Born: Birmingham, UK
Lived in/Worked in: Lived in Malawi as a child. Also Ho Chi Minh City, London, Seattle and New York
Rich Astley serves as Senior Partner, Practice Lead for MEC’s audience targeting and optimization practice. With the increased importance of biddable media supply sources, the proliferation of available data and the technologies that enable dynamic optimization, Rich’s team is dedicated to staying one step ahead of advertisers' needs. He has a deep technical understanding of the digital media landscape with unique expertise in audience data, DSPs, ad exchanges and consumer privacy.
In 2008, Rich played a vital role in the transition of the AT&T business to MEC, leading the e-commerce team across Seattle and New York. During his time on the AT&T account, he has negotiated some of the industry’s largest digital upfront agreements, established one of the first agency trading seats on multiple ad exchanges and led the agency as one of the first, and now largest, buyers of real-time-bidded inventory.
Rich has more than 10 years of experience in the media industry, after receiving his degree in international politics from Birmingham University. As a member of the technical advisory board to the MIG and digital advisory board to WPP, he has valuable experience helping to develop first-to-market solutions for advertisers.
Name an innovative idea or business solution for which you are most proud. In January 2009, I founded MEC’s audience buying practice for North America. The goal was to create value for our advertisers by leveraging the latest technologies (e.g. demand side platforms) to target users across the web in real time. The outcome of this new approach was better targeting, reduced cost of media and better protection and control of our client’s owned data sources. The business has grown from one initial test to 11 active advertisers spending over $30MM a year-- utilizing every major ad exchange and source of biddable media while working with over 15 different data sources.
On Monday, June 26th, the business grew into its next phase, becoming part of Xaxis, GroupM’s global hub for audience buying.
What role does innovation play in your marketing strategy today? We’re currently seeing the most innovation and rapid change in the world of real time audience buying. Every day presents a new challenge or opportunity to innovate-- whether applying new methodologies to our advertiser’s valuable customer data or changing the way we access publisher inventory-- there is still a huge amount of work to do in shaping how we buy and optimize digital media. Innovation has to be driven by people, so creating an open, creative culture that fosters strong ideas is critical for our work.
What is the biggest challenge you face in applying innovative thinking to international projects? Among the on-going challenges to digital innovation are market adoption of emerging trends and access to technology. For example, we are now seeing in the UK, France and Germany the emergence of digital trading models that have some similarities with US versions from 18 months ago. It is important that any strategic roll-out across international markets always provided some room for innovation at the local level and some autonomy to build upon creative ideas that resonate in each market.
Dictionary definitions aside, how would you characterize innovation in the work you do? Innovation means…Constantly challenging the way we manage our business as an agency and what it means for our clients. …Being brave enough to put pace of change ahead of perfection the first time and every time. …Driving a culture of ideas in relationships with clients, co-workers and technology / media partners.
Why do people see you as an innovator? There is innovation for innovation’s sake and there is innovation that changes the way we do business. I always aim to drive change that has meaningful impact for both our clients and our own agency. A big part of that philosophy means being willing to take some calculated risks on emerging trends that have potential to put our clients in a leadership position. Working with large international advertisers, isn’t not always easy, and it requires a spirit of partnership in trust in our relationship that takes time and experience.