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GroupM’s Rob Norman Sees a Dynamic and Data Driven Future

Rob Norman is the Global Chief Digital Officer for GroupM. Prior to landing arguably the most prestigious position in digital media advertising, Rob held multiple senior positions throughout GroupM and its global media agency, MEC, during a remarkable 26 year career.

This interview was conducted as Rob was en route to Stream, the annual conference hosted by WPP Digital in Athens, Greece.

The Makegood: Rob, for the uninitiated, what is it that makes Stream so special?

Stream is an unconference with its roots in Tim O’Reilly’s now legendary Foo Camp. Stream combines intellectual stimulation and provocation with a healthy does of physical discomfort. We hold it at what was the world’s cheapest Club Med – until Club Med took away its license. We gather an extraordinarily eclectic group from WPP, from digital titans and start ups, VCs and a remarkable group of Israelis who coach the group in the finer points of werewolf.  Stream’s creation and prosperity do great credit to Martin Sorrell and Mark Read as well as reflecting the tireless efforts from a host of people beaten into co-operation by Ella Watson.

At least I believe this to be the case as I am writing from JFK and will be late to the party.

The Makegood: You were recently named Global Chief Digital Officer for GroupM. What does the role entail and what are you hoping to achieve over the next year?

Chief Digital Officer is a new title for GroupM. My number one goal is to make the title redundant, or at least ironic, in five years.

GroupM and its competitors live in a world that is increasingly ‘digital first.’ Soon it will be digital everywhere. My job is to help our company evolve ahead of change while ensuring that we maintain the foundations of brilliant allocation, optimization and attribution skills across all media channels. We steward enormous sums for clients and their shareholders and our success or failure impacts their businesses considerably.

Digital channels bring new levels of precision and different speed of data and transactions that should yield dividends in business performance. Part of my job is to help our teams to both develop and leverage this potential; we need create shared systems to differentiate us in the market and great people in our agencies to put this differentiation to work for our clients.

The Makegood: At the IAB Leadership Meeting this year you said that digital media is often driven by fashion and that embracing innovation is not the main issue for brands. Rather, patience with digital media is the big issue. Are you seeing any evidence that brands are gaining this patience and perspective?

Patience is important. Our clients operate at scale and innovation is only relevant if it has the potential to make a difference to business results. In turn that requires the confidence to architect and execute large scale and complex tests and to watch the outcomes over time. This is no insurance against failure but it is insurance against passing on long term opportunities because of short term disappointment.

I do think advertisers are thinking more deeply about opportunities and leaning in harder where they see potential.

You have been involved with digital media for more than two decades. What might this landscape look like in eight years, in the year 2020? To what place will automated media buying ultimately take us?

In 8 years who knows? Will Mrs. Clinton be running for a second term? Yes. Will Jason Bay still be at the Mets? No… please no. Will the NHL regular season have started? Maybe but they could be too concussed to know.

I think we can be certain, however, that the vast majority of all media will be delivered dynamically, that the data sets we are discovering now will apply to all media and every device used for its consumption and that new devices and capability will improve the creation, consumption and advertising potential of all kinds of content.

I also firmly believe that the media agency will persist as a force in the market; making informed and vendor agnostic allocation decisions and finding increasingly engaging ways of connecting brands to the customers and prospects they care about. Automation will remove some friction from the market and hopefully remove low value functions and enable with us to focus on the interpretation and application of information.

The Makegood: Thanks, Rob.

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