Media and marketing industry data under an expert microscope

In the third of our new (but growing) series of Small Data Podcast interviews with data mavens, Sam is joined by media analyst Ian Whittaker. Ian is the current City AM Analyst of the Year – a gong he scooped for the second time in 2021. He has more than 20 years on the clock, assessing the financial performance of media and tech stocks. Ian’s understanding of the numbers and data underpinning media and marketing businesses is both broad and deep, and he writes regular columns for both City AM and marketing industry bible, Campaign. We spoke at the start of September 2021.

L-R: Ian Whittaker and Sam Knowles

Ian is optimistic that the media and marketing industry – at least in part – is making good use of data and analytics to target consumers more efficiently and effectively. Most have moved beyond the bombardment many consumers experienced not so long ago, and some of the bigger players – including consumer goods behemoth P&G – are combining the logic of data and the magic of creative to good effect. That said, some, both client- and agency-side, still have their heads buried deep in the sand.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t road bumps along the way, from the deprecation of third-party cookies (when Google finally decides to turn them off) as well as legislation and regulation, regular topics of Small Data Forum dialogue, from GDPR to CCPA.

Ian believes that the future belongs to “those who hold the data”, meaning more power for the FAANG five, as well as retailers from Wal-Mart to Target and their mountains of first-party, customer data. It’s both the middle-ground and smaller players who will lose out, Ian believes, as the oligopoly goes from strength to strength.

Ian’s not sure if Apple vs Facebook is an actual war or more of a phoney war. When consumers are asked by parties with vested self-interest whether they want to be tracked by advertisers, only 5-30% say they do. But there’s no spontaneous consumer uprising against trading personal data for targeted marketing.

So, while Cook and Zuckerberg have deeply-entrenched, strongly- and honestly-held beliefs, Ian wonders whether ‘Apple vs Facebook’ might be more of a war for hearts and mind than a fight to the death. Incidentally, Ian thinks Apple could prevail over Facebook, thanks to its deeper pockets, larger market capitalisation, country-sized cash reserves, and its greater ability to withstand losses. It just won’t come to that.

On the potential for “another Cambridge Analytica”, Ian is sure there will be one – a scandalous data breach for nefarious purposes – but he’s keen to suggest that the furore about the original was more about for whom the data was misused (Vote Leave and Trump) than the data breach per se.

Second comings

Sam mischievously suggests that, with POTUS 45 rumbling about standing again in 2024, we may not have too long to wait. And though it’s hard for an incumbent to lose a U.S. election – catastrophic pandemic responses notwithstanding (“It is what it is!”) – both Biden’s age and his decision to follow through Trump’s policy on Afghanistan make it likely he won’t be seeking a second term.

Ian’s assessment of Martin Sorrell’s second coming at S4 Capital is particularly interesting. Although S4 is not alone at doing very well through and with data and analytics – particularly in comparison with the media agency holding companies (like Sorrell’s previous baby, WPP) which were built in the pre-digital 1980s and 1990s – there are two elements to S4’s secret sauce.

First, a ruthless approach to automating and digitizing everything. And second, the way Sorrell’s new baby buys and folds good assets into the family. Unlike the agency model (cash and earnouts), S4 gives 50% cash and 50% shares in the holding company, baking the long-term success of the acquired into the long-term success of the parent business.

Fascinating that something as simple as incentivization should be so revolutionary.

Beyond Sorrell, Ian believes we should watch keenly the progress of both Next 15 Group and You & Mr Jones. Successful use of data and analytics is central to the future success of agencies and brands. But another important facet will be brand.

The pandemic has led to a renaissance in trusted brands – witness the strong performance in the last 18 months of houses of brands, from P&G and Unilever to Colgate and Kellogg’s. Big tech regularly uses brand advertising – often, Sam points out, in very traditional, analogue media such as broadsheet newspapers and out-of-home – and AirBnB is the latest exponent of brand advertising over search.

In 2022 and beyond, Ian concludes there will be increasing balance brought to the Force, with the yin of data and analytics being balanced by the yang of brand.

Listen Now

Stream or download the audio podcast:

Video on YouTube

Watch Sam and Ian in conversation:

> Coming soon <

Many thanks to Ian for his time and for this interview. You can subscribe to his regular newsletter here. His City AM columns are here and his LinkedIn profile is over there.

The next episode of the Small Data Forum is our 50th, to be recorded in late September live and direct at our favourite Italian, Olivelli, in the South, Waterloo, South London.

