IProspect’s Ben Wood: ‘I want less nonsense spoken in digital’

This is “View from the Top,” the latest in a Digiday series featuring creative leaders talking about their career paths and leadership perspectives. Read previous interviews here.

When you’ve run a local-market agency for years, moving into a global network role can take some getting used to. Ben Wood has been global president of Dentsu Aegis-owned iProspect for three years but admits making the transition from U.K. president of iProspect U.K. was hard.

What was it like stepping into a global role?
The travel was a shock at first. Not just the jet lag or getting to grips with different countries, cultures and ways of working, but because it’s a totally different way of living. You have to structure how you manage your home and work life differently.

What’s been the toughest thing?
Running a local business is all-consuming. When you move to a global network role, you’re less involved in the day-to-day and more involved with building the global infrastructure for your network to succeed. That’s a very different job. I found it disorientating at first.

Ben-Wood-President-Global-iProspect-e1404744266784

What mistakes have you learned from?
IProspect U.K. was my baby for so long, so it’s easy to be passionate about it, but they need autonomy. In my first year, I probably had a tendency to meddle. It’s just human nature.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your career?
Even though we’re in a business where technology, data, media and content collide, hiring the right people, developing them and giving them the opportunity to be brilliant is critical. If you look after your people, they look after your clients.

Not all agencies could claim their people are treated that well.
Agencies get that people are unbelievably important. But the business model is screwed. Clients are paying less and pitch more regularly, which puts more demands on people. That means it’s sometimes hard for agencies to invest in people appropriately. But if you’re not investing in your people, your product will suffer and you will enter a spiral.

What does the future agency business model look like?
Tangible results and being paid by performance. Most clients will want to have their own DMP and will look to agencies to unlock that potential. We don’t want to own the data, but help clients extract the most value from theirs. So we’ll move into helping them pick the right tech and act like systems integrators. Because if we don’t, Deloitte and Accenture are already marching toward it.

You’ve been vocal on ad blocking. Who is responsible?
Agencies and clients. Blaming ad tech companies is missing the point; the problem is the strategy. We shouldn’t be doing anything that isn’t completely personalized and adaptive, but 90 percent of display campaigns don’t do that. Retargeting someone 45 times because they’ve bought an item online three weeks ago is really unhelpful. But that’s what happens. Ad fraud and viewability are much more important because those issues concern [advertisers’] money.

What do you want banned from the industry next year?
I’d like less nonsense to be spoken. The industry likes to hide behind complexity as some kind of justification for what it is. Simple should be the new complex. I’d also like to see more differentiation. The ad tech space is becoming homogenous. If I was a client and walked into Dmexco, I wouldn’t know where to start. That’s a problem.

What will be big next year?
There’ll be a drive toward transparency. Clients want to know how agencies are using their data, how they’re structuring commercials, what tech is being used and why, and whether their ads are being seen. Across all corners of digital industry, there’s been a degree of opaqueness which doesn’t serve us well.

What frustrates you most?
We all need to think more about the quality of the experience on the other side of the click. We’re great at targeting consumers and delivering them to digital experiences, but a lot of those experiences they’re delivered to aren’t good or relevant enough. Too much content is crap. The industry has been over-focused on the science and not enough on the art.

 Image courtesy of Comcast. 

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