Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

My Digital Hero: Ian Maude, The Project X Institute

Ian Maude is an internet advertising analyst and Executive Director at The Project X Institute, a media and advertising think tank and advisory collective, which he co-founded with his business partner Jon Watts.  We asked who his digital hero is.

Who is your digital hero?

I have two.

Karen Thomson, who was Marketing Director at AOL UK when I joined the company and eventually was CEO for AOL Europe, and Adam Smith, who was GroupM’s Futures Director and advertising market analyst par excellence.

What did they do to win hero status in your eyes?

Karen, supported by Clare Laurent and Matt Peacock at AOL, did more than anyone else to usher in flat rate pricing for internet access in the UK in 2000, which until then was priced on a metered basis, severely limiting adoption and usage.

Adam was exceptionally smart, though he wore it lightly, and through his position at WPP had access to unrivalled information. He combined these two assets to deliver the best analysis of the advertising market I’ve ever read.

How has their heroism helped drive digital?

By fighting and outsmarting the establishment (especially BT) to deliver flat rate access, Karen made the internet affordable for millions of people and transformed the UK’s online ecosystem, enabling and supporting the explosion in internet advertising and e-commerce.

Adam launched WPP’s global forecasting practice in 2006, having joined from Zenith. He brought rigour and humour to his analysis and democratised access to accurate advertising data and projections.

His market reports, co-written with Rob Norman, were essential reading and remain the best I’ve read. Adam died of cancer in 2019. Like many others, I miss him enormously.

What is the biggest challenge in digital we need another hero to solve?


I know it’s a frequent answer, but we need more women, black and ethnic minorities and people from different backgrounds in the industry at all levels.

I spoke a while ago at a working-class school in Nuneaton, my hometown, about media and advertising to pre-GCSE kids. Some of them had real talent in art and design but they didn’t know anything about our industry or the opportunities it offers.

We all need to do more to blow the bloody doors off.

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

No heroics.

I paid Liam McNeive, the media lawyer, to do the legal work which first established IABUK, probably the best £2,000 I’ve spent in my career.

But I’m most proud of helping some of the people I’ve managed to develop and encouraging them in their careers.