Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

BIMA: “Digital can change the world for the better”

Digital usage has increased by a huge amount over the course of the pandemic, with people being forced to spend most of their time indoors and the way they live and work being transformed forever as a result of that.

As such, businesses have had to respond and adapt to ensure that their consumers, clients, and staff get the most out of their digital experiences and have been able to continue on in as normal a manner as possible.

“We’ve just seen mass adoption of it – that’s the biggest difference. Rather than being gimmicky and winning awards for agencies, we’re making a difference to people’s lives right now. And, if we didn’t have some of the technologies and the experience that we have, we would’ve found the last 18 months unbelievably difficult,” says Matt Sullivan, Managing Director at the British Interactive Media Association (BIMA).

“It’s going to totally change the way in which we work. Before, we would’ve just been having this chat over a coffee in a café somewhere, but now we’re just jumping on a Zoom call. It’s enabled us to see through a really difficult time, and it’s proven its worth.”

Pastures new

Sullivan joined BIMA in April this year to take charge of the non-profit’s strategic direction and growth, as well as the organisation’s programmes and events. Prior to arriving at BIMA, he was Managing Director at The Alliance of Independent Agencies and, earlier, Head of Product at The Drum and Head of Membership at The Marketing Agencies Association.

Sullivan says he took up the role on the basis of feeling the need to do something more valuable with his life and a desire to give back to the industry, rather than just living to deliver profit to shareholders.

“Maybe it’s the cusp of a mid-life crisis. You do evaluate the role you play and, on the back of that, I made the conscious decision to go back and work for a non-profit. I’ve had a bit of a journey going around all the acronyms – they are sometimes quite frustrating, but really rewarding places to be. The sense of achievement you can get from igniting a large community of people with a common purpose is really cool,” Sullivan explains.

“In order to achieve something big, you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time. This is it. In the last 18 months, there’s been a mass adoption of digital for consumers, businesses are investing in it, and BIMA is in the right place, at the right time, to be really ambitious.”

Sullivan plans to align his ambitions and the “things that light a fire in my belly” with the needs of both BIMA and the wider industry. One of his major focuses will be on plugging the UK’s digital skills gap.

“Three to four times a day, people must talk to me about the struggle with recruiting, the struggle with finding really good data strategists, really good people with AI skills, frontend designers, you just can’t recruit people. And, if you have those skills right now, you’re cherry picking and you’re getting paid quite a lot of money,” says Sullivan. “So, there’s a digital skills gap that we need to plug long-term. This starts off with ‘Digital Day’, where we go to 250 schools and talk to kids about careers in digital and the types of skills that they’ll need, right the way through to hands-on skills for people in their jobs at the moment.”

Healing the world

Beyond BIMA’s work around digital skills, Sullivan wants to build on the organisation’s initiatives around sustainability and diversity and inclusion.

On the sustainability front, BIMA works with businesses to make sure they are as sustainable as possible, and to make sure that the work they produce for their clients is built in a more sustainable way. BIMA is exploring the introduction of ‘kitemark’-like initiatives on both fronts, based on the belief that “BIMA can be an industry standard for that”, according to Sullivan.

BIMA also has a diversity and inclusion council, which helps its members through their D&I journey. However, Sullivan isn’t pleased with the progress the industry has made in that area, and is calling for more action to be taken.

“I’m saddened by the lack of progress we’ve made in D&I over the past few years. It’s such a hot topic but, from an action point of view, we’ve been really lacking,” he says.

“We targeted 70 senior judges for our awards and looked at different representations. We wanted to at least have a 50% gender split and 20% BAME representation, and we struggled to hit those simple quotas. That’s because it’s just a conversation for many people. Putting in the action and getting to the root cause is really difficult. We’re trying to catchup from years and years of prejudice and antiquated ways of working. Trying to fix it with a few quotas in a couple of years just isn’t going to work.”

Nonetheless, overall, Sullivan believes there is a general desire within digital to do good things when it comes to education, accessibility, sustainability, and diversity and inclusion.

“In general, I think there’s a general desire to do good with it. The most popular councils we have are D&I and sustainability, which I think is pretty cool, because you’ve got all of these technologists that prefer to try to save the planet,” says Sullivan.

“People join BIMA because there’s a bit of a purpose and it’s quite positive – ‘digital for good’. I believe that digital can change the world for the better.”