Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

My Media Hero: Darran Snatchfold, Head of Media, Ladbrokes and Coral

Darran Snatchfold is a media veteran, with a career spanning senior roles at the likes of Mindshare, Publicis and Rapp. He made the move to client side only last year to become Head of Media at Ladbrokes and Coral.

Who is your media hero?

The people who’ve most shaped my take on media, didn’t work in ‘media’ at all.  Not strictly.

They were brilliant, challenging, thinkers. Nigel Jones (when at Publicis) and John Shaw (when at Rapier). Brand strategists if you needed a label.

Both hugely admired and relentlessly ambitious in their thinking.  And both people I shamelessly went out my way to work with at different points of my career. Actually, it would be wrong to say I worked with them. They spoke, I listened.  And I’d recommend everyone spends some time working in the shadows of a great.  If you’re fortunate enough to find one.

Go hunt a hero.

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

Zero BS. Breakthrough, category redefining, thinking, simply told. True marketing intellects, who at no point used their clearly superior intellect to put others in the shade.  They pushed the boundaries of the idea, not their ego.  And sadly I worked with more who were most driven by the latter.

Good strategy never comes ‘oven ready’ (where have I heard that before?) from of the mouths of one proclaimed ‘genius’.  And they lived by that.  Bringing others with them to plot the solution.  Making marketing feel like a learned profession.  To be taken seriously.  Something to learn. Something to teach.

Many years down the line, when faced with a challenge needing less obvious thinking, I still turn round in my mind, what would they do. And that’s so far served me well in unlocking a knotty problem or two. 

How has their heroism helped drive media?

It’s more a case of how it should. 

Is media strategy doing it’s job? I’m not being deliberately provocative.  Clients have paid considerable money for me to be a strategist.  So I keep an eye out for good stuff.  But when I was pulling together a (virtual) lecture to MBA students last year, I really struggled to find examples of standout, category redefying, lateral bursts of media thinking.

I see endless templates for how you express media strategy.  But rarely transformative media strategy itself.  Generic stated roles for channels, yes. Topline budget shifts between channels, yes.   Better than expected delivery of impressions, yes.  An application of brand advantage against competitor weakness or a clear actionable pathway to deliver against the core brand objective, frustratingly less often.

In such deafening advertising noise, competitive advantage needs to start coming from breakthrough thinking rather than the delivery of increasing media efficiencies.  And spending your way to share of voice advantage isn’t a route open to that many. 

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

Restoring planning as a craft.  Call it planning, call it strategy, I don’t mind.  Just do it.

Whether its because the media industry has been too busy democratising trading, being bedazzled by winning creative awards or agencies creating a generation of generalists, it seems we’ve forgotten the crucial connecting bit up top.  Media Planning.  And surely in a world of richer, more complex, media opportunities and more dismissive consumers – surer advantages will be found by out thinking rather than out trading the competition. 

Great media thinkers do exist (shout out to Jed Hallam at Initiative – so nearly my media hero), but I wonder if they are given the same license to perform as the brand strategists.  Too often seen as a luxury. Too tied to the same limited inputs. Too bound by recommending only what agencies earn commission from. 

Whatever the problem, please bring back the brilliant basics of strategy to media.  And if you think I’m wrong.  Please get in touch to tell me why I am. Would LOVE to be wrong.

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

Possibly survival. Or more specifically staying anywhere near relevant.

In my time, several media have been called ‘new’.  And I’ve not known a time when TV has not been dead.  

How have I survived?  Realising that I didn’t have the answer. Working with brilliant channel specialists who between them did. And getting back to the basics of structuring strategy.

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