Josh Partridge is Managing Director & VP UK and Co-Head of EMEA at Verizon Media. We recently caught up with him to find out what it has been like taking on his role during the pandemic.

Plus, we hear his thoughts on the state of the ad industry, and the key trends that will continue to drive the ‘digital revolution’.

Please describe your job: What do you do?

For my part at Verizon Media, I’m responsible for driving the UK’s business strategy: helping our customers understand how to get great results from our technology platforms and premium content to reach their audiences in fun, interesting and relevant ways.

Central to this is bringing together all of the different teams in our London office – from product and commercial to creative technology and video production – to ensure our work is being guided by the same strategy and principles. Layered on top of this also comes my commercial responsibility in the UK, as well as the Nordics and partners markets – so it’s a very diverse role. No two days are the same and I can safely say there’s never a dull moment!

Talk us through a typical day.

Having joined Verizon Media in the middle of the pandemic, I haven’t actually been able to meet anyone face to face yet, which is a unique way to start a new role! Typically, when you start a new job you’d meet people in larger groups and do broader introductions, but I’ve been really focusing on getting those all important one-on-one conversations in the diary with my new colleagues and teams. For me, this has been critical in building those personal relationships and trust throughout the organisation.

It’s also been particularly useful in helping me get up to speed with the different areas of the business, and getting to the bottom of challenges that different teams may be facing so that we can get to solutions quicker. In the office environment, these important one-on-ones can often fall by the wayside, so while our virtual diaries might be slightly fuller, I think there’s an argument that we’re in fact developing deeper relationships and we were perhaps under-communicating before.

Having managed multi-markets in my previous roles, where communicating over video calls has been the norm, this virtual way of working has actually felt quite natural to me. While it would be great to be able to meet the teams in real life (and I hope to be able to very soon!), there is something unique about the relationships you can build in this virtual world and the insights you can gain into people’s lives. You get to see into their kitchens, living rooms, meet their kids and pets – things you would never typically be able to experience without the current set-up.

As well as driving some really authentic conversations and shared experiences, this also helps to create some personality in meetings – and embracing this can bring a much more relaxed environment for our teams!

Another really important part of my day in recent times has been homeschooling, like many other parents and families across the country. So I often have two little girls running around the house and interrupting calls – giving my teams that authentic window into my life that I mentioned earlier. Verizon Media has done an amazing job of supporting parents and families throughout the lockdowns, particularly with flexibility around things like homeschooling.

On the whole, my day is really diverse – covering lots of different topics. Getting into the nitty gritty detail of these topics and ideas is something that I really enjoy, likely driven by my financial background where close detail and analysis were key. I also love embracing the fast pace of the business and industry as a whole – again something that’s second nature to me following my background working with start-ups, where we needed to make quick decisions every day. This agility and love for detail are certainly things that I’ve brought with me to the role at Verizon Media.

How do you maintain an effective work/life balance?

One of the key things we’ve tried to do across the business is create a free window from 12.30pm until 2pm every day so that people can disconnect from their screens, go for a run, clean the house, spend time with the kids or dog – whatever they need to do to relax, re-energise and recharge. It’s a hugely challenging time for everyone and we want to make sure we’re giving our employees that much-needed headspace and as much flexibility as possible to get the balance right. Maintaining team morale and making sure our employees feel supported by the business is one of my key priorities, now more than ever.

While my wife leads the charge with homeschooling, I will don my best chef’s hat and spend some of this time in the afternoon making lunch for the family. As a team, we also did a 100km challenge in December to encourage us to get out and about – although I must admit, running isn’t my forte and I didn’t tally up as many kms as the rest of the team!

Within the commercial team, we’re also rolling out meeting-free Friday afternoons, so that people can use this time to focus on their personal development, whether that be writing a blog for the business’ website or attending virtual events and networking. We want to ensure that our teams are given the opportunity to continue learning and developing their skills. Empowering them to stay up-to-date with the latest insights, trends and legislation across the industry also helps to ensure that we can best serve our customers.

One of the things that has always helped me to maintain effective work/life balance, and advice I often share with my teams, is to be disciplined and structure your diary. Block out time to read that report you’ve had filed for the last week or attend that industry event you’re interested in – be organised with your time and focus on working smart.

