OPINION: "Tech and data make us different, but people make us better"


Carat Chief Strategy Officer Sam Hegg shares his thoughts on the persevering power of the 'people factor' in the face of automation and artificial intelligence.


I don’t get to as many conferences as I would like. By pressing pause on daily work life and taking some time to listen to different perspectives and meet interesting industry folk, you quickly realise you need to take more days like these to stop letting the urgent get in the way of the important.

Last week’s AdNews Media + Marketing Summit in Melbourne was one of those days.

The line-up was an impressive one, with a host of great speakers covering off a range of the issues currently keeping us all up at night – of which there are seemingly quite a few. No one was short on war stories for the ‘Finding Success in Failure’ panel I had the pleasure of moderating, that’s for sure, in case anyone was hoping we had it all figured out by day’s end.

As we know, our industry is in a state of constant transformation, courtesy in large of the explosion of data and new tech in play. Admittedly we are all currently striving to build competitive advantage as agencies and brands in these areas, as illustrated by the day’s lively panel discussions around ‘Remodeling of Agencies’ and ‘Brand Building in a Digital Age’.

Despite where the conversation started, however, we kept finding ourselves back at the same place. What the summit made clear yet again is that while capabilities like data and tech can always make you different, in the long run it’s people who make you better.

“In this business – yes you have to have good cars and trucks – but it’s about people.” Mark Harland, GM Holden’s Exec Director of Marketing 

Holden’s Mark Harland opened the day with his keynote, ‘Redefining Holden’, which explored the iconic Aussie brand’s recent transformation, particularly in the wake of manufacturing being moved offshore.

The brand strategy is underpinned by three pillars. The first two – dependability and technology are undoubtedly important, especially with more than 20 new cars scheduled for release before 2020, however it was on the third – diversity and inclusion – that Harland spent the majority of his time.

Holden’s SBS ‘Drivers of Change’ campaign or 2017 Mardi Gras sponsorship were just some of the examples of its commitment to walking the talk when it comes to diversity and inclusion with their consumers, but Harland stressed that was only half the battle.

His emphasis was on ensuring diversity go beyond ‘face value’ to become ingrained in the brand’s DNA – from the manufacturer, to marketing, right through to the dealership floor.

"Adaptability is key. We shouldn't be forcing legacy structures onto clients; our strength is in agility and knowing when to bring the right people in.” Ash Earnshaw, chief investment officer, Carat Australia 

This sentiment was also evident on the following panel debate on the changing agency model. Despite the varying disciplines represented, it became clear that the future lies in bringing diversity of thought into our businesses as we increasingly need to answer new client challenges.

Recruiting against behaviours like curiosity and bravery while fighting unconscious bias is helping brands and agencies bring a broader representation of people into business and with it new points of view and ideas that challenge. Mediacom’s Gemma Hunter wrapped it nicely, advising us all: “Don’t ask talent what they’re good at, ask them what makes them happy”.

“You are not your f**king customer, and you are not normal.” Prof. Mark Ritson

Speaking of challenging, we had Mark Ritson drop a few cheeky ‘F bombs’ on us, making clear the point that “you are not your f**king customer”. Too often, he stated, we are putting our skewed world view as ‘ad people’ onto our marketing strategies and channel choices.

Quoting a study from AdNation, he showed that marketers estimated 89% of consumers had been on Instagram in the last seven days, when in fact, the reality according to ‘normal people’ was 33% (claimed) – a fact that was equal parts hilarious and disconcerting. Again, tech and data may be transforming agencies and marketing departments, but without smart, truth-seeking people behind the wheel, you can take your brand down a very unrewarding path.

“Our thoughts are not facts.” Matthew Johnstone, Author & Ambassador, Tonic Health Media

Perhaps the most telling of all when it comes to the day’s ‘people power’ theme was the inclusion of an enlightening session from Tonic Health Media ambassador, Matthew Johnstone, who also gave a mindfullness talk at the Media + Marketing Summit in Sydney in May.  

This and the fact the day was closed out by notable humanitarian, Father Bob, proves the appetite for stories that focus on fostering the ‘whole employee’, not purely their skillset.

Matt shared a cautionary tale on the dangers of not listening to your mind and body in what we all know to be an industry that can easily consume your world (and not always for the better). As a 15-year-veteran of the industry with three young children and an underused gym membership, this certainly struck a chord.

The fact is, people are always your biggest asset, however automated and AI-driven our future path may be.

So, make sure you are surrounding yourself with diversity of thought and background while providing an environment that promotes debate and new ways to solve problems. And above all, as Johnstone simply put it, please look after yourself.

This article originally appeared on AdNews.  

^Back to Top