Thinking contextually

Liam Ward-Proud

Liam Ward-Proud talks digital with Starcom MediaVest’s Stewart Easterbrook

AFTER heading up Starcom MediaVest’s UK business for five years, Stewart Easterbrook moved into a pan-European role as executive director of performance and digital development in 2008. Now focusing on innovation and growth across the region, he tells City A.M. about the importance of context, and the industry’s consolidation.

What’s the biggest challenge media agencies are facing at the moment?

Mobile and mobility. But it’s interesting to flip this around and see it as an opportunity. It comes down to two things – content and context. The first is about getting content which can be easily accessed across screens. It’s a well-versed conversation, but not that many people are executing it well.

The context opportunity is the one that people are much further behind in understanding. When you consume content across different screens at different times, you find yourself in radically different contexts. The same person in the same place will be affected differently by a beer advert based on whether they are going out for a meal with a partner or having drinks with friends. The advertising community hasn’t even scratched the surface of what’s possible in this regard. There’s going to be a huge variation between those that quickly embrace it and those that don’t.

What’s your take on programmatic buying?

I’m very optimistic. Yes, automation and technology are going to grow extremely fast. But to an extent, it only really gets you to the table. All the big players will have their own technologies, but what will really set people apart is the talent that you put in front of this. We’ll continue to be a talent-led business.

What differences have you noticed working in Europe compared to Britain?

It’s remarkable how different each market is in Europe – structurally and culturally. And I’ve learnt that you don’t necessarily need every market to be developing in an identical way. It may be that you accelerate the development of a data enterprise in one market because you have access to extraordinary talent there. If you look at consumers in the Nordics, they’re very advanced in the mobile space, and our businesses in the region reflect that.

We’re seeing a trend of large agencies buying up smaller firms. Will this continue?

Yes and no. Over the past five years or so, we’ve seen a lot of digital specialists being absorbed back into larger businesses. This was a reflection of clients not wanting a huge roster of agencies, and we may see a similar thing with the mobile market now. If ever I’ve seen a market ripe for consolidation, it’s mobile advertising.

But the other side of it is that businesses like us will continue to be successful if we play to our strengths. We’re not attempting to become a tech business, but will continue to focus on what we excel at – understanding consumers, their motivations and behaviours, and advising clients based on this.