#MediaSnack Meets

35 - Belinda Smith, Electronic Arts

January 09, 2020 ID Comms Season 1 Episode 35
#MediaSnack Meets
35 - Belinda Smith, Electronic Arts
Chapters
#MediaSnack Meets
35 - Belinda Smith, Electronic Arts
Jan 09, 2020 Season 1 Episode 35
ID Comms

My guest for this episode is Belinda Smith, Global Head of Marketing Intelligence at EA (Electronic Arts) one of the world’s largest video game and entertainment companies. 

For the last couple of years, before she moved into her new Marketing Intelligence role, Belinda was the Global Media Director of EA and to those in the know, she has been one of the real pioneers of what has become called “the in-housing of media”. And you will learn in this episode why she detests that phrase, as do I. 

I first met Belinda a few years ago at an excellent ANA Media conference where she was speaking  about EA’s plans to build their internal media capabilities. This was in 2017 and up to that point I had not heard someone talk about in-housing (that word) with such a clarity of vision and so articulately. Since then, Belinda and her team at EA went on a fascinating journey which she details in this episode, some things worked, some did not and needed refining. It really is a masterclass for anyone thinking about how to approach in-housing of their own media operations.

If you pay any attention to the media industry then you have probably either seen Belinda at an event or you have read something she has written about media. She has also become an important voice for diversity in the industry, in 2019 being named the Diversity Ambassador for the World Federation of Advertiser and she still sits on their global media board.

I always appreciate Belinda’s view of what we all do because, in these often divided and confrontational times she approaches the industry with more humanity than I think I see in anyone else. She wastes no time dwelling on negatives and always seems to have an optimistic and pragmatic view forward. 


Show Notes Transcript

My guest for this episode is Belinda Smith, Global Head of Marketing Intelligence at EA (Electronic Arts) one of the world’s largest video game and entertainment companies. 

For the last couple of years, before she moved into her new Marketing Intelligence role, Belinda was the Global Media Director of EA and to those in the know, she has been one of the real pioneers of what has become called “the in-housing of media”. And you will learn in this episode why she detests that phrase, as do I. 

I first met Belinda a few years ago at an excellent ANA Media conference where she was speaking  about EA’s plans to build their internal media capabilities. This was in 2017 and up to that point I had not heard someone talk about in-housing (that word) with such a clarity of vision and so articulately. Since then, Belinda and her team at EA went on a fascinating journey which she details in this episode, some things worked, some did not and needed refining. It really is a masterclass for anyone thinking about how to approach in-housing of their own media operations.

If you pay any attention to the media industry then you have probably either seen Belinda at an event or you have read something she has written about media. She has also become an important voice for diversity in the industry, in 2019 being named the Diversity Ambassador for the World Federation of Advertiser and she still sits on their global media board.

I always appreciate Belinda’s view of what we all do because, in these often divided and confrontational times she approaches the industry with more humanity than I think I see in anyone else. She wastes no time dwelling on negatives and always seems to have an optimistic and pragmatic view forward. 


Tom Denford:

Hello everyone. I'm Tom Denford, co-founder of ID Comms. Welcome to episode 35 of #MediaSnackMeets. Recorded each week in New York, we get to meet the individuals and organizations doing great work to inspire success and drive change within the global media and marketing industry. In each episode, we find out what is behind that success, what it takes to make change in the industry, and what the rest of us can learn from that experience. My guest for this episode is Belinda Smith, global head of marketing intelligence at EA, which you may know as Electronic Arts, one of the world's largest videogame and entertainment companies. For the last couple of years before she moved into her new marketing intelligence role, Belinda was the global media director of EA and to those in the know, she has been one of the real pioneers of what has become the in-housing of media and you will learn in this episode why she did tests that phrase, as do I.

Tom Denford:

I first met Belinda a few years ago at an excellent ANA media conference where she was speaking about EAs plans to build their internal media capabilities. Now, this was in 2017 and up to that point I had not heard someone talk about in-housing (that word again) with such a clarity of vision and so articulately. Since then, Belinda and her team at EA went on a fascinating journey which she details in this episode. Some things worked, some things did not and they needed refining. It really is a masterclass for anyone thinking about how to approach the in housing of their own media operations. If you pay any attention to the media industry, then you have probably either seen Belinda at an event or you have read something that she has written about media. She's also become an important voice for diversity in the industry and in 2019 was named Diversity Ambassador for the World Federation of Advertisers and she still sits on their global media board. I always appreciate Belinda's view of what we all do because in these often divided and confrontational times, she approaches the industry with more humanity than I think I see in anyone else and she wastes no time dwelling on negatives and always seems to have an optimistic and pragmatic view forward. You can check the show notes for this episode, including a full transcript at www.mediasnackpodcast.com but without delay, please enjoy this wonderful and entertaining interview with Belinda Smith.