How has strategy changed at your company in the past 18 months?

You may have seen the news that we have agreed a deal with Apollo Global to buy the whole Verizon Media company, with our new business becoming “Yahoo” once the deal closes and we’re obviously very excited for the future.

We continue to focus on three core areas: our industry-leading DSP and SSP platform offerings; the performance side of our business; and our strategic partnerships – drawing upon the demand for immersive experiences that has been accelerated through the lockdown, and as we look forward to the game-changing capabilities of 5G.

The ways in which we’ve delivered upon this strategy to our customers has evolved in light of the pandemic and we’ve taken thoughtful steps on how we can continue to prioritise our key focus areas, while at the same time using our expertise and assets to support our customers, partners and individuals alike during the pandemic.

Verizon Media has been keeping people connected across the world throughout the pandemic. Our media brands like Yahoo UK have been keeping millions of people connected to their news and email services, while our advertising platforms have been keeping brands and customers connected through new and innovative ad experiences across screens, with demand for extended reality (XR) content and formats – the kinds of experiences that will be supercharged by 5G connectivity in the near future – that are fun and engaging for consumers to try out through our Verizon Media Immersive offering definitely accelerating. And our Verizon Media Media Platform has ensured that live-streaming events in music, sport and more have been able to reach global audiences through our own and our customers’ properties while there has been no, or limited, physical attendance for instance.

Highlighting these 5G use cases to global audiences has therefore been something we’ve been able to continue focusing on amidst the pandemic, particularly through projects such as The Fabric of Reality, a fully immersive fashion show created with our award-winning RYOT studio, as well as developments such as Yahoo’s Watch Together feature, a fantastic co-viewing experience designed to innovate live events and enable people to co-watch, interact and immerse themselves in entertainment events ranging from sports to music. We initially partnered with the NFL on this project and it’s been a real game changer in helping fans to reconnect over the past 12 months amidst stadium closures, as well as recently bringing this feature to international audiences in the UK and beyond through our exclusive live-stream of the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Conference on Yahoo Finance.

From a platform point of view, walking into 2020, the vision was for Verizon Media to be one of the biggest DSPs in the market and to show the value of the platform to our existing and prospective customers. While one of the challenges here was the reduction in ad spend due to the pandemic, we were able to offer our customers solutions such as Brand Stories in Native formats, with an omnichannel DSP that allows customers the flexibility to switch spending and creative in almost real-time if needed. For example with DOOH, as footfall reduced across these locations and consumers were staying indoors more, the spend and messaging changed.

Using our industry-leading data and insight to help our customers reach the right audiences through the right platform at the right time is therefore something that we continued to drive over the last 12 months.

How has customer behaviour (or your clients’ customer behaviour) changed during the pandemic?

When Covid-19 and the resulting lockdowns struck here in the UK – and globally – all previous plans for 2020 went out the window and our customers suddenly had the daunting task of planning for a year where no-one really knew what was around the corner. At Verizon Media, we’ve always put people and trust at the heart of everything we do, so it was critical to ensure that we continued being supportive and reliable partners to our customers – for example, giving them access to useful data and insights, creative services, and allowing for flexibility when it came to servicing levels. This flexibility and strong line of communication between the business and our customers was paramount – understanding that their plans may need to evolve last minute, which meant we also had to adapt our strategies to support this.

Ultimately, Covid-19 led to a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour which meant our clients had to adapt, and fast. One of the most prominent changes has been the acceleration of ecommerce and resulting rise of the ‘buy now, pay later’ model which we expect to continue gaining momentum this year. At Verizon Media we have the data, insights and expertise to help our customers reach shoppers at the right moments through the right channels, shifting items from online wishlists and baskets to products in hand through careful targeting. We’re continually talking with our customers about these changes in consumer behaviour so we can adapt our advertising strategies accordingly and empower our customers to find new opportunities that lend themselves to these new habits.

