Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How do you reboot a 10-year-old programmatic business?

By Paul Evans, Strategy & Marketing Consultant and former Global Head of Media, Vodafone Group


Some of you may recognise this quote from Hamilton. It’s one of my favourite lines from the show, and it’s always struck a chord for me as I reflect on the media and ad tech industry.

Wherever we look to take our inspiration – the heavily congested Lumascape of of ad tech and mar tech vendors competing for a slice of the same advertising $, or perhaps the recent ISBA / PwC or CMA reports into digital advertising – the outcome is the same.

Despite the very positive growth and innovation that is brought by businesses within the marketing services ecosystem, the reality is one of clutter, complexity and confusion – whether through operational practice or through the absence of clear purpose and value that they should be creating for marketing as a function and marketers as customers.

As Global Head of Media at Vodafone – actually as a constant theme throughout my career working in brand-side media leadership roles, as well as supporting with great industry bodies like ISBA and WFA – I’ve always found myself at the intersection of trying to do the right thing for the broader industry, whist delivering commercial value to the businesses I was accountable for.

When I stepped away from big corporate roles last year and into project work, it felt right for me to take those same principles and apply them to the clients I would work with. I have been fortunate enough to work with some great people businesses during this time, all of whom have embraced this quite different background, knowledge and perspective – in seeking to elevate marketing from a nice-to-have capability, to one core to business strategy.

Brave leadership and a desire to build a meaningful marketing services brand

It’s here that I’d like to talk about possibly my most ambitious and rewarding project to date. I feel there is a story to tell – yes, about the work itself and what we created, but more so about the people and business I was working with. Back in October 2019, I was approached by the CEO of Affectiv – Patrick Johnson – to help him undertake a review of the independent managed service programmatic business he led.

Patrick is an honest and down-to-earth Kiwi, and he literally sat myself and another awesome ad tech industry veteran (Antti Maki) down, to say that he had a “bat-shit crazy idea”, which was to pair the two of us up (Antti and I had never even met before), and for us to bring our collective and complementary knowledge together to create a new future for the Affectv business.

I don’t need to go into the details of the review, the process undertaken, or our wide-ranging findings and recommendations across internal operations and external market conditions (but I will say that Antti is a rare talent in this space, and I enjoyed working with him immensely). What I really wanted to reflect on was Patrick and the management team at Affectv.

As a consultant, in some ways you are only as good as the client you work with, and this truth couldn’t have been more evident with Patrick particularly. From the outset, his ambition to reboot this 10 year old programmatic business was clear and infectious.

Not only did he “talk the talk”, he “walked the walk” as well – which as we all know, is possibly the hardest thing to do – moving us from a review that called out clear opportunities for growth and an evolution of their existing business model, services and ways of working, through to the challenge of recreating the brand, culture, vision and values – something that I never realistically thought he would be brave enough to do. But he did.

Patrick and the team at Affectv knew that as much as they were running a business, they are also seen a brand in a very competitive and somewhat commoditised market of ad tech and service businesses. Unlike so many of their peer set who treat marketing as only a downstream communications function, they wanted to bring marketing capabilities to the strategic centre of the business – to understand and deliver a fresh approach to advertiser and agency customer needs in an era of responsible modern marketing practice.

They also wanted to wrap a new, fresh brand around that leadership and purpose, and were brave enough to take the risk in doing so. The ad tech and media industry needs more people like this.

The creation and launch of hybrid theory

So, the results of this risk-taking, perseverance and hard work? Today marks the public launch of their rebooted business – Hybrid Theory – to the broader market place. Please go and look for yourself and tell me what you think?  Better still, if you like what you see, get in touch with Patrick and the team there.

Don’t be fooled by the punchy new name and identity (giving credit to the brilliant Fluoro design team who I partnered with). Underneath this – and what critically drives the new business – is a passion for making the complex simple, and a desire to truly embrace the enabling forces of trust and transparency.

Further still, we re-engineered the business model and product offering to reflect the value that brands and agencies need right now – in the space between inhousing and outsourcing capabilities – where the service and support layer of tech and data expertise lives, offering flexible consulting, hands-on support and independent managed execution across the full customer journey.

What we now have is a business that has made a bold and necessary transition from programmatic managed service, to becoming a new breed of digital services partner, that powers smarter data-driven advertising through the best combinations of technology and talent.

Personally – and of course I’m biased – I love what we have created. They were already a great business in growth and people, but now through a willingness to embrace the kind of change that only brave marketing can deliver, they have the advantage of differentiation and distinctiveness in their positioning and narrative to market.

They stand for something relevant and of our time, and I wish them every success as they bring this to life with their many existing and new client partners.