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 Рthat 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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A week at The VivaKi Nerve Center

A week at The Vivaki Nerve Center

Monday

An early meeting with the WW CEO of ZenithOptimedia to discuss how the market is shaping up and what can be expected of 2012. As the conference season starts I am being pulled in a number of directions to make sure everyone who needs the latest info has it!

Later that morning a call with the boss, Curt Hecht, it’s a about planning stage and we discuss what we need to get done for 2012 and how we will work with the agencies. A lot of progress in 2011 for VivaKi and The VivaKi Nerve Center and so it makes for some great conversations for next year. More than ever we will be a very European organisation which is achievement in itself. a series of meetings with the major EMEA markets all to be planned.

A session on contracts, which seems to take up a lot of time at the moment, but we are making real progress with a number of contracts signed that will help power The Pool, Partnerships and AOD.

End the day back at the WW CEO’s office to finalise some notes for the conference and its my turn to start to prepare for the Exchangewire ATS event where I am on a panel with Nigel Gilbert from Orange, Gurman from MediaIQ, Breadon from AOL, Martin from infectious and hosted by Zuzanna at Microsoft. Will be a good day I am sure.

In the evening, I went to the Appnexus / Microsoft drinks and met with the founder of Appnexus, the new head of Microsoft, Andy Hart and a number of others. Bumped into Jakob of GroupM, always a pleasure and we had a little catch up and then I had to leave for dinner with Quantcast and Exchangewire down at BerryBros.

As usual you learn something on these nights and having spoken to a number of people from other groups, its clear to me that VivaKi are the most integrated and aligned group in this space, working hand and glove with the agencies. I hope over time this pays dividends for us all.

Tuesday – ATS Day

Arriving at the event really makes you see how far things have moved on in the last year. Ciaran’s first one was a big event but this really surpassed itself with 400+ guests. Unfortunately as the day went on it became clear that again it lacked publishers and advertisers. The more I think about this though, the more I think, why should they be there?

Morning sessions were OK but lacked direction, more moderation, different questioners and less keynotes would have improved the morning session. Keynotes fund these events but I feel having Mediamath and Rubicon and Appnexus all doing a turn is perhaps excessive.

Microsoft did a great session, slick presentation and I think surprised everyone, he even presented an Apple Ad, which was the talk of the Twittersphere..

The afternoon panel I was on was billed to be controversial, I knew it would not be, for two reasons. The first is we have said this before and the second is that people in the audience don’t want to stand out and make issues. The bigger these events become the more polite they will become. I had a couple of key themes I wanted to get across around the whole Ad Trading Desks.

1. We are not an Ad Network
2. We will cut back on Ad Network spend
3. We will be aiming to centralise all retargeting and we think it’s the right thing to do
4. We work with a number of DSPs just not in the UK and we know what is what

I made all of these statements as well as suggesting Ad Nets use client data across their campaigns and received no resistance so, if it was not controversial, it was not because of me! Feedback has been that it was too about positioning of each others company etc but you go where the questions take you.

All in all though, a good day, got to catch up with some great people from around the business and generally enjoyed it all.

Wednesday

We march on with an exciting morning meeting with a large European company that is soon to become Vivak’s first VNC Partner in EMEA. We have of course high profile relations with Microsoft and Google as well as other US companies, but this is the first at scale. We worked through the opportunities, what we need to do together and how we can help each other, a great start to Wednesday and we look forward to releasing that news soon.

Later that day, I 100% focused on The Pool. We have been delayed on this but we are ready to go again, very exciting, there is other info on The Pool elsewhere on my blog Later this year I am presenting at the IAB conference on Spain the results of the Spanish Lane and some of the work that’s been going on in the US, I am really excited about the results that have come from this work.

We have three great publisher partners and already two major clients so things are looking great in that regard, there will be more to come on that subject shortly.

The day ends meeting a team of senior Google Product managers who are trying to work with us to provide insight to power Audience On Demand. It’s these meetings that the Google partnership is founded on, not media spend and discounts. It was a really interesting session and we learned alot about what is coming up. Invite will be a very powerful proposition.

Thursday

A quieter day on the meetings and valuable time to catch up. I did meet up with the CEO of Vindico and team who have big ambitions in the UK. We work with them on The Pool and they are a great outfit. Its time we need to get over the control issue around video adserving, we have been through this once with display and its time we moved on when it comes to video. We are used to substandard, early 2000 type tracking and reporting which is not acceptable.

Friday

A chance to discuss everything we have been doing and seeing this week. A morning appointment with a client with a brief to talk them through all the things The Vivaki Nerve Center are working on, went brilliantly and we will be doing some great work I hope. They showed the kind of interest in innovation that makes it all worth while.

A run for the train from glamorous Slough with just enough time to read the placard under the stuffed dog at the station and down to Microsoft to present to their regional scale display teams and talk about the importance of agency trading desks. Quite a turn out and some great questions from the group, I hope we can act on some of the discussions and continue to grow our global partnership.

I end the week with some time to keep up momentum with The Pool, discuss with thepaulsilver the final touches of an exciting launch next week and what I am going to do when he is on holiday!