In this episode of the Disrupt Podcast, Gavin is joined by Jack Smyth, head of innovation at Mindshare.
As consumers we are barraged by thousands of messages every day. Finding, crafting and distributing the right message at the right time to the right person has never been more challenging. Learn how GroupM has brought new thinking and approaches to the media landscape.
Mindshare Head of Innovation
Winner of Gold Cannes Young Lion and once sold a pair of pants to Nick Cave. It’s my job to push what’s possible in media for Mindshare’s clients.
Founder Disruptor's Handbook
Gavin is a marketing technologist, strategist and advisor. He is the founder of the Disruptor’s Handbook – a strategy and innovation firm that brings the best of startup approaches to the enterprise.
Gavin: [00:00:01] Welcome Jack Smyth to the Disrupt podcast. Can you start by introducing yourself.
Jack: [00:00:06] Absolutely. My name is Jack – I’m the Head of Innovation at Mindshare which is a global media agency and we’ve been working together over the last 14, 16 months on a range of projects.
Gavin: [00:00:19] So when it comes to innovation in GroupM as a group, what does that mean for you guys?
Jack: [00:00:29] It’s really a sliding scale and this is a question that I have nearly every meeting in terms of what is innovation and how do we define it?
[00:00:36] So much of that depends on our clients and their appetite. And that’s part of my job – to help them understand what’s possible and why they should explore it.[00:00:44] But often the way I describe in terms of innovation for GroupM and media communications is finding new ways to communicate with people that are worth their time.
Gavin: [00:00:54] Worth their time – I like it.
Jack: [00:00:55] Yeah exactly – we compete with 3000 – 4000 different media messages every day. And my job is to help our clients grow and our contribution is to get someone’s attention and direct it towards their brand.
Gavin: [00:01:06] I love this conversation and I’ve been having more of this in this last week around the concept of attention and what is worth your attention?
Jack: [00:01:16] Yeah, and I think it’s fascinating particularly from a media point of view we have these big platforms like Google and Facebook that are essentially trying to rewrite the rules in their favour. They’ll say an ad should be less than a second, or it should be sound off and essentially you know, people fly through their Facebook feed so really, your big brand comms don’t matter.
[00:01:34] On the other end of scale I’ll happily binge watch eight hours. So this notion that attention is compacting is wrong and it’s spreading out to the different ends of the spectrum. And some of my most recent projects with a client of ours – Foxtel – is demonstrating that if you have something that’s worth paying attention to, we’re seeing 4-5 times the amount of ad recall and the time spent. It’s simply a matter – not of making better ads – but of thinking what is an ad and why it should be worth your attention.
Gavin: [00:02:01] So I like that also bringing the concept of metrics and measurement but you’re doing it in a really intelligent way. It’s not just a reach and frequency kind of thing you’re saying – So what does this mean for us and where does the value lie in that attention.
Jack: [00:02:14] Absolutely and attention really is a zero sum game. If we’re not getting it, it’s directed to other sources and from a media point of view, you look at Netflix and a range of models that don’t have any advertising within it, people are essentially paying the tax of free to air TV of like – Fark, I’ll put up with the ad breaks. Well people have put a dollar figure on that and that is worth my time to get rid of it.
[00:02:37] So for us again it’s a fascinating question of do we go back to start the original soap opera started by Procter and Gamble. Are we going back brands as kind of cultural patrons – how they need to create things worth paying attention to. But in the same light utility is a big part of that, so what can a brand do that would solve a problem? How could they sponsor something even as simple as – the basic example is on domain or realestate.com.au a client of ours NAB sponsors a home loan calculator. That’s functionality that helps me make a better decision, it’s branded for the bank and then I make that connection myself.[00:03:14] But increasingly we’re starting to see that really stretch out in terms of some technology like wireless charging and other attributes of what a smart city will look like. Those are starting to be sponsored and funded by brands because you might not look at and out of home panel but if you’re going to stand there in a bus shelter waiting for your bus and you’ve got five minutes and we’re charging your phone that’s a really interesting moment in time and interaction where what else happens?
Gavin: [00:03:38] Yeah absolutely. So I think that’s fascinating in terms of how you bring together moments in time, a curated experience for anyone but within a scope of their life rather than when it’s suitable for you.
Jack: [00:03:55] Absolutely, Absolutely. And I think when you look at the industry as a whole over the last two to three years, there’s been this surge in what we call activations – branded pop ups and events and experiences. But I think you just hit the nail on the head there – they’re often designed because we realise we can’t get your attention through traditional channels and rather actually change the way we’re doing things to find a moment in time that works for you, we’re just going to take over Martin Place and we’re going to cover that in hotdog stands.
