What I learned… as a jazz drummer, with Gez McGuire
The marketing industry never ceases to surprise with its omnivorous drawing-in of talent from every discipline imaginable. Our series What I Learned... digs into the sometimes surprising histories of our industry’s leaders.
Today, we sat down with Gez McGuire, founder of MCG Digital Media, and former drummer for the likes of Edwin Starr.
Hi Gez! Tell us a little about who you are and what you do now.
Hi, I’m the founder of MCG Digital Media, a specialist search and AI marketing agency based in Birmingham working with a range of brands, from household names to SMEs.
I’ve recently launched Lead Accelerator, which allows agencies and in-house teams to develop AI-enabled landing pages and advertising campaigns.
One of the things I love most about marketing is the ability to keep on learning and developing. AI and machine learning have been a major focus of mine over the last couple of years and we’re now at the point where it can have a fundamental impact on marketing campaigns.
But before you were a marketer, I’ve heard you played the drums?
I had a career as a session musician in my twenties, working with a wide variety of artists including touring with ex-Motown icon Edwin Starr and local Brummie legend Ruby Turner. I performed on a few jazz-based albums and was constantly gigging up and down the length and breadth of the UK and sometimes in Europe and the US.
No one ever stops being a musician, do they? How has that time stuck with you into your marketing career?
I think the lessons we learn early on always stay with us, and sometimes when I feel I’m on shaky ground I remind myself that I have a knowledge base that is its own asset, so just to press on and all will be well.
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Becoming a session musician means not only knowing how to play but involves understanding how your instrument works (in my case the drums) and how to fit in perfectly with a song or an arrangement. It’s also vital to be technically proficient as technique allows a musician to navigate very difficult pieces with a lot more ease, and I’ve taken the same approach with digital advertising. I always need to know why and how things are working, as well as having the technical knowledge of platforms, which has ultimately led me to investigate AI in a lot more detail, with a particular focus on conversion.
Tell me about that transition from drums to marketing and AI, then.
As I entered my 30s, I decided that I wanted to forge a career in marketing and worked briefly with an experiential marketing company where I found it second nature to pitch to huge brands and land board meetings.
From here I pivoted into the world of digital marketing quite easily, as it appealed to my creative instincts, and very quickly became involved in PPC and Google Adwords (as it was known at the time).
Was that a tricky transition?
I taught myself everything using the online learning tools that Google provided (this was around 2004) and within a few months I became qualified as a Google Advertising Professional. At this time there were only a few dozen qualified professionals in the UK and it was in its infancy compared to where it is now.
I imagine your music background is useful in other ways too. Was playing on a stage with legends good practice for pitching to big players in the marketing industry?
The transferable elements for me would be the confidence I had in the early stages in terms of speaking to big brands such as Microsoft, Honda, Subaru, Suzuki and Royal Bank of Scotland to secure meetings and pitch presentations. It was this confidence that allowed me to successfully complete the entire sales cycle from door opening to winning large projects, each of which was worth in excess of half a million pounds to the agency.
I’d also say that being prepared to adapt and continually develop is something I have adopted throughout my career – such as being an early Google convert and developing AI specialisms more recently.
If you had your time over, would you pick up the drums again for your 20s?
I would certainly not recommend gigging up and down the country as a great way to make a living, but in terms of jumping in feet first, building confidence and learning new skills, absolutely yes.
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