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Being ‘Digital Guy’: 24 Hours With MediaCom’s Willie Pang

MediaCom's Willie Pang has just been promoted from chief digital officer to COO, but before he starts his new role he shares what goes on in his day and his thoughts on everything from "Why is voice recognition still so shit?" to adland using TMAs (too many acronyms).

So what’s it like to be the “Digital” guy? Well, I’ve only ever known digital. My first real job was selling internet access to small businesses (remember those dial-up modems?)

“Imagine, Business Owner, that you could send a letter and it would instantaneously appear on your customer’s desk!”

(Incredulous look on the potential buyer’s face.)

It’s been 20 years and I still see that same incredulous look. It’s a different world now, but it’s the same look. Part amazement, part disbelief, part fear and part excitement. The key difference now is that digital has become a dimension of everything. Let me see if I can bring it to life in my typically atypical day.

To practise what I preach and inspired by Zuckerberg I’ve decided to see if Google’s Home and Apple’s Siri (Artificial Intelligence technology) can help me save time or do more with it.

7:00am My life starts with the phone and the soft beeping of the alarm. Most days, it’s lying dormant under the pillow. It’s usually the last thing in my hand from the night before. Waiting for me. Waiting for companionship. Bleary eyed, the human engine kicks into motion.

“Hey Siri.”

“Yes, Willie.”

“What’s the weather today?”

“Today in Lane Cove, it will be sunny with a high of 26 and a low of 22.”

(Nice start).

“Hey Siri, read email”

(I’m wondering if the illustrious CEO is on his usual 6am email warpath and what will surprise and delight from global business news overnight.)

“You have 42 new emails, would you like me to read them to you?”

(42? It’s getting worse, people are forgetting how to talk to one another.)

“No.”

Then it’s the kids. My older son is getting ready for school and lazily picking at his breakfast. One eye on the TV in the background and one eye on the iPad sitting three inches from his food.

The Google HOME unit sits innocuously amongst the handpicked rustic vases strategically placed along the lounge room cabinet.

“Ok Google. How long will the travel be to Berry Street, North Sydney?”

“The current travel time is 26 minutes and the traffic is light.”

(Pretty good for a Tuesday morning. And no roadworks, that’s a positive thing.)

I sit there for a period, punching out emails like a coach designing the next play on the basketball court.

(Emails! 20 years and it’s still email. Gotta try this cool new app, Workflow. Connects calendar, with emails and to-do lists. Automatic warnings to people that I’ll be late. I’m always late. I hate being late.)

Then it’s the modern version of the morning paper. Facebook, check. Instagram, check.

(How cool is that bicycle? I’d like that bicycle. Oh, Tim bought one. Amazing.)

Alas, no bicycle this morning. Sitting in the car, I’m connected again.

“Hey Siri. Send message to Sam.”

“What would you like to say?”

“Sam, I have an idea. Don’t be afraid, it’s only a little bit of work. We could transform the client’s busi…..

“Sam I have an idea do you want to be afraid I’m only a bit of work we could tie in the client”

“Do you want to send it?”

(20 years. And this voice recognition is still shit.)

“No. NO.”

“Ok.”

(Forget it. Damn it. Ok, one more time.)

“Sam, call me.”

9:30am Today is a mix of client consulting, team briefings and product discussions. Seven meetings, back to back.

(Why don’t we ever schedule walking time and breaks? No wonder I’m always late. Note to self: don’t talk so much.)

My job is not to be the lead practitioner. I’m very blessed to have some of the best in every discipline working alongside me. And the complexity of the conversations oscillates wildly. The first hour of the workday is about brand safety and helping a marketer understand what’s going really going on.

“Is it really a tsunami of horseshit?”

“No. Not even close.”

“So what is it?”

“It’s everything Mike. You can achieve your audience target. It’s just that you’ll do it with 100,000 individual connections.”

“How?”

(Now it’s getting fun.)

Three hours. In that span I’ve talked about DMP, DSP, RTB, eCPM, CPCV, CRM, CMS, ERP, AI, and TMA.

(TMA? Too Many Acronyms. No wonder I keep getting the incredulous looks. I get why the executive committee make me the default IT support guy when the projector isn’t working).

To continue, I now have the innocuous Google HOME sitting innocuously on my desk. It’s greeted with a few “ooh’s” and “ah’s” from the technoholics around me.

“Ok Google. How many unread emails?”

Google Home

“You have 88 unread emails. Would you like me to read them to you?”

“No.”

12.30pm Lunch. I wonder if I can order food to save time on the walk. I imagine a time in the near future where the biometric data live syncing to my phone will automatically suggest that the human engine needs fuel. The Internet of EVERYthing.

(What a great futurist piece. Clients will love the insight. We’ll call it the ‘Human/Machine Interface’. Uh-oh, more incredulous looks.)

