We’re asking some of our industry’s leading figures to nominate their digital hero and to explain what’s so special about them.
Phil Buxton has been driving the digital industry since being the first reporter at Marketing Week to cover ‘new media’ in 1998 before editing Revolution magazine. He went on to work for numerous companies in the space, including Tribal Fusion, the US-based global online advertising network owned by Exponential, where he was appointed CMO in 2012. He was the first CMO at The Drum and is currently VP, global marketing at WPP-owned digital media arm Xaxis.
Who is your digital hero?
Tim Brown, former European MD at Tribal Fusion, and now running global agency strategy and partnerships at SAP.
What have they done to win hero status in your eyes?
The number and value of lessons I absorbed from Tim in the time we worked together actually seems to grow rather than diminish as time goes on. They all boil down to how to be a leader but it’s only afterwards that becomes clear.
He was already something of a hero by the time we worked together at Tribal Fusion (now Exponential), having by then helped run and sell Real Media, 24/7 Real Media, and BlueLithium. Close up you soon saw how he managed it.
First, he has that ruthless focus and prioritisation common to every super-successful person I’ve met. Time is limited so he would only spend that time on the things he knew really mattered. That was lesson enough on its own.
But then it turns out that he was really only ever spending his time on one of three things: making a product worth buying; creating sales and marketing to help people buy it; or building the team spirit needed to do all of the above. Not a lot else is really worth the time.
Without fail, Tim would recognise and celebrate the birthday of the most junior person on the team, in part because he wanted to and took joy in the arrival and progress of new and young people, but in part because he knows things like this have a fundamental effect on how people feel.
Combined with his legendary team BBQs and lengthy visits to Navarro’s on Charlotte Street, ‘Papa Brown’ knew exactly what it took to build teams that will work like crazy to make a company a success. And, in the meantime, it was obvious that he was working harder than anyone.
Last, it was impossible not to learn from his principled stands on everything from how to deal with agencies just looking for a free lunch to how to deal with senior people not delivering on their promises.
His knowledge, commitment, and personal decency command so much instant and ongoing authority that, if he was talking, you knew you ought to be listening. And if you weren’t, he would soon let you know that you ought to be listening anyway.
How has their heroism helped drive digital?
He was among the team that drove Real Media, that became 24/7 Real Media, that became Xaxis — where I now work. Then he was the European MD of BlueLithium that reinvented behavioural targeting and was merged with Yahoo!
Since Exponential, he has taken the attribution solution developed there, Abakus, and helped build it to a sale to SAP. He has been absolutely bang in the middle of the most successful ad-tech plays in Europe since before ad-tech was a thing, and helped launch a hundred careers along the way.
What are the biggest challenges in digital we need another hero to solve?
Someone influential and respected enough needs to own the case that the blame for the many flaws of digital should not be laid at any one person, company, or sector’s door.
We all need to take responsibility for how advertiser money is spent and how we got here. Then we need someone to lead us back to the ideal that the internet is a fundamentally wonderful thing, and that finding ways to help fund it an eminently honourable endeavour.
What is your most heroic personal achievement so far in digital?
I feel most lucky and proud to have been able to help new talent find a home, find a role, and find the confidence to be better than I was.
Having the opportunity to return the favour of leadership paid to me by people like Tim is an ongoing responsibility that I try to remember to take seriously.