Tom Denford:

Belinda, welcome to #MediaSnackMeets.

Belinda Smith:

Thank you for having me.

Tom Denford:

We're sat in New York. We're in the WeWork overlooking Bryant Park here. Let's start, in the introduction I've obviously described, you know, you work at EA electronic arts, which is we call it a gaming company or is it a tech company? What does it call itself?

Belinda Smith:

I think we call it a gaming company, but it's actually an entertainment company.

Tom Denford:

Yeah, okay, so it's a big franchise company too, I suppose, now. Okay, good. Which we're familiar with, having done work with you and the team over the last year or two, which has been really good fun. So you were Global Head of Media, but you're now Marketing Intelligence. So tell me what that means.

Belinda Smith:

So, yeah, previously global media, like many of your podcast guests, my esteemed peers in the industry, marketing intelligence is taking a holistic view of all of the activation channels we hold. So whether that's organic, whether it's paid media, events, PR, influencers, community, whatever that is. And across that group of channels, we think about measurement.. how do we measure effectiveness, we think about content strategies. So what plays best where. We think about channel strategy, giving what the marketing objective is, which of those channels do we light up? We try to crack tough problems around how do we forecast better, how do we measure across all of those channels in a de-duplicated way? And then we also have a hub on the team that's really thinking about our content ecosystem, which is why I like to call us an entertainment company. And that's really thinking about... of all the end points that exist in the world today (so whether that's a phone or a console or cloud gaming or whatever's next), how do we make sure our content is totally portable to those environments and customize to what people want in those environments. So yeah, that's kind of the, the remit of the team, which is why it's named i'ntelligence'. Because, how else would you describe all of that stuff?

Tom Denford:

It's very impressive. It's very good; It touches a lot of the business. For an entertainment company like EA because we're talking about media mostly, right? And from your previous role as global head of media representing that company and your previous roles, why does the company invest in media? When you were running that, what was the objective, what are you trying to do?

Belinda Smith:

Oh man. I think I know actually from talking to your other guests that we are in a similar position as a lot of people, which is we got pretty far down this path of thinking 'we invest in media for some kind of short term return' and then questioning that in thinking,' actually is that the best use of this channel'? What are some other ways we could use it? If we open the aperture, if we open the timescape of the channel, then what does that mean about how we measure it? What does that mean about how we program content? What does that mean about our partnerships? So, when I came to EA, it was the end of our 2017 fiscal year. So when I came to EA in 2017 we had gotten really far down this multitouch attribution project that we built on our own to measure our own media, and I think many people at the time got so excited about that, that we really laser focused on that and then took a step back and said, wait a second, there are other things that potentially we're missing or ignoring here.

Tom Denford:

Yeah. And that's when we met first you had just joined EA, and you were talking at the ANA Media Conference and... (Belinda doesn't remember this, but that's when I went up and introduced myself). So we're only talking two and a half years ago. But you presented at the ANA Media and I was really impressed and rushed up to you afterwards, like a kind of fan in the audience,, because what you were saying then you were just describing quite naturally the operations within EA, which was to just do a lot of the buying yourself and you'd assembled a team and put together the technologies. And even though it's only two years ago, that to me felt like really different to what other people were saying. It was the first time that somebody had really cleanly and articulately described what we now have been calling 'in-housing', which is a terrible term. That was quite pioneering then. And we've come a long way, but you've been through that, you've done a lot of conference stages in the last year and a half. Right? And you've, you've sat on lots and lots of panels about in-housing and that's the question. Describe to me then where that started off when you joined, and then where it got to, and in the last year or so we've been through global review with you. Right? So that's changed the scope of the agency and you've been rethinking that in housing. So let's just get the in-housing thing out of the way. Tell me about that journey that you've been on.

