2018 has been a year of great change – from the new GDPR legislations enforced in May to Sorrell’s departure from WPP in April and everything else in between! The theme of transformation therefore held centre stage at Rubicon Project’s ‘Summit 2018’ in London last week on September 27. Speaking with Rubicon Project’s UK MD Stephen Wing at the event, he added “we have seen a huge amount of change and transformation, across our business and the digital market as a whole. From ecosystem-shaping M&A activity, large scale industry collaboration, changes in legislation such as the GDPR, right through to changes in business models and transactional methodology - these changes have been swift, significant and for the greater good of the industry.”
During the afternoon, two sessions caught The Drum’s attention; GDPR: Where are we now and what’s next? and Change & Transformation: The View from the C-Suite. Of these, the future of the industry and the impact of the relentless change was discussed with panellists predicting what’s on the horizon within adland and how they’ve managed to muddle through.
GDPR - what next?
The GDPR: Where are we now and what’s next? panel included Trade Desk UK general manager, Anna Forbes, and OMG head of programmatic activation, Melinda Clow - both of whom agreed that the general “instable state of the industry” means it’s difficult to fully attribute any real changes down to GDPR alone.
The industry is still waiting to feel the full effects of the change in GDPR legislation, although the challenges around consent remain.
Oath head of open demand international, Simon Halstead, admitted that the guidelines were still open to interpretation, but that it’s a move in the right direction. While brands, publishers and marketers accept the implications of the new legislations, it seems consumers are not so clued up as Clow questioned just how consumers are perceiving consent. “Are they actively consenting to the new GDPR legislations or are they just clicking a button? And what about the users who aren’t consenting?” Advertisers, he said, need to be clearer about what consenting actually entails and that those are not consenting should be considered equally as valuable.
The panel discussed that for marketers, it’s about using technology to better understand and contextualise ads to make messages as relevant for consumers as possible. The legislation around GDPR may have already been enforced but the finite details around its long-term use are still to be determined with marketers demanding more clarity around the new framework, concluded the panellists.
Trials around transformation
C-suites too are reeling from the opening of the Pandora’s box, that comes with the new GDPR regulations. The Change & Transformation: The View from the C-Suite panel revealed that the changes in GDPR had its benefits as it meant clients became more knowledgeable of what was demanded of them. And marketers could finally have honest and informed conversations with them based on the future of the industry. Other trends spotted in 2018 included the rise of video, with Group M M-Platform CSO, Jenny Bullis, calling it “the year of video.”
There’s little doubt that the industry remains fragmented, but the panel recognised the spurt of hope that emerged following calls from leading marketers such as Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard and Unilever’s Keith Weed calling for the ad tech sector to clean up. While Adform COO Oliver Whitten admitted, “We’re cleaning up the sector,” he hoped that this would be at the cost of stabilising the industry and carving out a more mature sector within which to work, suggesting that it may be a pain to implement all the infrastructure now, but assured, it would be worth it.
Other notable changes included the breakup and acquisition of companies, which may not be entirely surprising considering Sorrell’s departure earlier in the year. Perhaps this spells room for growth – as Bullis pointed out; “there’s not a single industry within advertising that’s not looking at growth” – but added that it definitely means the industry has become less predictable which could lead to exciting times ahead.
Challenges around talent and skills was another discussion point, with moderator Rubicon managing director EMEA, James Brown, wondering what practices were best for the management and induction of new talent. Whitten cited giving people purpose at work and providing employees with flexibility in the workplace as well as investing in them as key factors in company – and individual – success. Bullis agreed, also adding that being inclusive and creating a better infrastructure, and engaging all employees in unconscious bias training would only help to strengthen an organisation’s offering.
While all panellists eloquently spoke about how their organisations weathered the changes affecting the industry through 2018, the importance of transparency within the industry shone through as the biggest takeaway from the day. GDPR may have implemented legislation around data, but it’s up to marketers to maintain their transparency – and accountability.