Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

My Digital Hero: Ian James

Ian James, CEO of Silver Bullet, is a true digital veteran. In an career spanning over 20 years, he was previously CEO at Starcom Media Vest, Acxiom and Verve, and Global Head of Digital at Bacardi.

Who is your digital hero?

My digital hero has to be my good pal, and esteemed colleague, Umberto Torrielli. Umberto has been a fundamental leader in the evolution of data and technology, being at the forefront of data-driven marketing which has become a critical component of the future.

What has he done to win hero status in your opinion?

Umberto had spent the most part of his career managing, delivering and strategizing on behalf of huge clients, looking to build a smarter businesses. Having spent just shy of three years at Oracle – where he landed when they acquired the leading Data Management Platform, BlueKai – Umberto saw a huge gap in the market that needed attention; the need for relevant skill, resource and understanding throughout the data and tech landscape.

Umberto understood the benefit of a smart data strategy, but saw the growing cracks within an organisation when trying to achieve this.

It was in 2016 when I was honoured, along side a few other like-minded leaders, to co-found the Silverbullet Data Services Group with Umberto. His ability to understand the immediate and long-term challenges faced by clients has proven instrumental in the development of the Silverbullet’s group offering, and it would not be the success it is today without him.

How has his heroism and work helped drive the industry?

One thing I admire about Umberto is his ability to make the most complex of challenges, digestible! He knows the intricacies inherently – having a deep, analytical understanding of the wonderfully complex world of data and tech – yet he could explain it to your grandma (if she ever so inclined!).

Secondly, Umberto’s trusted legacy alongside co-founder Simon Theakston and myself, has positioned our business in the best possible way. Our clients and partners have all worked on projects with Umberto for several years now, and trust him intrinsically. His MarTech heroes award was testament to this.

And lastly, but by no means least, Umberto is an innovator. His recent projects see him launch a new contextual intelligence platform, 4D, which is the latest component of the Silverbullet Data Services Group.

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

There’s quite a few right now! Yet, the challenges faced pre-Covid are still very much real now, and so it’s a juggling act for many in terms of prioritisation during these uncertain times.

The clearest challenge – and opportunity – is the first-party data paradigm; the ability to achieve a first-party data-driven strategy for the new era of marketing. And this is no easy feat.

What we do know, is there will be substantial changes across the agency landscape, as client demands continue to shift. In light of the third-party cookie demise, and the focus on the data value exchange, businesses are becoming more and more aware of their data assets – understanding the importance of unlocking that data to drive actionable insights and apply across various channels.

The stumbling blocks however, are lack of skill and limited resource.

In short, clients need a new type of partner – a services business wrapped around technology – that can adhere to these new demands. This means we need a willingness to change and adapt to what the future brings. We’re almost having to change gears in mid-air, especially during these uncertain times, so it is paramount we work together to safeguard against future threats.

The future is all about reducing the complexities. And I believe it will be the ‘specialised partners’ who will thrive in this new wave of marketing.

What is your most heroic achievement so far in your career?

Taking the leap to realise and react to the future.

A few years back I was at the crossroads of my career where I either stuck to my roots, or took a new route to tackle a data-driven future. For me, it became increasingly obvious that conventional businesses were not supporting the need for clients, and we needed a new type of partner – powered by expertise, driven by outcomes.

So, for me, being brave enough to take that leap – meeting some fantastic and smart people along the way – is what makes me so proud.