Belinda Smith:

In my defense, the reason that I don't remember anything from that conference is I had just sent my contract back to EA and agreed to sign on, and before I even had an email address, my boss at the time said, "Oh Hey, I'm supposed to go speak at this ANA thing in a couple of weeks, but I can't go, will you go?" And I thought, sure, no big deal. And a couple weeks later I asked her, 'well', can you send me your presentation? You know, I'm going to this conference.' And she said, 'well, I don't have a presentation.' So I was like, 'oh, you want the brand new person to describe our heritage and our history. Cool.' So, much like I have the podcast jitters today, I was very nervous on that stage about, 'I hope I don't say the wrong thing because I just started at this company'. I joined EA from running a trading desk and I think one of the biggest things that programmatic buyers, and especially, you know, managing a trading desk, you wish your clients were smarter. You wish they knew media more, you wish they were more bought in and they thought things were as cool as you did and you march over to their office every Wednesday and present on capabilities and why they need a new DSP and how you can, you know, overhaul this, that, and the other and it never lands the way you want it to. No one's ever as excited as you want them to be. And it was funny because, when I talked to my future boss at EA, when she was recruiting me, she shared that excitement and she said, 'we want to go in that direction. We just need someone to do it.' And so I came in already with the mandate already with the full support of we want to take control of our media and it wasn't positioned to me as, "Hey, we want to in-house", it was never, "Hey, we don't trust our agency". It was "Media is really important. It gives us a lot of signals. It gives us a lot of information about the business. We want to be really good at it. Can you come help us get really, really great. And I mean, that's a dream from an agency. So I was like, absolutely. And when I came into EA, really my goal was to bring us much closer to how media works. And that goal was educating my peers at EA about why media was such a powerful channel. Yes you can use it for targeting, but even better you can use it to harvest data about what's going on, about where your consumers are, about how they're responding. You can test and iterate like uncontrollably. So it was a really exciting challenge and what we did is we just said, Hey, we know we want to do this thing. Our CMO feels really passionately about it and that's unique and that's fantastic. And I spent maybe my first six months or so just traveling every single week. I want to say we hired about 18 people in London in that time and created a net new hub there. We hired about 12 or 13 people in San Francisco and built out the team that existed there. Of course, me being in new Yorker, we made plans for New York at some point in the future, and we had our sights on Sydney and so, it was coming in and like, 'hey, we already have the enthusiasm, let's go execute it'. I got deep into the weeds with hiring experts for search, social, and programmatic. We had full buying teams. We worked really closely with our marketing infrastructure, and operations team, we call them or like our MarTech team and we set out to build the Ferrari of brand media. And we did it, and we did it really quickly and we did it on a global scale and I think, you know, having this pent up desire of wanting a brand to care, and then being given that opportunity really kind of catapulted me through that chaotic time of doing it on a super compressed timeline. And then, it's funny that this is only been two and a half years, because it feels like it's been 10. But we very quickly then started to have the 'what's next' problem, which is "Great, you hired in 10 buyers at the same level at the same time. What are their development plans?", "Wonderful, you've built out a brand new kind of organ, is how we called it internally, to this team, how do they fold in with the rest of the company? Who should they be having face time with? How do we think about mentorship programs from them? How do we continue bringing them into the company..?" And so what started out with, you know, how do we bring this knowledge, expertise and data back into the company? Then turned into an integration question of well what do we do with this team and how do we make them feel challenged? And we I think are very lucky in that we have a lot of people who work at our company because they're passionate about the product. And, that may or not may not be true for people who you bring in to buy media and they have millions of other opportunities that they could see is pretty compatible. How do you deal with that churn and how do you keep them, and how do you engage them, and should that look different for just one business unit within the company?

Tom Denford:

So on that, I mean that was always one of the things that was the initial challenge right? From agencies. ,When, when advertisers said "Listen, we're going to take control, we want to build the capabilities in house". And I think this was in 2017 that this was the most common refrain from agencies was "Great. Have a go. But let us know when it fails and come back because the biggest issue is going to be attracting talent and then retaining talent". Right. That was it. Who's going to want to work just on one brand? Are you saying that that was the biggest challenge for you? Was that true? And how did you do that? It's a cool company, right,, and you're in the kind of right part of the world I guess. Even though talent is expensive on the West coast there, but were you able to find those people easily and keep them interested?

Belinda Smith:

Oh man. In San Francisco we weren't, and again, I came from doing media in New York for 10 years and I, you know, used to tease my then SVP that, if we move this to New York, I could have it staffed tomorrow. So it was hard to get talent. I talk about talent a lot because I think people need to play that out three years down the road to think about a full engagement plan for talent. To me, talent is the most important thing because talent is people, but you're taking people away from other opportunities that they could have and I would definitely feel like a trash human if I didn't have a way to continue to grow and to develop them. So I think about talent a lot because it's the most important to me. But it wasn't the hardest part, by far. I think the hardest part was kind of stitching together the discipline of media with the rest of the organization. We obviously think the discipline is special and powerful and needs longterm investment and care and you should go to all the conferences and be involved. But how do you balance that with, 'yes, however, our core business is building this experience or product or franchise and that's what we need you to be razor focused on even if you are an expert in a different field'. And for me, I think the difficulty was trying to really find that middle road; trying to find a path where I felt like we could maintain our competitive advantage in media expertise, but still having the number one focus beyond the core business.

