Why Airbnb wants to fill 'critical' chief media officer vacancy in an industry awash with data

Airbnb is on the hunt for a chief media officer to help it navigate an industry 'awash with data' / Airbnb

Airbnb is on the hunt for a chief media officer in a bid to better value the media it needs to help power its transition from disruptive room-renting app to a full-service travel brand.

It’s move that shouldn’t come as any surprise given how widely the role’s importance was debated last year after a string of scandals exposed how little many marketers understood about media. From Dentsu Japan's $2.3m payout to advertisers following over estimations to Facebook's inflated video views, a series of difficulties have forced advertisers to examine how best to address said knowledge gaps when it comes to being both data and media savvy.

Discussing what he described as a "challenging" 12 months for the industry, Airbnb’s chief marketing officer Jonathan Mildenhall conceded that like anything, or any relationship, "if it’s not based on transparency and trust and integrity then it really does take a setback."

"What it [the media scandals] just reminds me of is that absolute need for clients to ensure that they don’t abdicate any area of marketing to any outside organisation," he continued, adding that for him this means investing in marketing analytics.

Critical role

More importantly, however, is the space Airbnb's leadership team has at the table for a chief media executive.

"I’m in the market right now to recruit what I’m calling a ‘global director of connections and media planning and buying'", mused Mildenhall, "and that role is a critical function for a 21st century marketing role and it’s one that I don’t have right now."

Mildenhall's recruitment drive comes as big name brands continue to fill their leadership boards with similar hires geared toward pushing and examining digital effectiveness. The list includes Coca-Cola, where Mildenhall served as creative chief before joining Airbnb, which recently hired its first chief digital marketing officer in the form of ex-Bank of America executive David Godsman.

When quizzed on whether Airbnb's new addition would work under, or alongside him, Mildenhall said that for now they’d be on his leadership team.

"The great thing about my leadership team is they all work alongside me. You see, one of the other priorities for our marketing org is the need to build a really compelling brand in the most efficient and effective way possible, that’s it.

"I don’t see the need to split the brand function from the efficient and effective intent. Rolling both up under a leader - and this is a recommendation that I’d make for all marketing organisations - but making sure that the effective and efficient is balanced with the creative and cultural significance, I think that’s the trick to building a 21st century marketing organisation."

His is a view that was echoed at an ID Comms panel where the tensions of having a chief media officer parallel to the chief marketing officer was discussed by senior media specialists from Nissan, Maxus and executive search firm 360xec.

While they all admitted that chemistry is key for the two roles to flourish in tandem, Nissan’s media specialist and general manager for marketing communications across Europe, Martin Moll said there’s a danger that when the roles are equal it leaves both at a point of “defend and attack” for the creative and media parts of the business. His fear being that when it comes to reviewing a campaign that has underwhelmed, there’s a debate about whether it was the creative or the “channel solution” that was to blame.

Awash with data

The transparency debate rumbled on throughout 2016, but there was also the overall sense among marketers that they had undervalued of the importance of media knowledge within brand marketing teams.

Between its core booking product, its recently-launched Trips app and the multitude of social and online platforms it advertises on, the very nature of Airbnb means it has access to swathes of data, but now it needs someone to oversee it.

According to its chief marketing officer, the coming year will see the brand build an "almost real-time point of view" on how its marketing investment is working, a shift that could help bring the discipline closer with creative and is likely to see other companies follow suit.

Mildenhall wants this plan to come to fruition by way of hiring experts who will work in-house, as well as building up relationships with the best independent data auditors.

"I need an in expendable group of people who are working inside Airbnb that are genuinely on top of all this data – the industry is awash with data but a lot of industry marketing organisations are still data ignorant."

Speaking to The Drum at an event hosted by media constultancy ID Comms, Steve Hyde, chief executive of recruitment business 360xec said there is an increasing demand for client media positions to have a greater overall understanding of using data more effectively.

"We need media savvy, customer savvy, machine-learning savvy executives who can take a longer term view of balanced communications investment that sustainably deliver the business plan, he continued.

Suggesting that more announcements like Airbnb's should be anticipated, Hyde said that media clients are also increasingly looking for more content development and integration experience.

"As convergence becomes increasingly likely these combined skills of customer targeting, data management and content development will appear more often and with more emphasis than has been the case to date," he finished.

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Rebecca Stewart

Rebecca Stewart is a reporter at The Drum. She primarily writes news, analysis and features around brand marketing and digital innovation. She has interviewed key figures from the likes of Airbnb, Amnesty International, Unilever, Facebook and Spotify, as well as covering international events like Ad Week Europe, Dmexco and Ciclope.

All by Rebecca