Ben Wilkins’ digital career spans almost 20 years. He began his career working in media agencies (Mediacom and McCanns), before spending almost a decade at w00t! Media as Head of Operations and Managing Director.
Who is your digital hero?
I’ve been fortunate enough throughout my career to work alongside many digital pioneers and entrepreneurs who weren’t afraid to push the boundaries and shape the future to their liking. The ‘rules’ as we now know them hadn’t been written, so they were defined on the fly by those people doing the do.
One person who fits this mould and I have great respect for is Nikhil Shah.
What has he done to win hero status in your eyes?
Although perhaps not well known in the mainstream, Nikhil should be revered by lovers of music. Many DJs and music creators certainly owe him a debt of gratitude. He gave them a platform to get recognised and monetise their creativity.
As Cofounder of Mixcloud, he helped create a global ecosystem for DJs and music creators. He added colour to a world of audio beige.
How has his heroism helped drive digital?
What always struck me about working with Nikhil and Mixcloud, was his commitment to put the consumer first. It might seem obvious now, but fifteen years ago, many publishers and platforms were obsessed with scale at all costs, prioritising shorter form content, transient audiences as a means to driving higher ad revenues – stacking it high and selling it cheap.
But Mixcloud took a different approach with an ethos and principles that were non negotiable. Their approach helped build loyalty and community trust, leading to meaningful brand partnerships which transcended a quick campaign fix. Advertisers knew the audience was totally engaged with the content and the platform.
Ultimately, this led to the development of a thriving subscription model and the investment to expand globally – a model that many platforms and digital publishers aspire to today.
What are the biggest challenges in digital we need another hero to solve?
We desperately need a better user experience for digital advertising on the open internet. It feels like complacency has set in across digital publishing, (outside the walled gardens). I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to abort reading an article due to interruptive and processor-hungry ads. Better quality is needed and as an industry we need to stop taking users for granted.
It’s not easy for publishers and platforms to make money. Content creators are tasked with a thirst for more articles, more videos, more users and more ad revenue. That 37% of people now have an adblocker shows the model isn’t working. That’s not a great situation for digital. It is a terrible look compared to other channels. If 60% of ads on TV or OOH were being blocked, or masked, something would be done about it.
The walled gardens don’t have a privacy-first play outside their ecosystems, so there is an opportunity to build consumer trust on the open internet. We need a digital hero to agree what is mutually beneficial for advertisers, publishers and users before it’s too late and everything sits in a walled garden.
What is your most heroic personal achievement so far in digital?
Embarking on my own start-up journey with Skyrise.
Back in late 2019 I met Alex Petrie (Cofounder Skyrise) and we instantly recognised the potential to bring an innovative data intelligence offering to the world of digital advertising.
Launching a business during the pandemic wasn’t without its challenges, but it allowed us to speak to more people and learn fast over hundreds (if not thousands) of video calls. The benefit being a condensed period of deep customer research which allowed us to launch and move much faster than we might have under normal circumstances.
Today, Skyrise is the zeitgeist product of audience design and targeting in the privacy-first world. It’s the first time in my career I know I’m with a company that really is in front of something.
It is hugely exciting to be part of, particularly on the product side. We’re always creating, always improving and will always retain the pioneering spirit that got us here.