Disappointingly, Google HOME can’t make my Deliveroo app order via voice command. But I’m sure it will. I’ve wasted 16 minutes where I could have been punching out emails. And the next set of meetings is upon me. But I’m still dreaming about the Five Points burger. Coffee will do, the human engine demands it.

1:00pm Product Leaders. We’re discussing the strategic pillars underpinning the concept of digital transformation. It’s a heady topic, touching everything and nothing all at once. It’s spans everything from people, to product, to clients and lastly to the commercial model. And we’ve arrived at the building blocks. Automation. Digitisation. Personalisation.

(Poor Dr Ritson. He’s going to have a field day. I’ll endeavour to explain it to him. He’ll get it if I tell him it’s actually all about building an integrated system. Right, RIGHT?)

The “Digital” and “Non-Digital” divide has exploded into a chasm. The meeting I’m sitting in is about demystifying the building blocks and making “Digital” a dimension of everything. I argue that in two years (punchy, I know), if we’ve done our job, then no organisation should still need a Chief Digital Officer. Then what’s the other role? Chief Non-Digital Officer? Chief Normal Officer? The team agree. Good strategy. They also teach me something. We’ll still need industry leading “practitioners” and they aren’t wrong.

The afternoon is full of surprise and delight moments. One client wants a new website but doesn’t know what technology to use. Another is challenging us to help them scale their data assets. In between is a conversation with a new mobile focused technology that’s launching in market.

“We have 100 ways to get from A to B.”

“Our solution is unique.”

(I’ll bet it is.)

“We can track a consumer across every device, with one ID and we can give the data back to the marketer to help them grow their CRM depth.”

(Now that’s interesting.)

And I’m still trying to find ways for the AI engines to make life easier.

One thing it does do pleasantly is play Spotify. Headphones on, it’s time to work on business strategy. An hour later and I’ve drafted a framework for “Whole of Government” digital transformation. Just because you’re the “Digital Guy” doesn’t mean you aren’t also a business strategist. In fact, for the aspiring leaders out there, this job is not only about creative executions, spots and dots and engineering, it’s about harnessing the power of technological possibility to deliver customer growth, to drive brand engagement, to make smart investment decisions and to ultimately build “enterprise value”.

5:00pm A colleague of mine once said that 5:00pm is “just after lunchtime”. The thought comes to me as I’m sitting with our superstar Head of Talent, who’s educating me about the difference between work/life balance and work/life integration.

“You have 116 unread emails, would you like me to read them to you?”

I lament that Google and Siri haven’t developed to the point where it can send canned responses (an old school CRM term) to canned questions. But it is time to wade through and prioritise.

(How do we benchmark digital pricing? TV seems so easy. Since when did programmatic become public enemy number one? Don’t folks know that it doesn’t matter what percentage of cost it absorbs if you get a disproportionately positive uplift in return?
Can you pick up the baby from daycare? SXSW was inspirational! How do we share the learnings? New business is the lifeblood of the agency. Yes it is. Why can’t I be the CEO? Well. That’s a long conversation.)

7:00pm It’s time to pack up and spend some time watching Transformers on Netflix, streamed via the PlayStation onto the TV.

As I step out of the office, a message flashes up on the phone courtesy of Google Maps.

“The traffic from North Sydney to Lane Cove is light and the estimated travel time is 19 minutes.”

Predictive Analytics powering Artificial Intelligence. Google knows I’m going home because of the time of day, my proximity to the car and my regular travel patterns. It’s not in my diary, it just knows. That’s cool. That’s the way AI adds value. I consider the impact this will have in future when it knows who I’m going to see, my mood, what I’ve worked on during the day, the tasks that sit in the inbox that are undone, what food will raise my endorphins, what my brand preferences are and what I bicycle I aspire to buy.

(It’s validation! The Digitisation, Automation and Personalisation pillars are right.. Ok, enough already, the lane swerve detection in the car is beeping.)

8.30pm Dinner is done. This night, there is no travel, no conference call with London. Just my family, my phone and the innocuous Google HOME sitting and listening in the corner.

“Ok Google, what’s the weather tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow in Lane Cove North it will be partly cloudy with a high of 21 and a low of 13.”

“Ok Google, what does my calendar look like tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow, your calendar has nine events, starting at 8.45am, with the first three being….”

Some families would disconnect at this moment. But not ours. The two-year old baby is self discovering content on YouTube and it’s getting smarter with what he does and doesn’t like. He’s also watching Cold Power ads in between user-generated content while the TV is showing him ads for a Ford Everest. He seems mildly interested. Surely this stuff must be building his memory structures.

11:00pm Last dance with Google for the night.

“Ok Google, tell me news from today.”

“Today’s news includes an article from Harvard Business Review on the politicisation of medical practises across America…”

“Ok Google, stop.”

It’s also the last chance to read email. Nothing is on fire and it’s time to slide the phone under the pillow but before that, one final question.

“Hey Siri, have I been productive today?”

“Interesting question, Willie.”

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