Chief Commercial Officer, Unruly APAC
Phil Townend is the Chief Commercial Officer at Unruly APAC, a global video advertising technology platform.
In addition to driving multi-regional growth at Unruly APAC, Phil also sits on the board of IAB Singapore, an industry body committed to promoting the value of digital advertising and recommending standards and practices.
When he’s not working, Phil enjoys spending time with his wife and three children, and teaching himself how to produce drum and bass music.
About Unruly APAC
Unruly is a global video ad tech platform that works with 91% of Ad Age 100 brands to help get their videos seen, shared and loved by 1.44 billion people around the world. Unruly has a diverse suite of video ad tech products from Unruly EQ—a content evaluation tool which helps marketers maximise the emotional and business impact of their ads—to newly launched proprietary research that helps brands understand deep cultural insights about consumers and first party data segments that allow advertisers to connect with audiences that match their brand personas. Unruly was founded in 2006 and acquired by News Corp in 2015. Today there are 350 Unrulies across 20 locations worldwide and their super power is emotional intelligence.
What is the most surprising thing about you?
In my spare time I'm hugely passionate about music. There was a point in the early 2000's when I almost left the advertising industry all together because I started a small record label in the UK. By day I was doing digital ad work for Virgin Group and by night I was driving bands around to gigs. We often didn’t get back until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., and then I'd sleep a few hours and go back into work the next day. It was almost like I was leading a double life.
To this day I'm still passionate about music. I've got a mini recording studio in a spare room at home, I get up at 5 am and for the first hour that I’m up, I’m teaching myself how to produce drum and bass. I don't want to release anything or become a DJ; it's just about having a creative outlet.
What is the best career decision you ever made?
The best decision I ever made was getting out of corporates and into start-ups because that was when I really felt able to make a difference.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned about running a business?
Actions speak louder than words from a management and leadership point of view. What you get back in terms of loyalty, dedication, input and drive from your team will be a direct result of what you give them in terms of leadership, vision and time. I think hierarchies should be broken down wherever they possibly can.
All of the best leaders and the most impressive people I've ever met were the ones who, when you meet them for the first time, they're just so disarmingly down to Earth. You might not necessarily find out until later who they actually are. They make you feel good, they are genuinely interested in you and care what you’re about. They make you feel empowered. This is the type of leadership that drives people to want to do their best work.
The technology and the interfaces we use can all be stripped away, but it's people that make the difference. That’s the irony of the current programmatic ecosystem right now, which aims to strip away people and become more automated.
You’ve managed companies across Europe and Asia, what are the differences in management?
I believe there is a “can” and “cannot” mentality that exists all over the world. I think as a business it is important to have a “can” attitude, and this is universal.
What excites me about working in APAC is that people here know that change is happening rapidly, and most of our clients are open to innovation and a “test and learn” approach. Companies in Asia are more agile, so new projects get off the ground much quicker.
In Europe it was almost like a weird badge of honor to say how far ahead your diary was booked up. People in Asia are a lot more approachable. Now I leave my diary open half a week for new opportunities.
Where do you see the future of video advertising?
I think using neuroscience to understand how people will respond to different types of messages or stimuli is the future.
If you can give a computer enough data, it can almost come up with a formula for how a consumer might react to a video. For example, there may be a scene in a movie where one of the actors goes to a Coca-Cola machine, buys a Coca-Cola and drinks it. If the computer can recognize things like how many seconds the Coca-Cola branding was in the scene and how close it was to the camera, and then compare that with what happened to Coca-Cola sales after the film was released, then we can understand more about what impact all of these things will have on the outputs that brands want.
So the DSP (Demand Side Platform) of the future might be a system that is driven by AI and computer vision where you upload videos into the platform and it analyses them in seconds and provides the perfect blueprint. Then we can say, "Here's the optimum audience for this campaign that will respond best to these videos. Here's your platform optimum mix: use this platform at this time of day, this much Facebook, this much YouTube, this much Unruly. Here's the optimal laydown, reach and frequency to hit the KPI’s and here is the recommended budget."
Unruly focuses a lot on emotional intelligence in relation to digital advertising. Can you tell us a bit more about what you’ve been working on in that area?
The most exciting thing we’ve done has been to create an algorithmic model that can predict video engagement performance before any money has been spent on media. No one else has done that before. Now we can tell a client, "Before you've invested millions of dollars in distribution, here’s how the video is likely to perform from a social, brand and emotional POV. These are the watch outs and optimum edits if you wanted to shorten the ad for mobile distribution”
Who inspires you and why?
When I worked at Virgin Group, Richard Branson, of course, was extremely inspirational to me. He’s the classic entrepreneur. He saw inefficiencies in sectors that he thought he could exploit, and to a greater or lesser extent he's been successful. He's just an unbelievably naturally gifted PR person and he was and still is an incredible entrepreneur.
My parents also inspire me because they came from nothing and worked hard to put my sister and I in a position to get a good education and go to university. They did this with hardly any money, and the sacrifices they made in their lives to put their children first is incredibly inspirational to me. Everything that I have helped build and all the rewards that I've gotten throughout this incredible career that I’ve had so far is down to that start in life that they gave me.
The family at Unruly also inspires me. I just cannot imagine working for a better team than Sarah Wood, Scott Button, Matthew Cooke and the executive team. I really do think we’re one of the best in the business. We might not be as big as a Facebook or Google, but we've built a huge global firm of 350 people that other people respect and listen to. It's an amazing team to be a part of, and that extends to the wider Unruly team.
Game-changing books that have impacted you the most
‘Stepping Up’ by Sarah Wood, our very own CEO. A hugely inspiring read which focuses on the experiences and best practices learned via building a global tech business within a very fast changing environment. Some great words of wisdom from leaders across the industry and proof that curiosity is a core value for anybody seeking to succeed.
Check out Unruly insights to learn more about video intelligence.
These are are some of the top recommended books by Unruly: