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Painting By Numbers: The Unexpected Creative Passion of a CFO Turned CEO



Adstream’s CEO Daniel Mark has advice for data heads and money women and men making their way in advertising, writes Laura Swinton

Painting By Numbers: The Unexpected Creative Passion of a CFO Turned CEO
Analytical, measured and with an eye for details, Daniel Mark cuts a reassuring figure. Since assuming the role of Adstream’s CEO two years ago, he’s carefully steered the company from an ambitious, international tech business to a cohesive, global platform. On paper, his credentials are impeccable – an economics graduate, a trained accountant and the company’s chief financial officer for eight years – but beyond the CV, this certified numbers guy has a secret. He loves working with creative people.

“I certainly get a buzz from working within a creative environment and I’ve found that my temperament and skills compliment the creative people I’ve worked alongside,” he says. “When working in these types of environments no day is ever the same and you need to be on the ball, being required to think of creative solutions to problems and challenges that come your way.”

There’s an annoyingly persistent meme that sets up creatives against math men and women, warring tribes and never the twain shall meet. In recent years, as the industry has embraced big data and creatives have become versed in the lingo of business transformation, that rigid division has been chipped away. But Daniel represents another challenge to that tired old cliché – he’s not out to shut down creative people but to raise them up.

It’s a thread that’s woven right through Daniel’s career. In the early noughties, he worked for MGR, an accounting firm immersed in the entertainment world. With clients from the worlds of music, movies and media he found that the ‘unconventional characters’ he was advising demanded him to think quickly and laterally – a sharp learning curve for a freshly-qualified accountant.

The next move was to Columbia Records, where Daniel would learn how to deal with disruption. It was the mid-2000s and the music industry was in tailspin. Piracy was gouging record sales and it was the dark pre-Spotify years, before the industry had figured out how to monetize music online. It was, reflects Daniel, an experience that would stand him in good stead.

“During my time as Head of Financial Planning at Columbia Label Group a key challenge was to find additional revenue streams to supplement the declining physical sales due to piracy. It was clear the record companies were facing an existential threat due to technology changes and the business model needed to pivot urgently,” he says. “It was around this time that we developed our first “360 degree” business models, where JVs between the artists and the label covered digital, merchandising and live revenue streams, not just physical sales. My key learning from my time with Sony was that you must take nothing for granted and continue to innovate in order to remain relevant. There are certainly many parallels to the challenges today facing the agency and broadcaster groups.”

And if there’s one industry that’s been more disrupted than music, it’s advertising. In 2007, he was enticed over to a scrappy start up with a big ambition, to become a leading ad tech provider. 

“I moved from Sony Music to Adstream because of the passion, energy and sense of purpose I saw. We were a small start-up with grand plans to be the leading global provider of technology to the advertising industry, to create a new market across the world and to dispense with tapes and couriers in favour of a faster, greener and more automated online video ad workflow. I loved the fact that there were such audacious plans for the business and the opportunity to turn that plan into a reality was too hard to resist.”

Over the past 13 years, Daniel’s career has grown with Adstream, which now has offices in 37 countries and delivers in 141. As the numbers brain behind that expansion, Daniel carefully shepherded in each new market organically, delicately balancing the need to source funding and find local expertise. Daniel talks fondly of friendships forged and notes that it was opening in New York and Tokyo as highlights from the journey.

That journey has always been guided by a clear vision – though the road has been scattered with challenges. “Our strategy really hasn’t changed from the blueprint that was set out on day one. However, as with many businesses that grow rapidly, the operational and technological infrastructure required to support this growth is something that has always been playing catch up. Over recent years we have truly grown up as a business, with all elements now complementing each other. With this solid foundation we are able to adapt to market demands and capture new growth opportunities as they present themselves,” says Daniel.

“As for the journey, some of the best advice I’ve received is that the path from A to B is rarely a straight line when making significant change. Understanding this fact is crucial in steering the right course and bringing everyone along with you on the journey.”

Since becoming CEO, Daniel’s priority was to move the diffuse international team onto a unified global platform, which enabled Adstream to launch Adstream One, their cross-media offering, and to consolidate their operations in two hubs in order to simplify and improve the client experience.

“Looking back, this was a significant transformation project and one that required absolute focus from the whole business,” he says. “There were numerous challenges to be overcome but achieving our goal of creating one ‘connected’ global platform and product suite to complement the global footprint we’d built has created a huge benefit for our customers moving forward.”

In many ways, Adstream’s role in the creative industries was in parallel to Daniel’s own relationship with the creative world. Just as he’s a  logical brain that vibes off creative minds, Adstream is a platform packed with hardworking tech that should go unnoticed by the creatives and producers using it to execute major campaigns with complex media plans. Moreover as data grows in importance to the industry (yes, including creatives), Adstream can  provide real time visibility of all activity, and aggregates essential data.

“The Adstream platform is built for the heavy lifting of advertising production - storing, sharing and transcoding every file type known to man. As advertising and media evolves, our clients continue to choose us due to our unrivalled knowledge and understanding of the marketing and production supply chain,” says Daniel.

Our ability to manage truly cross-media campaigns (across TV, Social, Online video, Ad servers, Print, Radio and OOH), hosted in a single global library of assets under one platform provides our clients with visibility and control and therefore improved productivity. As ad campaigns become ever more targeted and dynamic using Adstream to check, transcode, manage, approve and deliver these campaigns will become more and more important.

He also has advice for young data-heads and number crunchers eyeing up a career in a creative environment. “You don’t need to love creativity, but you do need to thrive around creative people,” he says. “In my view, the key strengths required are interpersonal as opposed to academic ones. I have witnessed many incredibly smart finance individuals be unable to make the impact they should because they are unable to communicate clearly with their many different stakeholders. The key is to build a rapport based on trust and hard work so that when tough decisions need to be made you have built the respect to have your voice heard and have the tough conversations.”

These days, though, it would be unfair to characterise Daniel as a purely data-driven thinker. All these years working with creatives was bound to rub off – and since becoming deputy CEO, then CEO, he’s had to embrace a more expansive, holistic way of thinking about Adstream and the wider industry that it sits within.

“One key difference for me has been the need to embrace “grey”; not everything can be data driven as is often the case when making decisions as a CFO,” says Daniel. “This means following your gut when required as well as embracing challenges and uncertainty with confidence. Particularly in times of crisis such as COVID it is critical to have the courage in your convictions and the mental toughness to navigate difficult times.”

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Adstream London, Wed, 29 Jul 2020 11:16:11 GMT