The chief data & technology officer at Cummins&Partners on affiliate marketing, focusing on consumers and the synergy between creativity, data and technology
Towards the end of the summer, Andy Copeland was named as the new chief data & technology officer at Cummins&Partners, a role he stepped into after serving as IPG Mediabrands’ head of ecommerce. Bringing with him a wealth of knowledge in the consumer sector and a real passion for data and technology, Andy is keen to take the agency to the next level as it looks to a post-Covid future.
Excited to hear more about his plans, plus pick his brains on the creative technology sector, LBB’s Natasha Patel caught up with Andy.
LBB> Was the creative technology world one you knew you’d enter at an early age?
Andy> The honest answer is no. I'm South African originally, I grew up in a little sleepy city called Port Elizabeth on the south coast. I finished school and like most people didn't know where I wanted to be, so I studied law at university and failed my first year miserably. I didn't realise how much library work was actually going to be required and then I fell into computer science. The more I did it, the more fun it was. I kind of gravitated towards different parts of computer science, one of which was more of the programming angle, web design and one bit that always really struck me was business information systems.
It was very much business based - nothing to do with marketing or advertising. Just how data moved around in an organisation, the systems and platforms that needed to be in place for that data to make its way to where it needed to be. I finished that and moved straight to London, straight out of uni.
LBB> What was your first advertising based role?
Andy> I kind of fell into it. I mean most people do and I landed in the affiliate marketing space where I was working for eight years. I loved it, but I loved it not because it was marketing. I loved it because my job entailed tracking codes, troubleshooting, cookies, all the stuff that made up bits of the ecosystem that I didn't really get exposed to in uni.
I transitioned from the affiliate world to a programmatic ad network to hopefully getting to teach me programming and how it worked. I did that for four years before moving to Australia and then spent the last four years working for media brands, mainly search and social, so a very different part of business. I suppose creativity has never really been part of my background. It's always been the tech and how the platforms let us do specific things or how data moves from one point to another. That's the bit that's always fascinated me. I've just been really lucky that I've fallen into digital marketing that has allowed me to follow that passion in one way, shape or form for the last 17-18 years.
LBB> The role of chief data & technology officer means different things in different agencies. For you at Cummins&Partners, how would you define it?
Andy> For me, it's about connecting with consumers at the end of the day. Agencies often run the risk of being too client centric, focusing on the brands that they support too much, and they don't really think about the customers at the end of the campaigns as much as I think that they should. So my role really is championing the consumer and making sure that everything we're doing is adding value to them. It’s about getting access to and using what we know about consumers to understand what consumers want, and what they need from brands in particular categories and specifically our clients. That's really what half of my job is.
The other half is actually really easy. The tech bit of data and tech is pretty simple. It's finding the platforms that allow us to do the things that consumers are telling us they want us to do easily and simply. I think the fact that Cummins&Partners is predominantly a creative agency which also does media, which makes my job a lot easier. What I'm trying to do is not reinvent the media wheel to make Cummins stand out from the crowd and create differentiators in media. There is no such thing as a differentiator in media. Everybody has access to the same thing. That's just the way advertising works. By and large, most of the time, everybody has access to the same data or similar data on consumers. So my role is not really to go, hey, here is this cool thing that we can do that nobody else can. That's not the role that I have been brought in to fulfil. The role I have been brought in to fulfil is - here's what we all know about your consumers, here's how you talk to them, here's how you give them something that they're going to value more than what your competitor is giving. Now that could be better messaging at a time and place. It could just be a bit of a creative message. It could be a different brand platform from a creative lens. My role is really championing the consumers within our clients.
LBB> This must have changed a lot in Australia over the past year with Covid and uncertainty. What have your experiences been?
Andy> I think it makes it a lot more fun. Australia's a bit of a weird country because the vast majority of the population has been in lockdown. But if you look at it geographically, only 40% of the country's been in lockdown, the other 60% hasn't had any lockdowns at all.
