Gavin McNicholl is head of production at Vungle, a specialist in mobile video advertising. Here we find out what his typical day looks like.

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Please describe your job: What do you do?

As Head of Production for Creative Labs at Vungle, I lead our global production team based in San Francisco, London, Tokyo and Singapore. I oversee the production of various creative products, video, interactive, 360, VR, AR and Playable ads, ensuring our clients are getting the right creative for the right campaign.

Every day, I aim to provide “performance art direction” which is basically the creative strategy that drives performance through engaging creative. The best creative comes from great trusted relationships, so we are committed to providing our clients with the highest level of creative consultation based on testing and seven years of mobile-first best practices. In this regard I’m an evangelist and ambassador for Vungle to our global advertisers. Creative and Product go hand in hand and I work cross-function to build the tech to support our creative vision.

Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?

I report into our GM of Creative Labs, Si Crowhurst, and we are both based in London. Together with our Head of Automation Ian Harris, we formed Vungle Creative Labs back in 2012, with the aim to reimagine mobile advertising using the combination of data and creative elements. 

What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?

Today, you must be global. At Vungle, we have a global client base, launching global campaigns to a global audience, so this requires a global creative team. We analyse our network for local trends and tailor our work to ensure our advertisers have the best creative to succeed in every market. For example, this Chinese New Year we developed a specific “red envelope” companion ad for one of our top china advertisers.  It became our highest performing creative over the CNY period and doubled click-through rates.

Next, understanding that mobile is not TV (or even web) is key. A mobile device is unique, you play games on it, you speak to your mum and maybe even organise your romantic life. Mobile demands a unique creative approach and you can unlock the possibilities of the device by integrating native capabilities such as gesture controls, the camera, location and more.

Finally, you must be creative. While that advice might sound obvious, all advertisers have challenges and we try to find creative solutions. At Vungle, we have such varied clients you need to be creative in your approach, your campaign set up and more.

gavin mcnicholl, vungle
Gavin McNicholl, Vungle

Tell us about a typical working day…

Let me walk you through a typical day at Vungle for me:

At the start of each day, reporting is top of mind. For the first meeting of the day we check our top 100 advertiser accounts and we look at detailed performance reports for the previous day, broken down by campaign, creative and territory, and look for cases where we can try to impact performance with custom creative production. For example, if a new campaign was targeting the China market we would start the production process on some localised assets based on our best practices for that market and make adjustments as needed going forward. We also use these reports to find local and regional variations of creative elements that drive performance. It’s this continuous data-driven feedback loop that has led Vungle-created ad units to account for 90% of our ad spend in our top 100 accounts. Next up I will check in with our APAC creative teams, repeating this process for each of their top accounts.

Next is testing. We are committed to testing so we typically have meetings to follow up on ongoing creative tests running on our network. We work with our performance ops team to ensure we are running high impact tests that help our clients understand best practice and grow their campaigns!

In the afternoon, I review new creative from our production team; our clients demand the highest quality units, so we need to make sure that we consistently deliver. I meet with our automation team to concept our automation tools to help us scale our custom creative and empower our advertisers to meet their objectives. Periodically I also advise our top publishers on ad placements and best practices, including creating visual concepts on how to best implement ads while maintaining user experience.

Finally, before heading out I make sure to meet on our key US accounts, to track performance and how we can better support these accounts with creative.

What do you love about your job? What sucks?

I love working with creative people who are driven and want to make an impact. Mobile is such a fast moving and evolving space and we have the chance to help define that – there’s nothing about this that one could hate.

What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?

Our clients have metrics and we use creative to help them reach them. We optimize for “conversion”, usually an app install, but also down funnel metrics such as return on ad spend (ROAS) and retention. During our creative workshops at this year’s China Joy (or Digital Entertainment Expo) we presented data on what creative drives ROAS and retention in RPG (a gaming genre where maintaining high value users is very important).

What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?

On a daily basis, I take advantage of our performance data and our automation tools and of course, our dedicated creative team. In digital advertising we believe in being true 360-degree creatives and our team is able to code, design, animate to the highest standard.

How did you get into mobile ads, and where might you go from here?

Strangely enough I have a background in fine art and was a practicing video artist and graphic designer. Speaking new visual languages and the possibilities of technology has always appealed to me. Looking forward, I can see something developing in the intersection of creative, AI and automation.

Which recent campaigns have you admired?

Rovio has been a key client for us (we used to have an Angry Birds mural in our first London office and now we have monthly meetings with the Rovio creative team!). Such high-profile IP demands innovative creative. We were concepting an AR playable experience for Angry Birds 2 and liked the idea of shooting pigs in an AR space with a first person view, so we created a 360° playable experience and this became their highest performing creative.

Spotify and Smirnoff’s Equalizer – Equality and music are very important at Vungle (our Music Slack channel is the stuff of legend) so this campaign really struck a chord. It’s got tech, it’s talking to an issue and it’s not afraid to challenge the viewer and ask questions of their behaviour!

Do you have any advice for people who want to work in advertising?

Don’t be afraid of data. You have clients with clear KPIs which you need to help them meet. Follow the data, always have a creative team that is as familiar with ROAS and CPIs as they are with Photoshop or D3.js. Additionally, always be committed to testing, think outside the box but make sure you are following the performance!

Finally, remember the user! It doesn’t matter who they are, users demand to be engaged with and delighted.

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