Jaywing's Martin Boddy talks brain scans, the Northern talent pool, and breaking Australia

Elliott Haworth
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Jaywing are quite literally scanning people’s brains to understand, and then predict, how audiences will react to marketing stimuli (Source: Jaywing)

London-centricity is a Very British Problem.

Few countries have such a dominant, multi-speciality capital, devoid of thriving satellite cities. Everything is here. Government and monarchy, banking and finance, all pulse through the capillaries of the city; it’s probably why you moved here.

Absorbed in the hubbub, we don’t so much forget as disregard the rest of the country. “North” is Turnpike Lane, not Burnley.

In terms of business, London is magnetic, pulling every industry into its orbit, and subsequently a lion’s share of available talent. But data, the lifeblood of every modern business, has found a home away from these hallowed streets: Yorkshire.

Grim up north

On an unseasonably bright (London) morning, I meet Martin Boddy, chief executive of Jaywing, a multidiscipline data marketing stalwart which, while listed on the London Stock Exchange’s junior market, is based in Sheffield. But why? “There is a sense of heritage,” admits Boddy. “And I am a Yorkshireman, so there’s definitely that about it. But also I think there’s definitely a talent pool there. If you look at data and digital, in the North it’s huge – something like 25 per cent of all digital transactions are processed in the North. There’s a lot of skill about.”

Boddy says that jobs within the data economy seem to buck the London-centric trend: “A lot of people don’t want to work in London. And we’re getting quite a few moving the other way. Bizarrely one of our hunting grounds for talent is to bring people from London, especially in the more creative part of the business.”

Wave opens at Yorkshire Sculpture Park
"Some people don't want to live in London" ... you don't say (Source: Getty)

More jobs will be created as the data economy proliferates, but there is no equilibrium in the market – demand for analysts, scientists, and the like far outweighs current supply, and the roles are changing: mathematical and analytical skills are required, but a creative eye and commercial acumen can go a long way.

“There’s a sort of right brain/ left brain thing going on,” says Boddy. “It really is humanities versus science. And what we need to do is really work together. We’ve got this whole thing about: ‘how do you actually make the data digestible and understandable, so people who aren’t fundamentally mathematical can understand it?’ The danger is, and a lot of others have done this, that you dumb it down to such an extent that, actually, it loses its power.”

Jaywing is addressing the dearth of suitable candidates by partnering with universities to produce them – essentially stepping in where the government has failed. “If you look at data scientists, there’s just such an incredible shortage of them. The education system isn’t creating them. Some of the courses we’ve traditionally recruited from are no longer in existence in the way they were – it was quite often operational research and stats courses, but the skills now have really changed.”

Brain scan

As well as delivering an MSc in Consumer Analytics and Marketing Strategy at the University of Leeds, Jaywing has a strategic collaboration with Imperial College London’s Data Science Institute. They are quite literally scanning people’s brains to understand, and then predict, how audiences will react to marketing stimuli.

Imperial College London's Data Science Institute (Source: Jaywing)

“Understanding and predicting the real feelings of consumers is complex, particularly given the huge number of variables involved in generating emotion,” said Boddy, when the partnership launched. The collaboration aims to “understand how to translate immediate response into long-term brand advocacy. It means we can inform how we design marketing experiences in the future, make braver creative decisions and deliver better commercial results for our clients.”

Acquired taste

Jaywing has been on a warpath of acquisitions in the last few years, as part of its plans for “low-risk international growth” – most recently into Australia. “The UK is the most competitive and, for some, perhaps the most mature digital marketing environment in the world, so we’re growing really well. Compared to our peers, we’ve got 6 per cent top line, 7 per cent bottom line. But to grow at double digits here with a decent sized business is pretty hard. Look at WPP, just under 3 per cent. So the issue for us is: how can we take what we do here and play in faster growing markets?”

Australia lags perhaps a couple of years behind the UK in uptake of data technologies, but it’s growing fast – the job market is ripe with talent.

Starting with its £18m acquisition of Leeds-based search marketing agency Epiphany – “transformational for the business” – which had a small office in Sydney, Jaywing soon found that, despite the traction, because of the hot employment market, trying to recruit people into a small firm was difficult.

“There’s an opportunity over there, in terms of expanding internationally but in a low risk model,” says Boddy. “But what I don’t want to do is replicate what we’ve got here, everywhere.”

Jaywing’s next acquisition was of Sydney-based search agency Digital Massive, which has recently rebranded under the Jaywing name, further expanding its operation Down Under. “We’re not a place for people to come and exit their business, that’s not the model I’m into. They believe they can grow more quickly being part of Jaywing, they maintain a stake in their business, but they can grow a lot quicker. And it’s already proving so.”

Elliott Haworth is business features writer at City A.M.

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