Tom Denford:

I think that identifying of creating another silo internally, which we've talked about is the big risk to the in-housing. I think we've seen where it fails, where it has failed, and I think people will continue to fail because I think we've got a few more big failures, big high profile failures to come, you know from some brands that have maybe rushed into in-housing on the executional side because it involves lots of technology, lots of special people that are unusual in a marketing organization. We've seen and observed examples where those sit under much more of a technology, or IT, or performance marketing side of the business, or they are aligned to an e-commerce part of the business very far away, sometimes very physically far away, but definitely culturally far away from the brand marketers who are not on-boarded with this idea. They think of it as an extension of a kind of technology resource rather than a natural extension of the brand marketing and that cultural thing I think is a big, I agree, it's a big problem so you can get all the great talent that you want, but if that is not stitched into the fabric of the marketing exercise, I think you've actually said this. It's like you called it 'avoiding organ rejection', right? That was it. When you think you can just bring programmatic in-house, hire some people with the technology and then it just works... is exactly risking that. Now where we see it does work, we think with greater success, is actually the in-housing more upstream. Well at least it's got to start with that which is the data, the analytics, the strategy. By having those decisions closer and closer to the brand marketers are closer to the product marketers, that seems to make a lot of sense. Now where you go with the execution on that, you could use an external resource, external agencies to do that, or you could slowly bring that capability in house. Where you start with the execution maybe that's where you get this organ rejection. You did say that didn't you?

Belinda Smith:

No, I think I did. And even if I didn't, it sounds great. So I'll take the credit. The more I think about this, if I think about places where this hasn't gone super poorly versus places where it's been awful, it's: what talent are you hiring to lead this effort? The two models I've seen are...we have someone who has been at the brand for a long time, knows how to navigate it, has good relationships. Media may or may not be their thing, but they're the right person to lead and then it's on them to go find a team of experts to really feel the work. The other way you could look at it is, well, we want the best media operation, period. So let's go hire one of those whizzbang media kids from Digiday conference and have them come overhaul it for us. I think what I have personally observed over time, is that the former always beats the latter. And I think about people you've had on like Rob from Mars, Gerry from P&G , Luis from Unilever. All of these people are really adept at being in tune to the needs of the organization. They can work with media teams to pull out the nugget of what is actually crucial for the business and they can champion that above and across. And I think that's how you get it anchored into operations. I guess I won't use names for the other example, but I do have some really high profile examples in my mind of brands who went and got the big guns from whatever agency, and it was more of a disaster than they were prepared for. So I think you can't overstate how important it is to have that relationship building business acumen, you know, kind of like a professional maturity about someone to successfully lead it. But the last thing I want to say is even if it's a failure, it's not a failure. When I go back to why I was so excited to take on a role like this, my mandate was I want brands to care. I want them to be more educated. I want them to be involved. I want them to get their hands dirty a little bit. And even some of the brands that I'm thinking in my head like, 'wow, that was a terrible failure', it actually wasn't, because the business is at least more educated in many ways. They're making smarter contracts. They know what they will and won't do next time. They have better questions to ask their agency. They have more empathy for their agencies. So I think it's worth it either way.

Tom Denford:

That's good. Let's move on from in-housing. I think there's a lot to learn from the way that you have innovated in that space and then you've gone back to refine it and that's inevitably why everyone's interested, right? Because they're asking the same question, but let's move on from that. Before we do, so I should say you're listening to the MediaSnackMeets podcast. You can find the full show notes at www.mediasnackpodcast.com and I apologize for the lots of background noise. This is a very noisy WeWork and they've in their wisdom decided to put sliding glass doors on all of the meeting rooms so hence the background noise. But anyway, we'll crack on. You play a role with the WFA, the World Federation of Advertisers as Diversity Ambassador, which sounds very grand. So tell me about that. What does that mean and what do you do for them,, and what are you trying to achieve with that?