[00:04:20] So some of that way it is this experience of brands are evolving of okay, that didn’t work either because really the cost efficiencies in that are mind numbing. In terms of forcing people, funnelling them into an experience again doesn’t work. So in my mind I’m starting to see brands kind of atomise in terms of break apart into little moments in time where – and you see this even in some social media platforms in the sense sense of within Messenger – that’s an app store in its own right in Facebook Messenger.[00:04:47] So this notion that in the past I had a big 30 second TVC and my brand was monolithic, now I have to start breaking down without losing the entire value of a brand which is shortcutting decision making, a sign of quality, reassurance. You have to start to break that down into what is that brand look like for you and what does it look like for me.
Gavin: [00:05:07] In my moment of time.
Jack: [00:05:08] Exactly yeah which is again a great time to work in this industry because you are writing it as you go – we’re figuring this out.
Gavin: [00:05:16] So there’s no there’s no cookie cutter right? So there’s no one size fits all here.
Jack: [00:05:21] Absolutely. You think of GroupM which is Australia and actually in the Globe a leading media management firm in Australia – close to three billion dollars worth of billings goes through our agencies. So we have a fantastic perspective across virtually every category and clients of incredible range of sizes about what’s working and what’s working where. And to that point, it’s a fascinating time figuring out what is the combination? It’s going to be unique to each brand as you start to break it down. So yeah, it’s terrifying but it’s also fascinating.
Gavin: [00:05:55] So as you’re talking there I’m getting the sense of the underlying theme of co-creation. We need to create these experiences not just with our clients but with our customers.
Jack: [00:06:09] Absolutely I think that’s also a great point going back to what is innovation? It is not just creating a new ad format – it’s creating a new process to understand what a good ad is and to that point that notion of creation – yeah, increasingly where I think we’ve shied away from focus groups and actually listening and talking to people because we got hooked on technology – in terms of well if I can just harvest Facebook and I can understand, I can approximate what you like based on 1200 data points and people say well that’s a big number. But the value you find in creating and inviting your customers in to actually listen to them even just to start to reframe your mind and to build that empathy.
[00:06:50] Often I think in a lot of advertising and communications firms, you think your job is to make ads and to get ads in front of people. But to our conversation about attention, I can’t earn your attention without understanding who you are and what motivates you. And I can’t really design something that earns your attention without keeping you in mind.[00:07:07] So sitting down and talking to customers, inviting them into the process is invaluable and I think we’re again going back to the future in terms of more focus groups, more kind of nimble or just open ended ways of sitting down over coffee for example. We don’t need lab coats but you are just talking to people.
Gavin: [00:07:24] It’s funny because I was just doing a little interview series with the University of NSW on social impact. We’re talking there about how do you measure something really difficult to measure?
[00:07:39] And one of the things I feel like we’ve done is kind of moved towards a less of a strategic approach and we’ve got more of a focus on hard ROI over very short periods of time. So we’ve taken our eye off the strategic value of a brand and the strategic value of a relationship and now we’re having to come back and circle around that and say – so we can get ROI, we know how it works now but we need to build the future as well.
Jack: [00:08:07] Absolutely. And to that point it’s kind of collective amnesia of why have we been doing what we’ve been doing the last few decades? And building that value in a brand or in a relationship – to your point – those are shortcuts that help people understand and prioritise their attention. That is worth spending time with them or if I see that logo or if I hear that, that is worth my time or I should rank that slightly higher than something else. Just the same for relationships.
[00:08:32] And I think my curiosity is that – to your point – yes, you become almost myopic in terms of this focus of – well just because I can measure it I should do it right now and if I can’t measure it, it’s not worth doing. We’re starting to get a better idea of that longer term measurement piece – but also technology is allowing us to course correct in a much more efficient and effective way.[00:08:51] So I think as well it’s this understanding of – of course the long term strategy is always the goal – but also embracing the fact that we have more agile media. We have a lot more accountability in some of those formats and to that point around having the confidence to say you’re wrong – particularly in terms of – we’ve embarked on this strategy and you can buy TV and TV is locked in. You have to pay a lot of money for it and you have to pay a lot of money if you cancel it. With a lot of other media though you do have that opportunity to go okay, this isn’t working. Why not? Let’s pull it apart. Even basic A/B testing which for some of our campaigns working with some agencies still seems – to be honest – almost like an afterthought. If you have the opportunity to course correct and to build that into your strategy why wouldn’t you?[00:09:39] That’s a much better conversation you can have with your clients about – I’m coming here not to reveal after three months that it didn’t work – I’m coming to live in three days to say I think there’s an opportunity to improve it and this is how it could work because of X, Y and Z.