Publication of SDF 50 planned for Monday 27 September.

Veni, vidi, vaxi

As Thomas is making his usual round of introductions for this, the forty-ninth episode of the Small Data Forum podcast, he comments on Sam’s status as a published author. “Published author you too!” booms Sam, celebrating Thomas’ first-ever, peer-reviewed, academic article, written with his doctoral supervisor – and recent SDF interview guest – Darren Lilleker.

For at the very start of this month, the esteemed Journal of Public Affairs saw fit to publish “The challenges of providing certainty in the face of wicked problems: Analysing the UK government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic”, a very on-message, on-podcast, rather-more-academic-than-we-usually-are critical analysis of how the Johnson Junta has managed with the ‘wicked problem’ (technical term) of Covid.

Thomas summarises the arguments in the paper, of how Her Majesty’s Government’s response to the threat of the pandemic “has not been all that pretty”. After all the puffed-up, Cummings-laden rhetoric of the December 2019 election campaign which was supposed to be all about ‘getting Brexit done’ (“campaigning in poetry” to purloin Mario Cuomo’s phrase), Johnson’s cabinet of political pygmies has struggled to live up to the challenge of “governing in prose”.

Continue reading “Veni, vidi, vaxi”

SDF Interview: Anne Hardy, CISO at Talend, on regulation vs self-regulation for Big Tech

Anne Hardy

Like (slow) buses, you wait for years for interviews to turn up on the SmallDataForum podcast, and two turn up within but five months of each other.

With Thomas taking the first plunge with his doctoral supervisor, Darren Lilleker, back in March, it was Sam’s turns to become inquisitor with Anne Hardy, Chief Information Security Officer at US-French data security firm, Talend (lovely animation on the homepage).

Our conversation focused on the necessary balance between regulation and self-regulation of Big Tech. After some spectacular failures of anything approaching good governance – from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to the Trump and Brexit campaigns, familiar topics to aficionados of this podcast – the tide is turning on consumer privacy and the uses and abuses of personally identifiable information (PII data).

Continue reading “SDF Interview: Anne Hardy, CISO at Talend, on regulation vs self-regulation for Big Tech”

Oh-oh-oh, your pants are on fire

Johnson Brexit lies

During the Matrix Churchill affair – a conflict of interest and bit of political skulduggery so tepid compared with what’s happened in the intervening 20 years – the Tory MP Alan Clark conceded that he had been “economical with the actualité” in answer to Parliamentary questions.

Lying about arms export licences to Iraq seems almost innocent compared to the stodge we’re served up daily by our demagogic masters in the fibbing 2020s. Even if Clark was branded by his wife as a “total Ess-Aitch-One-Tee” in a puff-piece documentary in the 1990s, not least for his endless affairs that were satirised by Private Eye as “discussions about Uganda”.

We start our examination of the uses and abuses of data big and small with a focus on politics in the latest outing of the Small Data Forum podcast, episode 47.

Sam is inspired by the writing and the message in comedian Stewart Lee’s tragedy vehicle, his weekly Observer byline. In a recent column picking through the ashes of Labour’s shambolic performance in British local elections, Lee takes aim at Prime Minister Johnson’s record as one of the worst – and most transparent – liars in British political history.

Continue reading “Oh-oh-oh, your pants are on fire”

The robber barons are at it again

Jump the shark

Thomas greets the first episode of the Small Data Forum to be “AT” – 1AT, indeed; the first recorded After Trump – with some cheer.

That said, this month’s often-passionate look at the uses and abuses of data big and small in politics, business, and public life doesn’t give us much cause for optimism that all that much has changed. In our VUCA world of multi-factorial problems, our Teutonic tipster bemoans the meaningless trend in which complexity is constantly reduced to in and out, black and white, this and that.

What is undoubtedly good news is a new format coming soon – perhaps even later this week – to @SDFPodcast: the first in a new series of interviews with interesting people.

First in the Nerf-Gun firing line is Professor Darren Lilleker from Bournemouth University, described by the BBC as “a man who watches Westminster” and by Thomas as “my doctoral supervisor”. His dissection of the state of permanent campaigning by the demagogues of modern politics will be well worth a listen.

Although it had been bubbling under for some weeks, breaking news on the morning we recorded this latest episode was that the fracas between the Australian Government and Big Tech has gotten serious.

Continue reading “The robber barons are at it again”