Belinda Smith:

Yeah, that's great. So I sit on the WFA Executive Committee and we had a discussion around: we really want to make progress with diversity. Let me back up a little bit. The WFA is a forum of the world's biggest advertisers who come together to make positive change in the industry. And we try to take on issues that we think are important, even if they're like a little tangential to our day jobs. Diversity was big on our radar as something that we wanted to make positive progress against, and when we started having that conversation, it was very gender forward. It was lots of partnering like with UN Women, which is doing really fantastic work. Let's get involved in Unstereotype Alliance. And when you think about a lot of the diversity initiatives that are already happening that you could partner and support, many of them are focused on gender. My kind of discontent with that was gender is great, but we've got to be brave enough to talk about race, ethnicity, cultural diversity. Otherwise for me as a black person, I just can't really get excited about a diversity initiative that's not going to acknowledge that we need more black people in the industry. So I like to tell people like, no good deed goes unpunished. And I then had the wonderful opportunity to say, okay, well how do we do that? What does that mean? What does that look like? So I've been working with the WFA over the year to really have a drumbeat of content around the topic. Obviously they had a very robust diversity agenda, and I've been trying to punctuate that with things that take a deeper look beyond just gender. We've had some think pieces land, we've had a couple of webinars. I talked about this during their Global Marketer Week in Lisbon, which was fantastic and we'll talk about it again in upcoming Global Marketer Week next year. It really is just trying to say, yes, diversity is important. Let's be brave enough to talk about what the actual issue is and not just wane over and say, Oh, it's just about gender and nothing else is wrong here. So you know, diversity is also, it's a charged topic, it's really personal. It's got a lot of tension around it and my approach to programming around it, speaking on it, teaching on it like I was at Web Summit last week in Lisbon, is, we almost have to de-stigmatize diversity. We make it so stuffy and we label things like 'inclusion training'. We insinuate through our language and through our actions that there's a right and wrong way to do diversity and if you do it wrong, God, we're just going to eat you alive and that makes people so afraid to engage and I think that sucks.

Tom Denford:

That's what positions it as a problem. I think I liked Karen Blackett's quote that I've read recently and she said, "Diversity is not a problem. It's a solution". Which sounded like the nice thing. Is that a soundbite or did you agree with that?

Belinda Smith:

I think that's perfect. I think that's how we should be re-framing the discussion. It shouldn't be a punitive discussion about, oh man, you know your numbers don't look good, or yeah, you're doing it wrong or you really effed up on it. I think it should be more, more curious and we should create an open space where we feel comfortable asking those questions and comfortable saying the word 'black people' and comfortable talking about all kinds of diversity. My biggest thing that I try to advocate for is, my belief, is the fastest way to get there is to make the people in your business who control budget and to make decisions. Make those people diverse and by you know, by osmosis almost, you'll start making different decisions. You'll start asking different questions around your leadership table. You'll start coming up with new and better ideas, but because sometimes when we focus on diversity as a number or a checkbox or a trend, we see people that have larger pools of nonwhite candidates, US speaking, larger pools of nonwhite candidates at the lower levels of their organization that have no decision making ability and they also have no one above them who looks like them, who can mentor them or who they can see themselves aspiring to be. So my big push for diversity is start at the C-suite, start at the SVP and EVP level, make those places diverse and things will flow, and will follow from that. We don't have to make it so prescriptive and stuffy and charged I think.

Tom Denford:

It's good. My question on the diversity as a solution is, how do we encourage application and interest into the industry? Because that's something that I've always wondered where the gap is. And I say that as a business owner with two offices in downtown metropolitan areas in New York and London and we are, in the industry, a relatively visible business and we're open to application from and it is specifically listed on all job briefings and we have clear policy, but we don't get the application in from a diverse candidate set. We can probably do more to make sure that that is distributed wider and build relationships with academia for example in certain places to try and do that. But, I think, I've heard from certainly agency leaders that would say we just don't have enough diverse applications and candidates. So is there a kind of grass-root issue? I mean, so even if we change the mindset of leadership, which obviously completely agree and it has to trickle down from the top and to influence the cultures from position of influence, why are we not getting more diverse applications into the industry? Is that because advertising or marketing is it just seen, do you think, from the outside, as a closed industry? So therefore we have a like a bigger problem than just individuals decision making?

