Paul Dalton, Chief Media Officer, International, DigitasLBi and judge for the Effective Use of Tech category at this year's WARC Media Awards, talks to Lucy Aitken.

How would you describe your job?

I run the media discipline, a 450-person team that works across 26 markets. My focus is to ensure that this discipline delivers a media product that drives better results than anything else in the marketplace, every day.

DigitasLBi prides itself on using data in intelligent ways. Can you give me a few examples of how data has helped you change tack to the benefit of your clients?

Here are three examples:-

  • Health insurance provider BUPA wanted a better understanding of their customers and how they live their lives. We took their CRM database and matched it into LinkedIn to get industry and job profiles, then matched it into Glassdoor to get income, and Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to understand social and content behaviours. We then employed that intelligence in CRM and exported it into media for targeting and messaging purposes. This approach has contributed to an 80% increase in leads, 40% decrease in cost per lead and a 25% increase in average revenue per customer.

  • Food company Danone was looking to understand how they should communicate with expectant mums for its formula milk brand [Aptamil]. When they register with, expectant mothers give their due date so we looked at five years' worth of blog posts on to understand when expectant mothers start to engage with nutritional decisions for their child. We looked at what they're looking for, the questions they ask, things they were looking for, who they consulted, what brands they considered and chose. And, once their child is born, what's their experience like? Did they stay loyal to a brand or trade out? That body of work, a 70-page report, underpins everything they do so they know roughly when to start engaging with expectant mothers and how to provide timely content.

  • We started working with the hotel and resort chain Shangri-La 18 months ago and we were asked to come up with creative for each of their 98 hotels, so we scraped five-star reviews for each one on TripAdvisor. What were their experiences? What was the language they used? We also used Instagram to scrape what pictures people took, for instance, when they walked into the lobby of the hotel in Beijing. Those images became inputs for the creative.

Are creative agencies starting to bring media back in house? Or is it now impossible to separate out creative and comms channel planning?

Yes, creative agencies are starting to bring some parts of media, such as communications planning, back in house and it's the right thing to do. How an idea manifests in media is as important (and sometimes more important) as the idea itself. So done right, creative and communications channel planning should be impossible to separate. A creative agency does a phenomenal job of developing amazing ideas but to ensure they land right, which is the focus of communications channel planning, especially within digital platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc., you need to have a good sense of how people use those platforms and what kind of behaviours naturally occur within them.

What has been the most useful new adtech platform to emerge for your business in the past five years?

DMP [Data Management Platform]. I grew up in media using bad data. I would use sources like TGI and MRI that would give me quickly dated insight into what proxy definitions of audiences say they do. I used to plan and buy media against that data and it was such a blunt instrument as the survey respondents would be asked an enormous battery of questions that no busy person would ever take the time to understand or accurately answer. Then I'd look at other disciplines, such as CRM, and see that they were swimming in smart data on people and I wanted a solution that allowed me to have that resolution of understanding. DMP's have allowed us to bridge data with more data, enabling us to bring a much stronger analysis, architecture, activation and attribution to bear on media.

What has been the most useful new consumer-facing platform to emerge for your business in the past five years?

The internet is a giant library and the most useful new consumer-facing platforms are those that help people find the exact thing they are searching for, within this library. How people search has changed significantly, over recent years. The rise of new video, social and voice based platforms has given rise to new search behaviours. We built our TSL [Total Search Labs] offering to keep our clients and agency ahead of the marketplace in search understanding, usage and performance. It's part knowledge – we look at the (industry, consumer, technology and sector) trends that are shaping the future of how people search and how brands can respond; and it's part experimentation – we test emerging search providers, platforms, tactics and applications.

I read an interview with you where you talked about 'brand-specific media trading technologies' – can you give me examples please?

Effectively we're an agency that is, at its core, a technology business, so we can either help our clients choose and use off-the-shelf technologies such as a DSP [Demand-Side Platform] or we can custom build a piece of tech that is uniquely crafted for their needs. There are many fine DSPs available in the marketplace but each has its weaknesses. If the weaknesses are too profound, it might be that we would recommend and then help co-build a 'brand-specific media trading technology' that functions similarly to a marketplace DSP, but where we customise it to a client's individual specification and where the algorithm that runs through it is geared towards the clients individual and unique benefit. In addition to co-building brand-specific media trading technologies, we are also co-building trading solutions that overcome challenges that multiple clients face with using marketplace technology. For instance, we are co-building a solution that will no longer require a client to share their first party data with a DSP, in order to use it for programmatic targeting.

At DigitasLBi, how do you assess an emerging platform and whether it might be of value to particular clients?

We have a set of solutions that aid us. For instance, Startup Connect is our global start up platform. It provides us with a framework for engaging, assessing, selecting, testing and scaling with emerging platforms, offered by startups. Within individual disciplines, we will alter the assessment stage, as needed. Within programmatic, as an example, we conduct an annual (sometimes semi-annual) soup-to-nuts assessment of all of the DSPs in the marketplace using a weighted score card with a comprehensive and structured list of criteria. We will do that either at a DigitasLBi level or a Publicis Groupe level. Through this process, we will arrive at a ranking, which can be adjusted based on the emphasis that different criteria has, for a particular client. In addition, we conduct ad hoc assessments as clients request them, or when major changes in the marketplace require them.

How much of the inventory that you manage is currently automated? Will it all be automated within five years?

I would say it's different – my view is international so the percentage that's currently automated is skewed by market and region. In EMEA, it's in the high 50s (UK is higher), in APAC, it's in the 30s, with China pulling the percentage down. Will it go to 100%? All biddable media will, eventually. We will see a continued rise in the use of programmatic direct, which brings a level of automation to direct buys.

You are judging the Effective Use of Tech category at this year's WARC Media Awards. What advice would you give to anyone considering entering that category?

Technology needs to be in the service of the customer. Tech for tech's sake looks impressive but if it doesn't actually benefit the customer in any way, what's the point? It needs to align well with the brand idea and the brand focus. In the US, for Motorola, we wanted to re-establish that handset brand's innovative credentials and launch their flagship device, the Moto X, the world's most customisable phone. We knew couldn't just tell people that Motorola is innovative, instead we needed to use marketing and media in ways that demonstrated Motorola's ability to innovate. And instead of showing the endless customisation choices, we needed to show people just how easy it is to find a phone that matched them. So, bus shelters in various cities picked up the dominant colour that people were wearing and instantly changed the phone featured to match, while Facebook picked up the dominant colour of profile pictures and changed the phones featured in the adjacent ads to match. There were eight-foot-tall installations at New York Fashion Week that picked up the dominant colours being worn by the models as they walked past and which changed the phone to match. This was true to what the brand was trying to communicate and we were intent on making it easier for the customer to understand that.

Tell us your best comms planning story Unlike most award schemes, the WARC  Media Awards is free to enter—and comes with a $40,000 prize fund. We'd love to  read and recognize your work! How to enter