion reigned.

Why am I writing about that? Well recently through a combination of my own experiences and reading the press I have been thinking that in the world of tech, social and mobile we are experiencing something similar. To recap;

– Google and Apple were good friends, admirers even until Google started to like phones..and music..and books, now Apple does not like Google so much and is not keen on using their search tool on their phones.
– Twitter and Google liked playing together as Big brother Google helped the new boy get a bit of traffic, now the new boy has grown up he has decided he does not need Big brother anymore so cut the rope.
– Facebook and Google were colleagues and admired each other until Google started to like this social media thing and Facebook got the hump with that, they too have decided they want to keep their people to themselves.
– Twitter and Facebook enjoyed each others company for a while until Facebook liked the look of the Twitter approach and changed their updates accordingly, this has meant of course that they will not share anymore and never the twain shall meet
– Lets not forget some other long distant cousins! Yahoo and Facebook have not crossed swords too much in the playground until Yahoo decided Facebook had copied a lot of their IP and are now contemplating suing so that will be the end of that friendship
– Samsung and Apple have just had an all out fight all over the globe and frankly not seen eye to eye for some time!
– Even the lovely and friendly Amazon has had to get dragged into the cat fight with its entry into the tablet market which annoyed Apple who promptly stopped their Kindle App from being e-commerce enabled – surely no one falls out with cuddly Amazon?

All of this squabbling leads me to see a future where we have one of the most siloed ecosystems we have ever known. Years after we criticised AOL for its wall garden approach to media we find ourselves with more walled gardens than we know what to do with and as consumers that is the honest truth.

We are edging towards a world where Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google, Twitter and beyond will all be managing their own ecosystems and not allowing us as advertisers or consumers to mix and match and join up all of the platforms. It is a frustrating development as a consumer as it would be nice if Facebook and Twitter could find a way of working together. It would also be a better Google search experience if we could find results from not just G+ but also the other social media players.

As I have written about before it gets worse when you move to looking at the tech marketplace with our homes being divided into either an Android home, Apple home, Microsoft home or Samsung home, we have to make a decision and stick too it as we can’t get all our toys to play nicely together.

I am not sure how this will play out, but it is messy and not particular user / consumer friendly in my view and probably going to get worse as these Big 5 getter bigger and stronger.

Cannes Lions Festival – You dream it, we deliver it

Monday to Thursday was the plan, but then work got in the way! So instead we went for a Tuesday afternoon flight, one that I of course missed by one minute, one minute that cost me 8 hours! I eventually arrived via Amsterdam and immediately got out into the thick of the event, it’s an impressive set up, there are not many places where you can meet up with all of your work colleagues from across the industry in one single city which is buzzing with both work and play conversations.

Down at the Gala event it was heaving with people from across the business, the business being very varied. Media groups, advertising groups, content companies, digital, film, music you name it, all here. A lot of drunken idiots as well to be fair, in fact some people were such imbeciles I was amazed they had been let in the country!

It was a fantastic evening, I met with Christian and Kate from AOL at their own party on a roof top, very civilized and a great ease into the evening, obviously as a reciprocal arrangement from zeitgeist, who should I see there but Damian Burns, Global Head of Agency Relations and Ben Faes from Google. Later in the evening there was Tom George from MEC, Stephen Haines from Facebook and a few other golden oldies. Although of course most of the talk is social, there is some interesting conversations about what has been seen and heard during the day. Apparently the Ben Stiller/Yahoo event was a little weird and did not entirely work, that said by then we outside the cleverly Yahoo sponsored ‘gutter bar’ which was the end destination most evenings and stayed open until way beyond you should have been in bed, luckily it was next to the Martinez where I was staying, so that worked!