Belinda Smith:

That's a good question. And whatever answer I give you is going to be super personal to me. So I don't know that you can extrapolate it. I certainly view at least media in New York in many places as like a club, we all know each other. We're all of the same network and we pull from that network when it's time to hire. And I think coming in, not having a hook into that network already makes it feel impossible that you will ever get anywhere. The other thing about, at least thinking back to my agency experience entry level salary at an agency is like below the poverty line in most places. Especially like if you're thinking about having to pay for transportation in London. So the deck is stacked against them because we're talking about people who don't have as much economic access as the dominant class anyway and don't really have the luxury of taking a lower paid job and may not be already in that network. But this is why I think, again, it's important that you start at the top because let's say there are fewer applicants overall. So if we really want to do it well, we have to go hunt. Do I want to spend my time hunting day and night for the entry level associate manager that I need? Or would I rather spend that time hunting for a really high caliber VP, SVP candidate? And by the way, because I've done this in both levels, when you hunt at the lower end and then you kind of, you know woo them a little bit and assure them that this is a place they will like and they come in and the space isn't diverse, it feels a little bit like a bait and switch and churn is really high for any number of reasons. If you hunt at the top and you say, hey, we're not really great, we'd like to be better and we're going to empower you to make changes to the business that will impact that? That is really transformative and also those people will be able to bring in other networks into the business. The last thing that I'll say about this is I find it really disheartening. Many times when we talk about diversity and we can go back to, there's not a lot of qualified people who are diverse for this line of business, you know, to that I say when Programmatic really took off, no one was qualified. And we were hunting for people who like had medical degrees, because at least they were precise and they could do math or in New York, people you know who were about to have a heart attack from banking and moving them over to media. So why can't we be creative like that and why can't we transfer skills and why do we have to pull someone who's already here? Why can't we just be brave enough to take a smart person from an adjacent industry and give them a chance?

Tom Denford:

Good. Well said. I like that. I like the idea of hunting at the top. I think that's brilliant. That's going to stick, that one. So another big passion of yours, which is another misquoted, I think, or badly interpreted word, is 'transformation'. Right? So we've done the 'in-housing' thing, right? Which is what it's become. And then, you've helped us understand actually a far better definition of that. So, 'marketing org transformation', you call it, what is the issue that you're so upset about and what are we going to do about it then?

Belinda Smith:

So 'marketing org transformation' is my last futile attempt to get people to stop using in-housing. I once said to someone on a panel like I'm not using in-housing anymore. And they said, well, why are you going to call it? And I said, 'marketing org transformation'. When we talk about in-housing, I think it is laced with us versus them. It has, you know, the dangerous underlying assumption that there's a right model. And I like marketing transformation much better because within marketing transformation it's actually not precious about where the resources sit. It insinuates that is a fluid moving thing. It's a journey and it's not a destination. So if I think about kind of going back to my journey at EA, we had a vision for the team. We set it up that way. We ran it for a couple months. We found some places that we wanted to fine tune it. We changed the roles and the scope and responsibility we ran with that. We started thinking about what we need out of an agency partner. That changed our team. Again, like that's an exercise of transformation and I think instead of us trying to get to the right destination of how do we set up our marketing organization for success, it's really just being open to the fact that we are just going to iterate and we're gonna try to figure out which way it goes. The other thing about transformation is I believe it's not something that you can do alone. It makes me crazy when people or brands want to say, 'well we don't need agencies anymore' or 'agencies (wave of the hand over every holding company) are bad or crooked or whatever it is'. That's ridiculous. You will always need deep specialized knowledge in more areas than I can even name. If we had, you know, three hours sitting here and an agency brings to you that specialized and flexible model and if you think somehow that you've hacked a marketing team, you know, org chart, that means that you're not dependent on that. I think you're crazy. So if we accept that we need agencies, then maybe instead of shit-talking them, we should try to work with them to clearly state what it is that we need, which is what we did with you through our review, and then see who rises to the occasion. Perhaps this is again, because I've been on the agency side that I have a little empathy from clients wanting one thing one day and one thing the next. But I really do think it's a challenge of just saying, hey, we're a little blind in this. This is what we think we want to do. This is the principles of the partnership and what we'd like it to look like and let's get out there.

Tom Denford:

Yeah, and related to that, what's your view? I'm on a big campaign at the moment for us to simplify media. It has gotten way too complex and way out of hand and we've all been guilty of it, right on all sides for the last decade and as we're approaching the end of 2019 going into a new decade. That's my wish that we can all work together to simplify. And if we simplify and we can articulate media a bit better, what it does and how it works, the easier we make it, the more accessible it becomes to our CMOs and CFOs and CEOs. And such a large amount of money is going through these systems. They need to be aware of how these things work and they actually need to be a bit interested. And my observation in the last year is that most senior marketers that I've dealt with are pretty bored of media or intimidated by media at worst. So they can sit in meetings with their agencies or their technology partners or even sometimes their in house teams and not be prepared to ask questions, because they think that they're dumb questions. That is a terrible state of affairs and that we've got to radically kind of simplify and get that back. What's your take on that because you've been in a highly technical and highly specialized field, and we talked earlier about trying to build bridges to make it accessible to marketers. How do you do that?

