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Discussing the importance of work networks with a VP of Product - #GettingToKnow

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It is often said that introverts have both an amazing and a terrible time in this industry. Amazing, because any corner of the creative sector can feel like a caring team and a loving family; terrible, precisely for the same reason.

David Keens is Acxiom’s Vice President of Product for EMEA and Principal Marketing Technologist, and he is an introvert at heart who admits having struggled to maintain work networks over time. As he learned more and grew as a professional in our beautiful industry, David learned the value of having confidence in your own work, as well as trusting others to be the best partners you can ever hope to have in your creative career.

Today we are Getting to Know an extremely inspired (and inspiring) professional from the data marketing scene, learning more about his own passions and personal story.

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Tell us a bit about your role! What is one typical day like?

A typical day for me is spent trying to strike a balance between looking down at our current work and looking up to the future of what we do. My role requires me not only to make sure things work now, but also demands of me to keep a view of the next 12-36 months in terms of where the marketing and advertising industry is headed. At Acxiom, we are always looking ahead to see how to drive better customer experiences for people and greater ROI for our clients through data and technology.

What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?

As someone who is a bit of an introvert at heart, one of my biggest challenges has been maintaining work networks. Our industry is very much a team sport, and the rich mix of specialist skills, partners, and clients that are needed for every venture demands a strong network. I have always pushed myself to make sure that I get to a place where I am comfortable with my network of connections and that I am always part of a team.

What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

I thrive on solving problems with technology. I still remember primary school at the age of 9 or 10 when we got our first computer. One for the whole school. It was a BBC Micro “Model B” and I used to have to load programmes in by cassette tapes. My teachers couldn’t get it to work and at that early age, I became their IT support because I was just fascinated by it—and could get it to work!

My career initially was research and technology-based, working within the NHS, academic, and medical equipment industry. I have never left that behind completely. Today, I base so much of my work at Acxiom on what’s happening in research, how data and technology impact people’s lives, and keeping this broad spectrum of knowledge and interest.

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What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?

For me, the biggest win has been becoming a trusted and valued team member by my colleagues in client-facing situations. A real turning point was the first time I moved from a back-office ‘techie’ role, and someone trusted me in front of a client. There’s a valuable set of communication skills for technicians who can bridge from IT to business language. To this day I still often wear a baseball cap, given to me by a colleague after a pitch, and it serves as a reminder of how important trust, communication and teamwork all are.

What’s your secret to remain inspired and motivated?

I have a deep-held belief that with enough time and thought, anything is possible. However, sometimes it takes different perspectives and diverse thinking to see the way through complex problems. In my own life, I have tried to carve out spaces for myself that give room for different thinking. For example, on Sundays I teach a yoga class and my own practice has helped keep a lot of things in perspective. Creativity and motivation are a lot about finding a balance between challenge and ease. I find that really helps give me energy.

Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

My inspiration comes from outside of the industry – Alan Turing is a big hero of mine. My partner and I held our civil partnership at Bletchley Park, where Turing worked during WWII. When you’re there you can feel the emotional connection beyond the wires, transistors, and granular mechanics of technology–the impact technology can have on the course of history. Turing inspires me to be brave, to speak my truth, to think outside of my own space, and to see how things connect into a bigger picture. I’m so happy to see him recognised on the new £50 bank note.

How has COVID-19 affected you?

I have been extremely lucky that none of my immediate family has been seriously affected and my heart goes out to all those who have suffered during the pandemic. For me, a big change is losing the commute to work. I don’t really miss the train itself, but I do miss the space in my life that it created when I could read, listen to podcasts and have those moments to think and be creative.

What is your biggest hope for 2021?

I hope we find the positive lessons from the massive changes the pandemic has brought into our lives. There are some real opportunities here, from the uptick in technology usage across society at large to finding new ways to work together and staying creative without borders, there’s a lot of lessons we can bring forward.

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What is your one piece of advice to aspiring creative professionals?

I think for anyone in a creative space, from design, technology, data, whatever…! One of the most important things we all need to have is the confidence that you can communicate and explain your ideas and that there is true value in your thinking. Too often we become focused on outputs and forget that taking clients on a journey and sharing our thinking is a crucial part of our role. Part of changing this perception is to bring forward that confidence everywhere you go – what you have to offer is important and valuable even if you can’t assign a KPI to it.

How do you recharge away from the office?

One of the most important things for me to centre myself is yoga. I find that my practice helps me keep perspective and recharge my batteries. And I like nothing more than a walk along the river near home, with my partner and our dog. The world always seems a bit better after that.

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I still feel a strong connection with my past life as a researcher at the NHS. I could quite easily see myself being a nurse, a paramedic or a technician. The idea of giving back is important to me, and I think would relish the chance to work in the public sector again. 

What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?

I would love for the industry at large to find a way to make sure that we are always keeping consumer privacy, trust and transparency at the forefront of what we do. We’re possibly headed towards a future where large monopolies dominate the advertising and marketing space even more than today. This may not benefit everyone in the way I know the industry can. We need to find a better way of making sure that the search for better insight and understanding our consumers, does not erode their trust or endanger their right to privacy. 

Do you have any websites, books, or resources you would recommend?

For my little part of the industry, I value Scott Brinkler's work at Chief Martech, he is always bringing new and valuable insight to the table. Then outside of the industry, I think it is important to stay grounded and understand the world at large. In this regard, I get tremendous value from some of the podcasts that the Financial Times produce. For example, I love Tech Tonic as it helps me to understand technology's place within the wide picture of business innovation. And if you’re a data nerd, then the BBC’s More or Less is a must listen.

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