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Chris Combemale, chief executive, Data & Marketing Association

Chris Combemale

Path to power

Prior to leading an industry trade association, my career spanned agency, brand and technology companies starting with Young & Rubicam in New York in 1982. My 12 years at Y&R included five years in Asia from 1989, initially as regional account director for DY&R and then as general of Wunderman Hong Kong, before founding the Wunderman office in Singapore in 1992.

I moved to London in 1994 as European media and sourcing director for Franklin Mint, before creating my own online catalogue company (Living Heritage) in 1998. As global COO and UK managing director of Emailvision from 2009, I helped to create one of Europe’s most successful first generation marketing technology companies. During this period, I helped found the Email Marketing Association and led the merger of EMMA with the DMA. Subsequently, I chaired the DMA Email Council for nine years and joined the DMA Board.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

My leadership of the Data & Marketing Association has transformed the organization into the driving force of intelligent marketing. Significant achievements include the successful merger with the IDM and creating a customer-centric code. The DMA’s robust advocacy on the text of GDPR resulted in direct marketing being recognised as a legitimate interest in Recital 47, protecting many business models and jobs. The DMA is again leading in advocacy on the ePrivacy Regulation, which has now been sent back to the Commission for redrafting, and Brexit, to ensure free flow of data across Europe is maintained in any free trade agreement.

 

Who is your role model or the person you look to for inspiration?

Our industry has many talented and inspiring people. In my role I meet many of them.

 

Did 2019 turn out the way you expected? If not, in what ways was it different?

In many ways 2019 developed as expected because political and economic instability were anticipated before the year began. However, the weekly twists and turns of Brexit and the general election were continually surprising, keeping the DMA busy as we kept members informed and up to date. From a company perspective, the industry reaction to the DMA rebrand has been very positive. Our new name and visual identity better reflect a world of data and marketing that is constantly evolving.

 

What do you expect 2020 to be like for the data and analytics industry?

2020 will be the year of intelligent marketing, powered by data, technology, creativity and responsibility to drive compelling customer engagement. In the mix, AI and creativity will play greater roles as is clear from DMA Award winning campaigns. The industry will need to think carefully about the ethical risks inherent in AI and balance these against the innovations that will better serve customers.

 

Data and technology are changing business, the economy and society – what do you see as the biggest opportunity emerging from this?

As an industry, we must be curious about customers. We must continue to explore and understand what consumers think, feel, do and like. The best applications of data and technology as a force for good create new ways of working that save people time and money. Whether it is in fintech, such as Transferwise, hospitality, such as Airbnb, or entertainment, such as Netflix, customer focused solutions are improving daily life using genuine insight about what people want and need. The same focus on data and technology can transform the delivery of government services for the good of society as a whole.

 

What is the biggest tech challenge organisations face in ensuring data is at the heart of their digital transformation strategy?

Skills. In an industry that never stands still, businesses and marketers need to be equipped with the latest skills and insight. Our Institute of Data & Marketing teaches customer-focused courses that evolve as the sector does – led by industry professionals at the top of their game.

 

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