Why ‘buy now, pay later’ services are booming in ecommerce

Additionally, as a result of the local and national lockdowns, we have seen changes in not only how people consume media, but where. For example, with fewer people commuting to work we have seen changes in DOOH, so brands need to consider different ways to reach and engage with their audiences. We expect DOOH to grow again in line with relaxed lockdown measures and as we return to normalcy, but a more holistic, omnichannel approach will be key to success. This is something we at Verizon Media have championed long before these recent shifts in behaviour, and as such have built a strong level of understanding and expertise on how to execute this effectively for our customers now and in the future.

What do you predict for the future?

The digital revolution has been underway for a decade now, but has really accelerated over the course of the last 12 months, with our reliance on businesses and individuals forced to shift much of their offline work and practices online. As a result, the top three key trends I expect to see over the coming years are:

1. The shifting of screens

For many, the pandemic and resulting lockdowns have shifted the status of their devices from a nice-to-have to a must-have. How and when we use devices has pivoted over the last year, as many households have had to turn to screens to keep their children educated and entertained, work remotely or order groceries online. As we continue to spend more time at home we expect this shift to continue so brands need to understand how they can engage with customers over a variety of platforms.

2. Online and offline experiences will be supercharged with 5G

With sporting events, live gigs and concerts being cancelled throughout 2020, we have seen a huge appetite amongst consumers for virtual events. This year, we can expect AR and VR technologies to continue bridging that physical and digital divide – but with 5G now being rolled out globally, we can expect these capabilities and experiences to be even bigger and better.

For example, with 4G technology, you can only watch sports games the way that someone else decides to show them to you – there’s no ability to truly customise that experience. 5G can transform the way people view sport and introduce more immersive ways to watch and engage with games at-home or in the stadium itself – with multiple player angles and AR-layered stats on the game, all in real-time.

We already started to see new capabilities arising with immersive virtual experiences in 2020, but with 5G, we can go that one step further and actually enhance physical in-person experiences too. Beyond the entertainment industry, it will also make a significant impact across the likes of transportation, retail, healthcare and education.

Ultimately, 5G will give small businesses, start-ups and consumers access to the same technology that up until recently was only available to large companies and major research institutions. It will be a major advancement for digital inclusivity, and something that we’re hugely excited to be at the forefront of with our partners and customers.

3. Connecting digital to the physical world at scale – shown recently by the return of the QR code

Whether it’s the NHS track and trace app, or ordering from your local pub, Covid-19 has given the humble QR code a spotlight, turning it into an everyday essential and proving its value as the perfect touch-free medium. At Verizon Media we pride ourselves in creating digital content and experiences that are extremely accessible meaning we can use QR technology to activate AR experiences, bringing online executions into the real world and vice versa. This will prove invaluable as brands look to create engaging, immersive experiences that are easily accessible to all.

For brands and marketers to succeed in a post-Covid world, understanding and adapting strategies based on these behaviour changes will be vital. An additional layer to consider here will be the industry-wide regulation we’re seeing come down the pipeline, from HFSS advertising laws to growing regulations around data and privacy, and the future of marketing in a cookie-less world. As such, we can expect to see a renaissance of trust accelerating now and in the coming years, with premium, trusted brands coming out on top.

How QR codes are finally enabling innovation in 2020

What advice would you give a marketer right now?

One of the most important things for marketers to be doing at the moment is staying on top of how consumers’ habits are continuing to shift and evolve. Having this understanding of consumer sentiment, demand and behaviour is critical in informing the right strategy and platforms to be engaging with your audiences in valuable and meaningful ways. This is something we ensure is built into all of our work for our partners and customers, through our focus on insight-led solutions and access to huge volumes of data.

In line with this, having flexibility as a marketer is key, and being able to adapt to these evolving behaviours and demands with robust and workable solutions.

With digital becoming more intertwined than ever in our everyday lives, it’s also important for marketers to take the time to learn, reflect and reassess on how to connect with consumers in the new digital environment, for example through immersive experiences and even the resurgence of QR codes as mentioned earlier. As we enter a cookie-less world, understanding not only how to reach consumers, but how to engage and connect with them in more meaningful ways, will be more important than ever.

Beyond this, trust will continue to be a huge factor – not only between consumers and brands, but between marketers and their customers. Marketers will therefore need to focus on forging strong relationships and facilitating partnerships that are built upon transparency and openness as we move into a post-Covid and digitally evolved world.