Airbnb appoints ex-Unilever marketer Geoff Seeley to fill 'critical' media director role

Seeley will report to Airbnb chief marketing officer Jonathan Mildenhall

Airbnb has appointed its first ever media chief almost eight months after the hunt began, The Drum can reveal.

Working under the title ‘director of global connections and media activation,’ former Pearson and Unilever executive Geoff Seeley has been charged with drawing out greater value from the company's media investment as it transitions from disruptive room-renting app to a full-service travel powerhouse.

Reporting to chief marketing officer Jonathan Mildenhall, he will oversee all communications planning, media buying and brand partnerships across traditional and digital media.

At Pearson, Seeley served as vice-president of digital transformation for two years as the publisher rebranded to become a ‘global learning company’. Prior to that, he spent five years at Unilever where he was global communications planning director.

Mildenhall described the role as "critical" earlier this year, saying he needed his team to build an "almost real-time point of view" of how its marketing investment is working.

“What [the media transparency scandals] remind me of is that absolute need for clients to ensure that they don’t abdicate any area of marketing to any outside organisation," he said.

But, rather than in-housing media entirely – as many brands are beginning to do – the CMO said at the time that he wanted to ramp up its internal function while continuing to work alongside agency partners and independent data auditors.

The move to bulk up its in-house media capabilities comes amid heightened conversations around transparency following discrepancies from agencies like Denstu Japan and platforms like Facebook - which admitted last year to "miscalculating" video views by as much as 60% to 80%.

In the past, marketers have been guilty of undervaluing the importance of being media savvy and readily welcomed the ample number of agencies willing to fill that gap. But a recent survey indicates that Airbnb's hire is further evidence of a shift towards brands taking a more hands on approach.

Yesterday (17 August), the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) – where Seeley was previously chair of the Integrated Marketing Communications committee – noted that 65% of brand marketers are now hiring media specialists to work towards a hybrid or in-house media buying model.

Tesco and Procter and Gamble are just some of the advertisers to have carved out a similar role dedicated to improving internal media knowledge in recent months.

Matt Green, global lead for media and digital marketing at the WFA praised Seeley’s appointment, noting that the transformation from traditional to digital media has encouraged companies to think more carefully about which parts of their mix should be handled internally or managed be agencies.

"The rise of technology-led marketing also means that even those elements handled by agencies still need to be overseen by someone with increasing levels of expertise, spanning the realms of data and the inner machinations of network agencies," he added, "like a number of WFA member companies, Airbnb has recognised the need to boost its internal media knowledge."

Similarly, David Indo, co-founder and chief executive of media consultancy ID Comms said the move was a sign of things to come for the industry.

“This latest appointment is part of a welcome trend of big brands investing in in-house media knowledge," he said pointing to the ANA report last year which highlighted this as a key element in the lack of oversight on media transparency.

"Making these appointments work, however, is not just about the media expertise of the person hired but also ensuring they have the right skills and approach for the company. Airbnb have taken their time to make this appointment so they clearly understand the importance of fit.”

It's likely that Airbnb will announce some more high-profile hires in the next few months. During this year's Cannes Lions festival in France, the company put out a call to action for women and creatives "of colour" to come meet with Mildenhall during the festival.

“Finding Geoff has given me greater confidence that our open call for women and people of colour creative directors will also lead to some high-profile appointments this summer," said Mildenhall.

Airbnb is in the process of interviewing candidates the company met with during the festival in June.

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