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Rob Shaw, chief executive, Jaywing

Rob Shaw

Path to power

I started out as a software developer 30 years ago and have worked in technical disciplines ever since. I became IT director at Ventura, where my career really took off; I was on the board aged 30. During that time, Ventura grew internationally, and I managed services for the likes of Tesco, O2 and British Gas.

 

I moved into digital marketing when I became CTO at Latitude and MD of Latitude White, its new SME brand. We managed complex digital and search marketing campaigns and developed our own software products. I was part of the management team that sold to private equity in 2007.

 

When the founders of Epiphany wanted to take their business to the next level, they asked me to join as CEO in 2009. The business grew from 25 to 160 people before it was sold to Jaywing in 2014. I continued as CEO at Epiphany until I became CEO at Jaywing in 2015.

 

I’m also a non-exec director for Run for All, which was established by the late Jane Tomlinson as her fundraising legacy, following her death from cancer in 2007, and I’m a trustee of the Jane Tomlinson Appeal.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

I’ve chosen something from last year, when we worked with Twitter. Using our Whisper tool, which analyses Twitter data to describe the viral spread of content and find out what is influencing an audience, we delivered the Twitter Audiences study, identifying 75 distinct communities, what motivates them and how brands can best engage with them, with research agency Join the Dots providing additional qualitative insight. I felt proud to hear Twitter UK’s MD, Dara Nasr say: “We needed to become true experts in our audience and know them better than anyone. This research has allowed us to do that.”

 

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

Professionally, Simon Wolfson, the CEO of Next was my chairman for a number of years and he is one of the most intelligent and insightful people I’ve ever met. But for sheer mental toughness and determination, Shackleton’s voyage to the Antarctic is hard to beat for inspiration.

 

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

2019 delivered some challenging market conditions for Jaywing, with political and economic uncertainty hitting marketers’ discretionary spend, but the key for us was to stay focused on innovation in data science. We made two key data science tools more directly accessible to clients. We evolved our social intelligence tool Whisper, by embedding models into the front end, creating dashboards and developing the use of VR to make better sense of big data. We also made our AI-powered pay-per-click tool Decision more parameterised and explainable. We also picked up the most awards for data science we’ve ever achieved in one year.

 

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

As technology shapes up with greater adoption, and consequently greater demands from those paying for it, the roles of people within the industry will continue to change. They will find it increasingly difficult to deliver the performance that tech can, and instead they will need to turn their attention to how the tech is working, how it can be more accessible, how to get those using it to feel comfortable with what it’s doing, and monitoring to ensure it’s behaving in ways that are acceptable. There is still plenty for them to do but what they do will be different.

 

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

The commercial opportunities are vast, but the most appealing opportunity is in how data and technology can make brands more human while also being efficient and delivering product and service effectively. Naturally, our instinct is to be worried about things like privacy and lack of human contact, so it’s important that organisations are capable of spotting when someone needs a real person in the mix. The blend of cold hard data science with softer social factors will be critical, whether that’s the sometimes leftfield creative nature of people or just someone to talk to who can empathise.

 

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

Aside from the difficulties legacy systems can bring, clients are often nervous of tech like AI, especially when they feel out of control of what it’s doing. AI is undoubtedly way ahead of anything we can do elsewhere in terms of crunching and analysing data, but it’s only as good as the data it has and there are countless stories of “rogue” AI to compound that nervousness. That’s what has been behind the changes we’ve made to our Decision platform, to ensure they are more comfortable about things like brand safety and allowing them to constrain the AI using certain parameters.

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