What I've seen that has been quite interesting is, yes, consumer behaviour has changed, but it's also not changed that dramatically. So when we're talking about how consumers in Australia shop pre-Covid, they would shop in-store. Australia still likes to shop in-store, but even when they moved online, they didn't move online to the likes of Amazon. They moved online to the same brands that they used to shop at the stores from. So behaviour wise, the behaviour hasn't changed.
From a data and tech perspective, the fact that people are online more probably makes my job a lot easier. Pre-Covid a lot of it was happening offline, which is obviously very, very difficult and in some cases impossible to track. So I think Covid actually did a bit of a favour.
LBB> What does the relationship between creativity, data and technology look like to you?
Andy> I think it's about doing the opposite of what we've been trying to do as an industry. My personal opinion is that we've done a very good job as an industry of making what we do sound really, really complicated. We set up specialist businesses and specialist teams and everything to try and show that individual parts of that process need very deep knowledge or are very complicated. By doing that we over complicated the process. Ultimately, what we've got to do is tell a story to the consumer for a particular brand and make the consumer love it. It's actually pretty simple.
My job as a data and technology person is to get the right pipes in place so that the creative message gets the consumer engaged and responsive to. My job is to find the right pipes to get that message from conceptual to actual message in front of the consumer as quickly and easily as you can and have the right data on the background to find the right people to say that message to and then measure the response to that and refine it. That's it. It's very simple. I don't think you need to be a creative person for that. But I think you need to appreciate the role that creative plays in the process of connecting brands and consumers, because the creative is what the consumer sees at the end of the day.
LBB> How much does social media play a part in your role?
Andy> Social media is incredibly important. I think there's a couple of reasons for that. One because social gives you a lot of different canvases you can play with creatively. It's one of one of the more creative channels. My social team will shoot me for saying this but it's easier to learn social one platform at a time. So if you go and learn Facebook and Instagram, you get incredible reach, and you get quite a healthy number of placements and creative options, specifically from a paid media perspective, and you can learn that quite quickly. To be able to run a good campaign across Facebook and Instagram, you can do that relatively quickly even with zero to very little experience. The more that we can then tap into different audiences across your other platforms, whether it be Snapchat, Tiktok, whatever it might look like, as well as Facebook gives you an incredible amount of reach, an incredible amount of creativity that you can play with as a client. That's the first thing for me.
The other side of social is that, because it gives you that ability to connect with communities in an organic fashion as a brand, it allows clients to really get involved in social conversations that doesn't require paid media or doesn't require any kind of investment behind it. I think those two things combined make social an incredibly powerful platform. It is a huge part of any media plan that goes out.
LBB> Away from work, does any technology excite you?
Andy> The main things that I enjoy following that's not work related and personally from a tech perspective are mobile devices. I don't necessarily mean phones. What I quite like looking at is the trends that happen over time, specifically within devices and how devices get to where they are.
Outside of mobile devices, I'm interested in things like self-driving cars and electric vehicles as well. Outside of work, I tend to spend as little time around technology as humanly possible.
LBB> Finally, you’re still pretty new to the role, what are your plans at Cummins&Partners going forward?
Andy> My hope is to build something where what happens in my head actually happens in real life. Like I said all along, I don't necessarily feel that what we do in the digital space is inherently hard. No single step is inherently complicated or complex, to the point where somebody else won't understand. That doesn't exist. But it's very hard to find all of that knowledge in one person and it's very hard for clients to afford the resources for specialists that are required to deliver the full spectrum. So what I'd like to have in the role is something where, eventually when we're talking to our clients, I don't want them to buy from us because it's technical or complicated, I want them to buy from us because they think we've got their best interests at heart, and they can see it. I would class it as a success because then I've done my job and we can move swiftly.
As long as what the client buys actually gets delivered in reality, and the person implementing it also feels they understand the step that came before and the step that comes after, we’ve done our job. That's what all clients want. Clients don't necessarily want constant innovation. Clients want innovation on top of constant basics. Don't screw it up. Rule number one when it comes to agency work. You don't have to be brilliant just don't be bad.