Interviewing the Interviewers: Ronan Shields

One of the privileges and joys of journalism is meeting and interviewing truly inspirational people.  The new digital age has meant this privilege has now opened up beyond professional journalists, with some of the most thought-provoking interviews now conducted by numerous industry thought leaders in addition to our most respected journalists.

In NDA’s Interviewing the Interviewers series, we caught up with some of the best interviewers in our industry, from journalists to independent content creators, turning the tables to find out what makes them tick.

Ronan Shields, adtech reporter on Adweek, is one is one of the most influential journalists in the adtech sector. He discusses his press release frustration and his desire for candid plain talking,

What is your biggest hope and your biggest fear for the digital industry in 2019?

For the digital media business, I’d say that my biggest hope would be that increased scrutiny from marketers over how their digital media spend is performing will prompt media buyers to spread their budgets in a way that better reflects how audiences spend their time on the internet, therefore in a way that could aid market plurality.

The fear the anticipated global recession is actually realised and negatively impacts the industry in a way that has a real human cost has got to be on everyone’s mind. 

What was your biggest personal industry highlight of 2018?

My team will get back to you on that.

Who was the most inspirational person you interviewed in 2018 and why?

Brian Wieser from Pivotal Research, AKA ‘the most quoted man in advertising’. Such a knowledgeable guy who manages to not let the (warranted) adulation go to his head.

It amazes me at how he manages to find time to help everybody given how busy he is. He’s literally a machine and such a pleasure to spend time with as well.  

What one technology are you most excited about this year and why?

‘Excited’ is a subjective term. However, it will be interesting to see how the universal ID initiatives – such as DigiTrust, Ad Consortium ID and Unified ID – will have a material impact on the sector.

Also, will all of these press releases about blockchain that I read in 2018 actually lead to anything?

What was your favourite ad or digital experience of 2018?

The Google Home ad with Macaulay Culkin was really good, as was the Black Mirror one from the beginning of 2018. The Burger King Alexa hacks were also clever.

What is the buzzword or phrase you’d like to ban forever?

There’s probably too many to single out one in particular. But what I would say is that the customary preambles in the opening lines of press releases are usually frustrating.

Things like ‘Digital AdCoX, the leading blah blah blah … ‘. Just get to the point please, we receive so many press releases every day.   

Who’s the one industry figure you’d most like to interview you yet haven’t? 

There are all the obvious names – Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Sundhar Pichai, Marissa Mayer, etc.

However ultimately what I’d like to get at is how do these behemoths balance their utopian public messages – such as ‘Don’t be Evil’ – with satisfying shareholder demand for ROI which almost always involves treating people like commodities.

So anyone that could speak authoritatively, and candidly, on this would be ideal.  

How could someone persuade you to interview them and what would put you off completely?

If they could give assurances that they will speak plainly and give an accurate reflection of what’s going on in the industry, and not just a promotion of their product/service. What would put me off? I can’t really say in a line, you just kind of develop a sixth sense about these things.

Read more in the Interviewing the Interviewers series here.   

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