My Digital Hero: Damian Blackden, Global Chief Strategy Officer, Essence

Damian Blackden is Global Chief Strategy Officer at Essence, a GroupM agency. Blackden is one of the original pioneers in digital media since its emergence back in the 90s, with roles including: President, Digital EMEA, Omnicom Media Group; President EMEA, Annalect; and Global Chief Strategy Officer, Maxus Global.

Who is your digital hero?

Rob Norman, formerly Global Chief Digital Officer at GroupM.

What has he done to win hero status in your eyes?

Many think of Rob as the godfather of digital media. In reality he’s the grandmaster.

His brain has the ability to process the everyday complexity, innovation and chaos that we’re all witnessing into a clear and simple articulation of what the many versions of our potential future might look like, and what their relevance is to brands and marketing.

He’s also a person of considerable integrity with an (often annoyingly) fast and dry wit. Plus he’s directly made two great job offers happen for me in past years by suggesting that I was the person for the position. And I’ve never thanked him for it until now…

How has his heroism helped drive digital?

Marketers have valued his counsel on how manage the ongoing forces of disruption. Agency teams have appreciated his intelligent and pragmatic ways of solving problems.

And many publishers have found ways to transform from ‘the old’ to ‘the new’ – after hearing what ‘the new’ would look like from him.

What are the biggest challenges in digital we need another hero to solve?

How to ensure that advertising is a force for good. How to ensure that it always enhances people’s experiences rather than detracting from them.

How to help people appreciate that the high quality content they’re enjoying for free wouldn’t exist – or they’d have to pay for it, if it weren’t for (great) advertising.

What is your most heroic personal achievement so far in digital?

Don’t think this is heroic, but this time six years ago I co-founded a company that developed and launched a cookie-less tracking platform that worked with mobile and desktop browsers in a privacy compliant way, and later sold it.

Given recent industry developments I’m wondering whether exiting so soon was really such a great idea after all.

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