Gavin: [00:09:53] Right, so that’s interesting in that you’re coming with proactive advice. The challenge of course is the organisation has the capability to respond to that advice as well.
Jack: [00:10:04] Yeah absolutely and I think it’s fascinating – a number of our major clients are going through a reassessment of what it means to be a marketing team.
[00:10:13] What skill sets do they need in that team? How does that team work with the other parts of the business? And I think the last five years, we’ve seen a number of innovation labs or separate teams that essentially you know, the classic one is tasked with killing the company. How do you come up with something that’s going to essentially make us redundant?[00:10:30] And there’s been some great successes in that but I think it’s really very heartening for me to start see a lot of senior marketing leaders think – well actually, I want that kind of thinking integrated with my everyday thinking and I don’t want to see it as two separate teams where someone’s essentially tasked with maintaining what is such a valuable asset – our investment in our brand and someone over there is tasked with killing it.[00:10:50] So I’m sure they could talk to each other and find a middle ground but to complement each other’s thinking – again they have all of that historical knowledge about what works. That team has the liberty and the freedom of not being bound by that history but then what happens in between is fascinating. You start thinking about how it can impact your traditional media and so forth. It’s great.
Gavin: [00:11:11] Yeah absolutely. So I think what’s coming through in – not just the conversation we’re having right now – but conversations I’ve been having with businesses for quite some time is that finding a better way.
Gavin: [00:11:26] And having that focus and coming back to the project we’ve worked together with Vibewire – was it earlier this year?
Jack: [00:11:36] Yeah yeah I know it’s been a hell of a year.
Gavin: [00:11:39] Where we brought together various teams, matched them up with startups, you brought clients in, you had your own teams there. Can you tell us about how that framed up for you and how that worked and what you got out of it.
Jack: [00:11:53] Absolutely – that project was called Mspark I have to say it’s one of the highlights of my year and certainly for the company as well. And that combination of trying to break down those barriers between a large corporate, an agency and a startup. Realising that often there’s this rule of two in terms of the startup talk to the corporate but then essentially they don’t speak the same language. And it gets lost in translation or the startup realises the corporate can’t be that agile. The startup talks to the agency and the agency gets very excited but realises it doesn’t necessarily have buy in from the corporate and therefore goes into a bit of a cul-de-sac. Or the agency and the corporate talk to each other and realise they need some new thinking.
[00:12:31] So our idea was to bring all three of those parties into one team and one sprint and that experience was I would say truly revolutionary in a number of ways. First of all I think it reaffirms something we always knew about the value of young people. Just people who aren’t hidebound who don’t have that history or that baggage and who have the freedom to think of a range of different approaches to a problem. So first of all that injection of a new perspective and realising that particularly from a diverse background, media is relatively homogenous – we harvest a whole bunch of grads come out a university, the average tenure in the industry is about three to four years and we lose them. It’s an immense amount of churn.[00:13:12] So we have these brilliant young minds but often if I’m candid they think the same way and often they don’t hang around for long enough to challenge our perception. So working with vibewire was fantastic to have those diverse perspectives – particular from social impact background – of you want to really hard brief? Tackle homelessness. You want to really hard brief? Think about racism or you know intergenerational connectivity. Those are things where yeah, moving cereal off a shelf – that puts it in perspective in terms of what’s the behaviour challenge? And seeing how they went about this deeply ingrained behaviours was very inspiring to us.[00:13:47] So first of all, absolutely the benefit for the young people. Second the opportunity for people to stop playing the roles they think they have to play. And to that point, often that relationship particularly between the client and agency, there is that it’s a service relationship. And you find some people who absolutely love that and they love playing those roles in terms you know when I click my fingers I expect action. But you find other people – and over time many relationships once they start to know who you are and vice versa – you can build a better working relationship. And to our previous conversation, If I’d come to the client and say here’s my proactive idea because I don’t think this is working – rather than have been an atmosphere of recrimination and why? – so okay great let’s do that because I trust you and I want to move ahead with it.[00:14:31] So MSpark and breaking down those roles and giving a client, agency and a startup an opportunity to work as equals and equals who didn’t know the answer either in terms of putting their faith and their trust in each other that as a team, they would come up with solution that again as a team they bought into, they’d committed to, they’d done their validation around it so they can be confident speaking to their seniors, that they thought this is the right decision. It was a whole new way of working for us.[00:14:56] And particularly in that process of validation with real people – that will be the final third point – of understanding that great ideas don’t live on power points – they live in the conversations you have with people and their reactions to them. And you know we laugh and often say if I can talk you my mom or my barista through it, someone outside of the industry if they can get that idea in the first few seconds I’m on to something.[00:15:21] And it’s amazing that we treat as an anecdote not a way of working. You know when you think about this – so that MSpark – absolutely brilliant project that brought to life those three things around diversity, different roles and then the need to validate real people.
