We’re asking some of our industry’s leading figures to nominate their digital hero and to explain what’s so special about them.
Rowly Bourne is the founder of Rezonence, the company on a mission to help the publishing industry monetise itself through responsible advertising with its FreeWall model.
Who is your digital hero?
Emma Syred, now Visa’s Interim Marketing Director – Vietnam & Laos. I first knew her from her UK role running digital innovation for Visa.
What have they done to win hero status in your eyes?
Long before ISBA and other brands started discussing things like fake news and ad fraud that The Conscious Advertising Network is focussing on, Visa and Emma were assessing the efficacy of their paid media.
In social media, instead of following the trend of paying influencers who built their following to monetise, Visa has supported “influencers” who have a following because of what they do outside of social media, such as cyclists and Olympiads. This was even more apparent at this summer’s FIFA World Cup, with many of the top athletes being able to compete at the highest level as a result of financial support from Visa.
In editorial media, they have been building a marketplace of publishers that by advertising with, are not only providing quality ad environments but helping to ensure journalism can be well funded and remains free for consumers.
How has her heroism helped drive digital?
Emma’s heroism is twofold, and she will cringe when she reads this, as she is not one for chasing fame or being on ‘digirati’ lists.
Her attitude and career shows what being positive and grasping opportunities with both hands can do. She jumped into digital before Facebook was being founded in a Harvard dorm, at a time when it was referred to as “new media”, and therefore ended up being years ahead of the rest of us. Roles at Wunderman and Ogilvy on blue chip clients such as P&G and BT led her to Visa, and her latest role as marketing director of Vietnam & Laos is just further proof of what this wonderful industry can offer you if you are prepared embrace opportunities.
Secondly in this world of short termism and my concerns with this, it shows great brand foresight to acknowledge that where you spend your money today, impacts the world we will have to advertise in tomorrow. By quietly taking a stance, supporting true role models instead of just people looking to monetise their followers and by investing in journalism, Visa will ensure we have both in the future, and let’s not forget both provide excellent branding opportunities.
What the biggest challenges in digital we need another hero to solve?
I had the challenge of standing up for advertising as the best revenue source for journalism during the Government’s famed Cairncross Review, but my voice was largely drowned out — which for those who know me is quite an achievement — by the many journalists who think that consumers want to pay for the news, rather than see unfashionable advertising.
Advertising done properly can have a tremendous impact not only for brands, but the media owners who benefit from it; and whilst there is, in theory, lots of noise being made for how we can advertise better, in practise very little is changing. As long as the industry is being incentivised to chase short-term easily measurable metrics and not long-term business performance, it’s difficult to envisage any real change coming about, so we need heroes throughout the ecosystem, pushing for genuine business performance that will ensure brands are getting their money’s worth. This, in turn, will see quality journalism getting the ad budgets it deserves.
What is your most heroic personal achievement so far in digital?
Over the last five years, many people have been fooled into thinking I can only be a quintessential banker — I am after all a “former Mergers & Acquisitions wallah”, as Guardian journalist Roy Greenslade teased me. And I have, on many occasions, been told to go back to banking, that Rezonence would never take off.
Five years on, I believe I have now established myself, and importantly Rezonence, in the tech world. There aren’t many people in the industry who I haven’t bored with Rezonence’s mission to bring value to the digital ecosystem through proven human engagement; and that’s something which I am unashamedly proud of.
From leading the fight on transparency with the IAB to contributing to the Cairncross-led government review on funding journalism, I am thrilled with how receptive the industry has been to me — an outsider — and am determined to continue striving to deliver more value through technology.
And to do so as part of such a young, motivated and passionate team makes it all the more special.