In the spotlight: ISBA UK’s Phil Smith

In the spotlight: ISBA UK’s Phil Smith

4 minute read

Meet Phil Smith, Director General of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA)

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  • Author:WFA


19 February 2018

I was born and raised in… the Southwest of England in a county called Devon, down by the sea. Both sides of my family come from the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy, so the sea and the coast are very dear to me.

I studied… Latin, Greek and ancient history at university. I am a classicist by training. Ancient history gave me a good background of marketing. A bit like a mosaic, we only have a few pieces of the puzzle with regards to the ancient world. The challenge is to take those pieces of evidence to create the most compelling narrative. That is exactly what marketers try to do all the time.

I got into marketing largely because I am counter-suggestive. A lot of my university counterparts went on to become lawyers, civil servants and bankers. I didn’t want to do anything that was prescribed for me so I decided earlier on that I wanted to be in marketing. It turned out to be my calling.

When I started in the advertising/marketing industry… context was everything. My first marketing job was with a company that sold high-end Indian and Asian food in the UK. We were putting high-quality print ads into the top-end magazine publications and agonising over which were the right publications to be on the schedule. It was almost a fulltime job. It is very different now with the way programmatic advertising places media in front of eyeballs at the lowest cost irrespective of the context in which the impressions are being served.

My proudest career achievement is… the fantastic time I had at Camelot, the UK’s National Lottery operator. When I joined Camelot, sales had been in decline for over six years. The remit was to turn the sales line around and to increase the returns from the lottery for the good causes which it funds. We achieved this after two years through a variety of means. We launched EuroMillions, which expanded across Europe, and took the lottery online and became the biggest transacting site at that time. On the back of that, Camelot was able to win the lottery license that it has to this day.

Our priorities are… four things:

    1. Digital accountability. Brand safety is a big issue in the UK. Giving good advice to our members and challenging the tech companies is something that we see high on the list of things where we can add value for both sides. Both by crystallising the views of our members, as well as helping them make very clear asks and holding these tech companies accountable.

    1. Audience measurement and viewability standards. The call to action from both ISBA and our agency counterpart, the IPA, is for major players in the UK to embrace self-regulation and help create joint industry measurement standards. This is a long-term project for us.

    1. Agency-client alignment. We continue to pursue the work we have been doing since we launched the Framework Media Services Contract. What is at the heart of the contract is getting real alignment between the interests of agencies and clients. We have a new version of the contract which will be launched soon.

    1. GDPR. Providing relevant and timely advice that is focused on the needs of marketers is what we strive to do. It is something we work closely with the WFA, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the UK.

A very specific challenge in the marketing industry in my country is… the way in which publishers are shining light on brands and digital platforms. All this pressure came to the surface last year with the The Times story on online ads and terror. There has been no let-up since; everyday there is something being picked up and amplified in the national press relating to online standards or online safety, whether it’s child safety or extremism. For ISBA, that means helping our members steer through that.

If I could change one thing about the industry today, it would be… the client-agency relationship. We have to recognise that agencies and clients have differing interests. But it is the task of everyone entering into contracts to make sure that their interests are aligned as best they can, that conflicts of interests are ironed out throughout the contract process and that people are held accountable.

What most people don’t know about me is… I am an open water swimming enthusiast. It really gets you up and going in the morning!

One thing about my country… the thing that makes UK advertising and entertainment very different and quite idiosyncratic is the British sense of humour. I have lived and travelled elsewhere, and it is this humour I would miss most about the UK. I have been in Swiss cinemas watching British films where there were only two of us laughing.

Want to know more about Phil and ISBA UK? Get in touch with him here.

This is part of a series of monthly interviews with heads of national advertiser associations in WFA membership.

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