‘A hostile takeover’: Huawei’s Nick Graham on the transition to digital media

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With Martin Sorrell’s departure from WPP, many anticipate the end of the holding company era. Nick Graham, Huawei’s global head of digital marketing and media, said the industry’s ambition is to now bring the creative and media sides of advertising closer together, but he has a word of caution.

“If we are moving back into a world where media and creative work closer together, we have to be cognizant that the media world is a lot different than what it was before,” said Graham at the Digiday Programmatic Marketing Summit Europe last month in Estoril, Portugal. “Earlier, it was TV or radio advertising. Now, it is technology-driven infrastructure.”

Graham discusses transparency and leading a global media team in an age of changing technology. Edited highlights from the session appear below:

The transition from old to new media is difficult
“There’s old media that hasn’t yet digitized, but people are engaging on their phones. Investment hasn’t yet tracked this behavioral shift. This is key in what we see on clients’ side and what challenges we face. We know the fantasy ‘Mad Men’ area. It was a command-and-control leadership. Now, we’re in a geeky era. Rather than it being a merger of equals and culture change, what we’ve seen today is a hostile takeover. You can’t change those old functions so easily. How are you going to teach someone who grew up on press clippings what ads.txt files are?”

It’s impossible to master everything in digital
“The procurement nature of the media and brand side was pricing, getting the right price. Now, the function includes tech procurement. We’re getting to a state where it’s not possible to be a master of all things digital. That’s true for the ad side and also the technology and infrastructure side. If you don’t know what you want to get out of the technology, then how do you know what to buy? The traditional CMO role is unable to deal with this, and that’s why we’re seeing more roles like chief media officer, chief digital officer and such coming up that are splitting out of capability and function.”

Narrowing focus is key
“When we build a media practice within a global organization, I have three big biases. If your business isn’t in the content or ad business, should you be doing that, or outsource it? Focus on your core capability. Develop smart partnerships. You can’t have every function on the brand side. Build unique strengths because if everyone is buying the same technologies from ad vendors, you’re not going to have a differentiator in terms of how your ads are received by your audience.”

Make promises you can keep
“On the vendor side, we’re being sold a lot of technology. Every solution promises to improve [return on investment]. We need to be careful in terms of what we’re promised, in terms of metrics and how we’re selling the metrics.”


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