Belinda Smith:

Oh this is a really great question. I was just debating someone this morning on a conference call about this. I think there are kind of two divergent paths we can take with media. And by the way, my perspective on this has shifted because I mean if you read something I wrote three years ago it was 'yeah, media is complicated. Not everything on earth is simple. Get over it and learn some complexity'. And now as we continue down that road, and I think the privacy debate underpins this as well, I view us as being at a fork in the road on the right side or the blue pill. We can continue with automation, we can continue with refining, optimizing, understanding, incremental, like really squeezing the penny as far as we can. And on the left side we can actually kind of step back, take a breath of air and remember the basic tenants of marketing and remember what it is that we wanted to use media for in the first place and think, hey, is there a more sane way to approach this? You know, on the technology side, I think we're really familiar with what that looks like, right? It's sheen learning, AI, algorithms. Then it's blockchain. Then it's fraudsters, and we have to outsmart the fraudsters and they caught onto that. Then we have to build this. You need monitoring technology, measurement, technology, tags, tags, tags, all of these things. Dynamic, creative cart abandoners, all of this stuff. To me, that view of media as something that I need an immediate return for that view of media as: my audience is unique, discreet and targetable. The view of: all media is the same and this is a cost exercise of how I get everyone in that discreet audience for the best price. That view of: media in and of itself is the competitive advantage and I really have to keep going down this road to get a little bit of margin over my competitors I think will lead us to a pretty perilous place. On the other hand, I think there are ways to say, you know what, if I want reach, if I want scale, if I want quality, instead of hammering the platforms over the head about all the video that's being uploaded, why don't I just work with the New York Times? You know what, like why don't I just zoom out and return to an era of having really deep partnerships. And by the way, you can create ecosystems, you can create mutually beneficial partnerships in businesses by partnering with that. And it can start with media, but it doesn't have to end with media. And I think we potentially may be able to circumvent a lot of the trouble that we're having in the automated space. If we think more purposely about what we want to use the media for, and think of alternative ways that we might be able to accomplish that.

Tom Denford:

Yeah, very good. I like that. So the final bit of this kind of complexity conundrum-- I think we're both passionately, vehemently against-- is the noise and I think it's accentuated hugely when you're actually on the advertiser side. When you're the marketer is going to conferences, going to award shows, listening to all the stuff that's out there, lots of divergent or contradictory opinion on everything down to the minutiae, you've been attending a load of these things, right? You get invited to everything. You get invited to speak on every panel, which is great, but you've seen it firsthand. How bad is that from the advertiser side?

Belinda Smith:

Well, as an advertiser you get to go to most events for free. So it is awful. It's a daily deluge of... attend this, so-and-so's headlining this. I use that to my advantage when I first started at EA because not a lot of people understood us past being a video game company. So I was really, really heavy on the conference circuit just to try to promote for recruiting purposes. Hey, we're doing cool stuff in media here and to try to make EA a thing and get some demand from a recruiting side. Once I made the decision to stop doing that, I became really frustrated because when friends who are at different brands would go speak or you know, on the off chance I would go to something, I just thought everything everyone was saying was total bullshit and sorry to the ad-tech land. But I think ad-tech's been bullshit for a long time because a lot of times you pay to sponsor something, you speak at it and your panel's thinly veiled as a sales vehicle. But from the marketers side, I thought it was just such bullshit. Like people would get on stage and be like, 'yes, and we're going to be independent from all agencies by this time period. And we've discovered these algorithms and, we wrestled Facebook into these special things for us'. And then they kind of get off stage and go backstage and I'm like, wow, that's incredible. And they're like, yeah, I mean, yeah, we're kind of halfway there. I'm just like, Oh my God. So, to me, it really builds the zeitgeist of the 'us versus them' in-house versus agency. There's a right model. There's a way to do it. Look how successful I am, and knowing that those success stories aren't always the way they're presented really irritates me. As someone who's invited to a lot of things, people will say, hey, we just awarded you X, Y, andZ , so come to the dinner keynote, speak at this thing, and it's such a gross ego stroking area for some reason now. It just makes me sad that there's so much programming and content in that we've gotten pretty far from the source. I think I've started speaking again, but now I'll only speak about diversity because I think that is so important that, you know, I don't care what the conference is, if people are going to hear the message, that makes me really happy.

