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22nd June, 2020

Interview with AJ Hill, Head of Paid Digital – Performance Marketing

By Ben Allen, Marketing Executive - Performance Marketing

Starting out during the advent of programmatic and real time bidding, Gravity Global – Performance Marketing’s Head of Paid Digital, AJ Hill knew he was embarking onto something that would become a major marketing tool for many brands. From working in London at top level to returning home to the city of Norwich, he’s had an award-winning career. Joining Gravity Global – Performance Marketing at the end of 2019, AJ now manages the Paid Digital team, ensuring clients’ search ads are visible at the top of search engines and that their content is seen by many across digital channels. We sat down to find out a little more about his career and his thoughts on paid digital marketing:

Paid Digital (in his own words)

For those not familiar with paid digital, AJ explains it as: 

The process of buying digital media across many different platforms and digital channels, and optimising campaigns to hit our clients’ objectives and KPIs. There’s a strong emphasis on audience targeting, and tailoring our ad copy and creative towards different segments of our target audience.

Paid Digital pays hosts to areas including bidding to appear at the top of search engines such as Google, Bing etc. and targeted advertising across digital channels including social. But even though it has become a major tool within digital marketing, many companies have yet to still adopt this into their business strategies.

As time has gone by, the pay per click market (PPC) has become a competitive place, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late for any business to get involved in. It can be a valuable tool for brands to get their voices heard. As AJ puts it: “The efficiency of being able to use a combination of algorithmic bidding, and manual optimisation to increase performance over time is something that a lot of traditional above the line channels can’t do. To be able to change strategies on the fly with very low lead time if something isn’t quite working, or the data proves an initial assumption wrong, is very powerful.”

It’s about identity and attribution.

From bidding to analysing to strategizing, paid digital takes many forms, but what are the key things everyone should know about this way of marketing? “It’s about identity and attribution.” AJ elaborates. “They are the bookends of digital marketing – understanding who a user is across different platforms and digital identifiers, and how many users have done the thing your spend is trying to get them to do. If you only look at data in the siloed platforms, you’re looking at inflated numbers, and not seeing the whole story. Privacy headwinds are also changing the basic fundamentals of how we measure these things, so it’s more important than ever to understand them.”

Career to date

It’s AJ and his team’s responsibility to continuously track campaigns for Gravity Global – Performance Marketing’s clients. One of the most exciting elements about paid digital is that it’s always changing, depending on the market you’re in. What made AJ get into this profession though? “I started out as a Media Trader at a Trading desk in London during the advent of Programmatic and Real Time Bidding.” AJ reminisces. “I liked the idea of using mathematical models to influence consumer behaviour, and being able to actively optimise campaigns on a daily basis to make incremental gains was something that appealed to me.”

“After our company was acquired by Ve Interactive (later renamed Ve Global), I then moved into senior positions, initially looking after our global trading, ad operations & data analytics teams, before taking the role of Director of Strategy for the whole group.”

AJ’s career within paid digital has also been award-winning, which he cites as being one of his proudest achievements. “I’m privileged enough to have been a part of, and to have managed award winning teams.” He recalls. “Winning the industry choice of Publisher at the Performance Marketing Awards was a proud moment. It was an award voted for by the entire industry rather than a judging panel so made it extra special.”

Leading by example as someone who has developed profusely in their career, AJ is someone who doesn’t forget his roots from when he started out. “Seeing talent develop in my team, and everywhere around the agency is a great motivator for me. I’m a big believer in growing from the ground up, and I’m lucky to have a wonderful team that teaches me things, and continues to motivate me to learn new things so I can reciprocate.”

Our people are our product, so attracting and developing talent is the best thing for our clients.

AJ Hill - Head of Paid Digital

Key steps to succeeding

With more access to data, insights and research than ever before, I always try and use it to justify any decision making.

When it comes to his career AJ has the awards and titles to back it all up. What would he say are his key steps to success then? “Try to back up as much of what you do with objectivity, data and facts.” He states. “I remember seeing a Bob Hoffman quote that really stuck with me: “Relying on our own behaviours and tastes is narcissism disguised as strategy. The reason it stuck with me is that I’ve been so guilty of this before! With more access to data, insights and research than ever before, I always try and use it to justify any decision making.”

Recalling some of the best advice he’s received in his career; “Put yourself forward for everything. That was the advice I got just before I started my first job, and it stuck almost immediately.” AJ continues. “That mentality forces you to learn much quicker, and takes you out of your comfort zone so you can grow and develop.”

“It also gets you noticed much quicker, but don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

“Also, make sure you keep reading! Be sure to keep up with the trade press so you’re up to date with the latest developments and challenges facing the industry. It will give additional context to the tools you use and skills you develop. Detailed working knowledge of different platforms is great, but understanding their impact and how everything knits together is key to career progression. Understanding complicated concepts helps develop strategic thinking and will make you stand out, and impress your clients (and manager!).”

What’s next for paid digital?

Digital marketing is constantly changing; with new developments almost weekly. Many speak of what comes next, but what does a paid expert really think? “Further consolidation from the big players as the third-party cookie is eventually deprecated.” Says AJ. “Scaled platforms with logged in users will always have value, but privacy concerns will create fragmentation in the way we reach those users.”

“We’ve seen some pretty shady practices around data use in the last few years, and data portability seems fundamentally at-odds with these concerns, so I’d like to see how the industry will solve the problem of digital identity in a privacy-first world. This will put a huge emphasis on a brand’s ability to utilise their first party data, so we’ll see a lot of people investing in tech that can consolidate these assets across multiple platforms.”

Agency life

From big city life to a fine city life, AJ originates from Norfolk and made the move back to be closer to family. He also cites being a Canaries fan as something that helped make the return easier. Moving to Gravity Global – Performance Marketing from a larger organisation was always going to be different, but almost a year into his new role how does agency life add up?

 “I love learning from people that work in different disciplines.” AJ comments. “As programmatic advertising developed so quickly, it was a full time job to keep up to date with everything, so it’s nice to be able to learn more about other areas of digital marketing. It’s also great to work across lots of different clients and learn about different industries.”

The people are great fun to work with too.

If you’d like to learn more about paid digital marketing and what it can do for your business, drop us a message at hello@gravityglobal.com.

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