Gavin: [00:15:35] So I love the idea that you should talk to people and I think the concept of the future of work – so I did a talk last night on the future of work – And I did it without PowerPoint.
Jack: [00:15:49] Hmm, Oh, you’re a hero.
Gavin: [00:15:53] And what was interesting, as soon as I said I don’t have slides the organiser went – oh, what are you going to do? And I said well I have this and I pulled out of my pocket – I pulled out some speaking points that I’d written down on the back of the envelope.
Gavin: [00:16:08] So feel like we’re going old school where – what’s on the back of the envelope or the back of the napkin? And having that conversation about it’s okay to feed off of the audience, to engage the audience.
Jack: [00:16:20] Absolutely, yeah and that’s a fascinating concept for advertising. Where if it is way, and we are inviting people into our brands – as you said at the start – feeding off your audience is a lovely idea of how a brand can adapt and change to meet that. And I think when it comes to the practical things of presenting without PowerPoint for example, I was recently tutoring at UTS and it’s fascinating again to your point, of the body language and the attention you get when you can almost put the student’s mind at ease. And I said I’ll email you these notes – you don’t have to take notes now because I’m interested in you talking and processing this information rather than just recording it.
Jack: [00:16:56] So to that point – as you said, turning off the projector – sitting down rather than standing up on the front of the class and saying I want to hear how you think rather than how fast you can type.
Gavin: [00:17:07] Exactly exactly. Interesting. So one of the highlights for me a few years ago – we used to run this event for Vibewire called FastBreak and it would be five young people, five minutes and they’d pitch what they do and why they do it. And it was an audience of young people but an audience of people who are interested in next generation thinking. And so we get this every Friday morning they’d come along and we give them breakfast and they listen to these five young people showcasing what they do and why they do it.
Gavin: [00:17:36] We had Marita Cheng who was Australian of the Year come along and talk about robotics one year – one event and she was great. She had her preprepared speech and she was giving this fantastic talk. And then she went, hang on a second – I don’t need to talk about this – let me show you. And she just jumped off stage, ran over and in her backpack she had a robot. And she pulls it out and she puts it on stage and the whole audience just moved towards her.
[00:18:05] And right there it was this turning point for me where I went – this is a really special moment and what we’re seeing is people connecting really one to one basis at scale and were 150 people there. But that they all moved, they all wanted to see and it was just this perfect perfect moment.[00:18:24] So doing that I think is where we have a future of work and a future of collaboration.
Jack: [00:18:29] Absolutely and I think the future of work in terms of stepping out of the preconceived notions of what work is – to your point – if I present to you, there’s a hierarchy, information is processed and recorded and passed down, a much more collaborative one. And then again, inviting new perspectives into the workplace. MSpark was a big demonstration of that – of just because you don’t work in an agency doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to our thinking.
[00:18:53] And in terms of putting qualifications to the side, experience – we’re just looking for your brain – how you think, your experience, your empathy. Those things are worth a lot more than an MBA.
Gavin: [00:19:06] Well I can talk about is all day with you but we do have to wrap up. Can I just ask you, has there been a time or person or a piece of advice you’ve received that made a bit of a difference in the way you think the way you work and the way that you live your life.?
Jack: [00:19:23] Absolutely, I think there’s one piece of advice that came from one of the first people I worked with that particularly helped me in my job. Which is, reminding yourself that you’re only one part of someone else’s day.
[00:19:35] And the project you’re working on is all consuming for you but ultimately you’re one part of someone else’s day. And when you go and talk to them and present their project, keeping that sense of perspective around what your project is, how it contributes to them, how much attention you have. And then that empathy of understanding that – even though you might be absolutely in love with it – I understand again how that works with feedback is vital.
Gavin: [00:19:59] Brilliant, Jack Smyth thanks for your time.
Jack: [00:20:01] Thank you. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
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