Tom Denford:

You're going to get a ton more invites now you've said that, sorry.

Belinda Smith:

Hey, if they're for diversity, sign me up. I'll, I'll be there. But yeah, I really, I really hope that we can start to turn that around a little bit.

Tom Denford:

Yeah. Let's not talk about specific conferences. I think people have got their own opinions of the good and the bad ones, right? But when they work, when they are good, when you do have those flushes, I mean you said earlier, you know, the WFA marketer week was really impressive this last year and they've got themselves, they've got that together, you know, that seems to have got some great momentum. What are the other kind of, again, we're not, we don't talk about specifics, but when does it work? When does a conference really good? What does it need to do?

Belinda Smith:

Yeah. I also think this is a question that's really personal to where you are in your journey overall and what you're seeking to learn. For me personally, conferences work when they're not all about media and when they're not all about marketing. So one of the, I'm trying not to use names, but one of the conferences that I love happens in New York over a week of time and there are so many diverse topics, and to me I think that's a lot of what we're missing. We're caught in this really tight loop of, you know, ad-tech, MarTech, DSPs, MTA, MMM. And we don't open that up and say, 'but how do we get inspired creatively', 'but how do we solve problems in different nations that actually don't even have anything to do with our business'? How do we engage our employees in a way that's exciting in terms of them into champions for us? I think conferences personally for me work when they have such a wide breadth of content that you kind of can zoom in and out. Like I can go to something that's focused on media and then I can go be inspired by something that on the surface I thought would have nothing to do with it. And it kind of breaks it up in that way. The other thing I'll say is I think when you program and invent in that way, there's less pressure that your speakers are trying to outdo each other. So, if you program a conference on all one thing, let's just say it's almost Thanksgiving here in the state. So let's say you program a conference about cooking Turkey. Everyone who gets up there is going to try to convince you why they have the best Turkey recipe ever. And to me, I think that feeds the not 100% truth telling on the conference circus disease that we have. Yeah.

Tom Denford:

Yeah. Right, before we go, those of you listening that know Belinda, will know that you have a great positive energy. We've talked about some relatively negative things and we've been a bit kind of maybe a bit morose, and maybe I've led you that way. I want you to look ahead because there's lots of things that we talk about where we can change the industry for the better, right? And then you articulate those very well. Some of the things that we should be doing as an industry. If I get you to cast your mind forward a year, and I was to ask you to reflect, what do you hope that it is as an industry that we've achieved and that might have changed?

Belinda Smith:

Even though maybe some of the nuts and bolts of what we've discussed have seemed negative, I think it's all incredibly positive. And the reason is I'm not the only person with these thoughts and this surely won't be the only conversation where thoughts like these come out. I do think in many places we're starting to question ourselves more and that makes me super, super excited to follow that train of thinking and to follow that questioning in, see where it gets us. I, this is gonna sound so cheesy and maybe it's because EA had been in California for two years, but what I hope we accomplish is more vulnerability, which is to say letting go of 'there is one right way to do things'. Letting go of 'I know the right way and it's like my secret that I'm going to keep letting go of right now'. I think we use data to tell us what to do and the assumption when you do that is that everything is knowable and that everything has a right answer. And that's why we've gotten so far down this path of 'need more data automation. We can predict it, we can model it', et cetera. I hope that we have some vulnerability and are able to say, 'we don't always know the right answer'. Maybe there isn't a right answer. Maybe it's just not knowable, but we can still act in the face of that anyway. And I'm so encouraged to hear people speaking in that way now and I'm thinking now about Rishad Tobaccowala. He is someone who I always love listening to, and I think he just had a book come out. But yeah, I think the more we start to pause, step back and question, the better, and I think we're really hitting a tipping point for people finally doing that. So looking ahead, I think that we start changing the questions that we're asking and instead of asking 'what was ROI on this $3' we can ask, 'well, how should measurement play into how we plan and prioritize our marketing communications and what are some different models we can experiment with?'.

Tom Denford:

Belinda Smith, thank you.

Belinda Smith:

Thank you!

Tom Denford:

Who would you like to meet on future episodes? Please let us know@mediasnackpodcast.com where you will also find previous guests, including leading media executives from companies like P&G, L'Oreal, Mars, and many more. Plus some of the industry's most provocative thought leaders, people like professor Mark Ritson and Gary Vaynerchuk. You can subscribe to get new episodes each week, and if you liked this episode and you think somebody else would, then please do share it. Thank you so much for listening.