Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

My Digital Hero: Michael Hand, MD EMEA, Signal

Michael Hand is Managing Director EMEA, Signal. In a career spanning almost two decades, he has held senior roles at publishing and tech companies including MD at Spongecell, Head of Consumer and Lifestyle at Ziff Davis and Head of Digital for Men’s Health at Hearst.

Who is your digital hero?

So many impressive names could be mentioned here. I’m going to be greedy and pick two for different but very worthy reasons: Ruth Zohrer of Mindshare fame and Dave Read, MD International, MediaMath.

What have they done to win hero status in your eyes?

Ruth in short is just one of the most intelligent, passionate and simply impressive people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. She can be both strategic and tactical, and isn’t just another industry talking head but actually gets shit done.

I’ve seen first hand how she’s been able to bring siloed parts of a business together to collaborate for a bigger purpose – not easily done inside a large matrix agency group – in a genuine bid to challenge the status quo and deliver outstanding work. Just one example of how brilliant Ruth is. A consummate professional in every sense.

I remember the first time I met Dave and was new into both running the regional arm of a business and also had just moved from media/publishing to adtech.

I’d spent some time with numerous business leaders at this point, but I distinctly remember that initial meeting. Not only was Dave charismatic and utterly charming but what struck me was the depth of his technical knowledge and ability to go into impressive detail at multiple levels in conversation.

I quickly realised where I had gaps and this helped me refocus my efforts to go deep into areas that were typically out of my comfort zone. He’s a very credible, dynamic and versatile leader that exudes passion for his own business and the wider industry.

How has their heroism helped drive digital?

Having been on panels with Ruth before, she is an inspiration who is insightful, brave and balanced in her approach. The digital and tech space has (quite rightly) been called out as one that needs more women to be at the forefront, and Ruth is a genuine leading light who has played, and continues to play, a critical role to inspire others to follow.

Heroism comes in many forms. Some commentators who sit outside the digital media space see a boom and bust world where everyone’s after a quick buck, short-termism reigns and tenures are fleeting.

I forget who said it, but the mantra ‘trust is consistency over time’ feels fitting when I think of how Dave has grown the international business at MediaMath over a number of years positively aligning the business with like-minded partners that share their vision and values in a bid to offer a credible alternative to walled gardens.

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

There are many well-publicised challenges that are hot right now. In the adtech space there’s widespread concern following Google’s Chrome announcement and ‘the death of the cookie’. Trust and transparency (quite rightly) continue to be front and centre of many conversations.

Aligned to this, I believe we need a hero (we may need more than one!) who can challenge the prevailing models that exist today to offer a compelling alternative enabling brands to connect with people and genuinely put the enhancement of the end-user at the heart of the strategy.

An example to help bring this life would be the partnership with Sky TV and the Chris Evans breakfast show. Chris had built an enormous following on BBC Radio 2 which was of course completely ad-free, and announced his move to commercial station Virgin.

Sky was incredibly forward-thinking with its new sponsorship, completely removing all ad breaks and instead more organically weaving mentions into the programme, promoting a football match or new series launch for example.

Sky opted to think differently about how it could use this particular channel to enhance the listener experience as the priority. This intelligently positions it as the brand that really understands the audience, and genuinely adds value to the user. One year on, the partnership appears very much alive.

Brave marketers and a collective shift from short-term results and frankly questionable metrics to longer-term thinking are critical if we’re to address this challenge and make digital media a place we rebuild trust, positivity and build the brands of the future.

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

Well, I did actually did have a ‘poor-mans-superman’ moment about eight years ago in Basel, Switzerland attending Baselworld, the annual global watch fair.

I was outside a packed main exhibition hall. Next to me was a man talking animatedly on his phone who suddenly stepped out to walk across the main road as a tram was approaching from the opposite direction.

I managed to lurch forward and pull him out of the way and the tram missed him by what must have been a whisker.

He turned and looked at me. Said nothing. Then simply strode off continuing his conversation – his phone hardly leaving his ear!