Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

My Digital Hero: Dale Lovell, Adyoulike

Dale Lovell is UK Managing Director and Co-Founder of native advertising company ADYOULIKE. A well-known  expert on content marketing, he regularly talks at events around the world and is the author of Native Advertising: The Essential Guide.  And no, we didn’t ask him to include us as his digital heroes.

Who is your digital hero? 

Hero. That’s a strong word. I’m reluctant to give any individual digital hero status without having worked directly with them at the same company for a sustained period of time. That’s when you really get to know someone. Day-to-day is only when you see the real person: how well they treat colleagues, cleaners, receptionists; how well they can conjure up ideas and execute them; and perform under pressure. 

Now, seeing as I’ve spent most of my career burrowing away at start-up digital businesses, the number of people I’ve worked with at the ‘coal-face of digital’ in this way is actually relatively small. But there’s a lot of heroes. Too many in fact to name just one. 

So, I’d like to pick as my digital hero the collective group of individuals that have worked for early stage start-ups, or started themselves, a digital start-up business. It’s this merry band of adventurers, dreamers, mercenaries, egomaniacs and oddballs that need to be championed. 

Numerous individuals spring to mind: Solly and Arian at the Ladbible Group, Jamie Bolding at Jungle Creations, Luke and Ben at Croud, Dom and Adam at Captify. My business partner, Francis Turner, is another, though he knows I’d rather saw my own thumbs off than dedicate an entire column to his ‘hero status’.

In digital trade media New Digital Ages’s Andy Oakes and Justin Pearse, as well as Ciaran O’Kane, ExchangeWire, fall into this bracket too. 

And most of them follow a long tradition in UK digital start-up culture going back to the likes of Seb Bishop (Espotting), Martha Lane Fox (Lastminute), the late Phil Cooper (Utarget), Simon Mansell (TBG/Sprinklr) and numerous others that invigorated the scene. 

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

For me, it’s these people that are the lifeblood of UK digital. It’s what makes the space so exciting.

It’s these individuals and their ideas that are fuelling creativity in marketing, giving agencies and their clients new solutions, products and data tools; and new revenue opportunities to a media industry desperate to make digital more profitable.

It’s these businesses that create the buzz in the industry, throws the best parties, and what attracts new talent to the space. Take that away and you are left with a very staid industry, ever more dominated by the big players and standardised ways of doing things. 

Why are they all heroes? Because it’s only as you stare down the barrel of a quickly diminishing bank account and ever-shorter list of customers, that you learn about yourself.

When you have to make decisions that can have a huge impact – and you really don’t know if they’ll come off. The above listed have all been there and got the t-shirt. That’s what really makes a hero. Not a fancy job title or prolific social media updates!

How has their heroism helped drive digital? 

Apart from pushing the boundaries and picking away at standardised ways of doing things, what this group does is maintain the independent spirit of the digital industry.

The UK is one of the most complex and highly prized global markets for digital — having a strong, independent, home-grown entrepreneurial mindset is a great way to call BS on some of the more outlandish aspects of the tech-digital industry. 

And by showing alternatives, raising questions across the industry, for agencies and publishers to challenge some of the big-tech ways of doing things. If you compare the UK to other markets in Europe, where big tech, or big publisher groups dominate the legislative and commercial agenda, you can see the benefit that this ‘independent spirit’ has across the UK digital sector. 

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

While all of us are grappling with what identity in a post-cookie world looks like, I think at a more basic level most people will agree that measurement metrics continue to be a mess. There’s no agreed metric for success, with different KPIs for virtually every campaign, and conflicting buy and sell rates.

And different rules for different platforms. It’s opaque, with a lot of room for manipulation. The Facebook video measurement issue shows the dangers of what happens when the big players ‘mark their own homework’, disrupting entire industries in the process. 

It’s a tricky one to solve, because there’s undoubtedly going to be losers, so getting agreement is going to be tough. For advertisers it’s extremely difficult to know what they are buying at times, and even harder to work out if what they are buying actually works.

If buyers don’t feel confident in digital, it’s to the detriment of all of us as an industry. We need a real hero to solve this one. Maybe @medialad can get onto it.  

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

I started my career as a content writer and editor, because it was the only career I could think of which meant I’d avoid having to do lots of maths! So, the fact I spend my days in Excel, and not only am I able to understand a P&L spreadsheet, but actually build one that hasn’t been laughed at by our investors and accountants, gives me a continual sense of personal achievement. 

On a more serious level though I’ll always be proud of the fact that Francis Turner and I started a business — Content Amp – with no investment and boot-strapped it to close to $2M in turnover in less than three years. 

And I’m immensely proud of the ADYOULIKE UK journey since our merger, launching in the UK, pioneering infeed native, establishing the sector, brand and growing year on year. I’ve learnt so much professionally and personally over this time. 

I also see the development of employees as something of a personal achievement, too. I don’t really like that wanky term ‘office culture,’ but we’ve strived to not be dicks, give opportunities to everyone, listen to the team and grow together. 

Bar a couple of minor exceptions, pretty much all of the employees we’ve had over the last decade or so have been heroes: consistently performing in a super-competitive, ever-changing environment. Most of them joining us with little to no experience.

They are all heroes to me. I do take pride in seeing colleagues and ex-colleagues thrive, either in more senior positions at Adyoulike, or in the wider digital industry, which can only mean one thing: I’m getting old!