The next morning after 2.5hrs of sleep Vivaki and Microsoft had their ‘steering committee’ meeting which lasted for some hours and covered the state of the nation between our two companies, an interesting meeting with some grand ambition which I am looking forward to working on in the coming months. After a lovely lunch a couple of meetings around ad exchanges (my topic of choice at the moment) and then on to the football. Microsoft hosted a great event with all of the UK people seemingly choosing their beach club to watch, great atmosphere not least as the US were playing and the Americans were getting very excited about their game too, we exchanged cheers through the afternoon, although i suspect they were less sure what they were cheering for!

Later at the awards I took my seat, waiting to see what award winning work looked like, there was some great stuff, I loved the recruitment work from one agency that distributed a calendar with a resignation letter for each day, waiting for the day you had had enough. The Aides campaign from TBWA France was also the rudest thing I have seen on the web, a willy chasing a vagina round a homepage and eventually having sex once safely inside a condom was pretty risqué, but brilliantly done.

All the winners can be seen here

An evening spent with Google was very entertaining and good to be on the inside when they win a big lawsuit with CBS! It also appears that I was sat down to one of the men who has contributed most to the uk digital scene, our own Bruce Daisley, winner the next night at the NMA awards for the accolade. I am very pleased, if disbelieving for the lad, he is a great practitioner and a great guy, he is just no good at hosting jollies as he reminded me of our jaunt to Germany for the football.

The next morning I got the chance to see the Microsoft Experience centre, packed full of their three screens, windows 7 phone, Xbox and Kinect. All of them looked amazing and full of potential for an advertiser. As I went round though It just reminded me of how little of this stuff the average planner or advertiser has seen or experienced. There is a gap between the possibility and the reality, I don’t think advertisers see how a touch sensitive table could drive their crm or sales. The Xbox is a home entertainment system with connectivity, content and games, do advertisers see this? I don’t think so and even worse I don’t think the agency folk are much better. If you get a chance go experience it!

As my trip came to an end and I got a chance to catch up with some other agency friends on the way home I thought to myself what a fantastic event, yes there is a lot of fun and drink and socializing but it’s a chance to bring a lot of very interesting people together and the opportunity to see some great work and technology.

A 4 hour delay on the way back, rounded the whole trip off. Thanks to Microsoft, sorry I did not make it on your video blog, I must have been as dull as my blog. When I got home I had an iPhone 4 waiting for me, that’s my next post..

Au Revoir

Integrated, digital at the centre, agencies have changed, how do media owners respond?

Just before the recession kicked off every article was about digital, within the agency world it was the key battle ground, who had more of it, was it integrated, who was pretending etc etc. The recession seemed to put pay to that for a while, everyone concentrating on survival. What the recession will have done in many agencies is allow them to make a lot of change very quickly, people are a lot more receptive to structural change when their jobs are at risk. The end result of that will be that agencies have perhaps now taken a bigger step forward in a shorter period of time than at any previous period of the past.

Most agency groups now have pulled together or bought up a vast array of digital properties and now the task is to link them all together and make them something that clients can genuinely buy into, thats the biggest task of all and there are definitely some struggles out there.

Likewise the media owners are having to adjust at the same pace, they have also battled with separate sales teams, on and offline, agency relationship managers, sponsorships and many other properties but to make them work the teams have to work together and present a coherent face to the marketplace.  Guardian teams have been well known to be struggling in this regard and have done for some time and perhaps this is now being reflected in the IPA Media Owner survey. The Telegraph made a very high profile office move and merged teams far more quickly and effectively and they seem to be benefitting from that move.  The thing that stands out for me at the more successful media properties is that they all have two common themes; the right people in the key jobs and a desire to completely reinvent. AOL was down on its knees but therefore had little to lose and have completely re-engineered themselves and came to market with clarity and ambition. Telegraph was a similar story in terms of their ambition to completely evolve.

There is a lesson in that and some agencies could also look at those examples and shake things up, there are many agencies that have the same people, in the same roles and in the same format. Look to the brave and reinvent your offer and be brave enough to change. Change is addictive, tough to start with but once you do it, you can make a real difference.