Today we’ve got one of our best interviews for ages, as we catch up with the head of a compliance specialist shining light into the world of media agencies and adtech.
Find out more about what Stephen Broderick gets up to as CEO of FirmDecisions, the company that was “first in the world to bring media transparency to the forefront”.
And if you want to appear in this feature, get in touch!
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
Stephen Broderick: I’m CEO of FirmDecisions, the marketing compliance business I started twenty years ago and sold to Ebiquity in the summer of 2012. I report into Michael Karg, the CEO of the Ebiquity Group.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
SB: What do I do? That’s a good question — it’s hard to keep track sometimes! My day is predominantly split between three areas: Running client business, meeting with clients, and trying to win new clients. And of course, when I get a spare minute, running day-to-day operations at FirmDecisions. We have 14 offices in three different time zones that I need to keep on top of.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
SB: We sell knowledge that saves our clients; advertisers, money — often money that they didn’t know they were losing. Presenting that in a pitch requires serious communication skills. People don’t like being told long standing partners are not being as transparent as expected.
Tell us about a typical working day…
SB: I wake up with the birds, very early, then catch up with the US and Asia from the night before. Then, if I’m in the UK, it’s a straight commute to the office in London, catching up on more emails still. I reckon I spend half of my time catching up on emails! My day to day involves probably about 50 per cent new business, and 25 per cent each client business and meeting clients.
That’s if I’m in the UK, though. My working week often involves flying across Europe, Asia and America. I spend my whole life on the move — I’m in Singapore as we speak. It’s what many would call a ‘jet set lifestyle’ but this has been my reality for 30 years now, and it’s really not that glamorous. I spend more time in the air than most pilots!
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
SB: While I do moan about the travel, no two days are the same — I’m rarely in the same place two days on the trot and I’ve seen a side of the world most can only dream of. Above all though I love helping clients — it’s still a thrill after all these years.
The travel can be testing. I’m never away at weekends — that’s rule number one — but I do have to leave my daughter from Monday to Friday, I miss parent’s evenings and things like that, and it really gets to me. I have to add as well – I’m a Spurs season ticket holder, and even though you can watch the premier league anywhere in the world now, I miss more games than I get to see. It’s the little things.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
SB: I still have goals. Advertisers are still losing money to undisclosed media benefits and a non-transparent supply chain, and we want that to end. At least 50 per cent of advertisers don’t audit — the more firms in the marketing supply chain that operate transparently, the better the ecosystem and greater our success.
I’m incredibly proud of FirmDecisions, we were the first in the world to bring media transparency to the forefront, and we’re breaking barriers all the time. We have changed the industry. And even though other generalist audit firms try to muscle in, it’s like they say, imitation is the greatest form of flattery, so it doesn’t bother me. We did it first, and we do it better.
As a measure for success, I won’t bore you with KPIs and metrics, but as a more holistic measurement, and one I’m most proud of: it’s rare for someone to leave FirmDecisions. A lot of our staff have been with us for 10, 15 years plus. One or two have left to have kids or for personal reasons — but it’s incredibly rare for someone to leave FD.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
SB: Can I say email? I love email. But my favourite tool is meeting time — you can’t beat face to face, old fashioned client service for getting the job done. People don’t work like that anymore though. The long lunches have shortened somewhat, and many would say we’re better for it. Most of our clients are procurement people — there’s strict rules and guidelines about what they can take. The change is welcome, but it’s a rarity to spend any quality time with clients anymore.
How did you end up founding FirmDecisions, and where might you go from here?
SB: I’d love to sit here and tell you it was borne from my ethical position on marketing transparency, but I saw a business opportunity, plain and simple. I’d worked in media long enough to bare witness first hand to money being hidden from advertisers — I knew what the issues were because I’d been a part of the problem. We knew advertisers didn’t understand it — they had a misplaced trust in their agencies. You have this moment where you start to think: why is no one doing anything about this? I’d seen crack teams of auditors sent in from the Big Four accounting firms that were not marketing finance specialists, and so missed things. I just thought, there must be a market for sharing this type of knowledge. And twenty years later, it looks like I was right!
From here, we still have ground to make — to play a wider role within Ebiquity, our parent company. At least 50 per cent of the global media market doesn’t audit, which means a huge amount of money that is potentially not being managed in the way in which advertisers expect. Marketers trust their agencies, but even so, as happens in any well run business, auditing is a best practice approach to ensure processes are being adhered to; agencies should not be in a position where they’re marking their own homework.
Which adtech has impressed you recently?
SB: Nothing, to be frank. Adtech should enable transparency, given the granularity of the data it can make available. However, those who manage that adtech on behalf of advertisers; typically agencies, choose the level of information to be afforded to their clients, and thereby often reduce transparency in the supply chain, the opposite of what these platforms were meant to achieve. The worrying point is that often, due to the reliance of the adtech stack on the agency market, this activity is allowed to happen, so as the supply chain continues to grow and vendors continue to take a slice of the advertisers marketing budget.
What advice would you give somebody who wants to shine a light on where their adspend goes?
SB: Audit your agencies, marketing consultancies and direct vendors. Even as a matter of best practice. Loads of people I speak with say ‘I have the best contract.’ But you don’t know that until you test it — every audit we do identifies issues. The problems today are the same problems as two decades ago. It’s a bit like the game of whack-a-mole, you fix one transparency related issue and another pops up in its place. We highlighted the problem first, all that time ago — and I’m very proud of that — but unfortunately the transparency debate goes on, perhaps even more prolifically.
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