I am, at heart, an analyst. But not an "industry analyst" nor purely a "financial analyst." I'm more strategically oriented than most people who have worked on Wall Street and more conscious of capital markets issues and investor thinking than most who focus on strategy.
What follows is a a little bit more about me, along with some of the key lessons from my past which I apply in my endeavors today.
I've been involved in media for more than 30 years if we include my days as a newspaper carrier and aspiring musician. Among the highlights of that era, I learned how to record and distribute music independently. Around 1993 I taught myself how to produce a pre-web internet site for CiTR Radio in Vancouver, Canada. Still focusing on music as a career possibility, in 1996 I set up a multi-band tour across Canada completely coordinated via the internet (which required figuring out how to make mobile internet access work from the back of a van while travelling across the Canadian Shield). Perhaps the most durable lessons of that era was that sometimes you need to go deep to learn something new in order to make something else happen.
After deciding not to pursue music I made the not-so-natural progression to pursing a CFA charter, an MBA and then investment banking covering the TMT sector at Lehman Brothers in New York in 2000. This was followed by time at Deutsche Bank as an analyst covering cable and satellite carriers. In 2003 I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime to replace an industry legend, Interpublic's Bob Coen. Working for one of the world's largest owners of creative and media agencies, he was the man who, beginning in the 1950s, provided Wall Street and the advertising industry with their frameworks for understanding its relationship to the economy.
My immersion in advertising paired a high degree of curiosity with an outsider's indifference, which provided me with an awful lot of objectivity. With a focus on forecasting the growth of the advertising industry around the world, I learned to develop tremendous respect for the human element of the business. Even when technology seemed poised to replace the humans, I saw how humans were still needed to make the many subjective decisions associated with building brands and businesses. Consequently, much of my time was spent on understanding how and why decisions were made by the people who populated advertisers (corporate structures were often more decisive in budget setting than consumer preferences, for better and worse). I explored why media prices behaved the way they did (not irrationally, as it turns out), why relationships mattered ("three martini lunches" actually served a purpose) and why marketer preferences are often subjective (not least because large corporations have many stakeholders' views to consider when they set their budgets. It also turns out that ostensibly precise models retain substantial imprecision no matter how good they are).
My exposure to ad tech began around 2004, when some of the earliest "exchanges" were under development. By 2007 I found myself exploring opportunities for large brand owners to tie their own proprietary data with data owned by media companies. This effort ran parallel to wildly successful efforts by my colleagues to create one of the first trading desks. In 2011 I took a deeper plunge into the space with the video-focused Simulmedia, led by one of ad tech's founding CEOs, Dave Morgan. I learned a lot about the importance of tying strategic ideas to the products that a development team could make and which a sales person could ultimately sell.
In late 2011 I was offered the chance to become a lead analyst by a former colleague from Deutsche Bank now at the independent equity research firm, Pivotal Research. I knew how to value companies, of course, and I knew how to write about them, but I hadn't actually "owned" stock calls before. One thing I believed because of my education in finance was that a company should only be valued on the basis of its future cashflows, with adjustments made for risk. There are, of course, many subjective elements to such an approach. But more important I was under the impression that consistency in approach to valuation mattered: so much of Wall Street was so focused on "chasing" stocks that inconsistency was common. This view was put to the test with the Facebook IPO. I interacted with the company starting in 2005, as did many of my IPG colleagues at the time. I knew that the business was real and not going anywhere. But I couldn't get to the $36 IPO price in my model. The best I could do was a $30 price target, which meant a "Sell" recommendation. Perhaps I ended up with a lucky call because of mechanical issues in the IPO which contributed to the stock's fall, but my subsequent upgrades when sentiment bottomed that summer was arguably a more notable call. In part because I could see the massive opportunity in front of them from the deployment of self-service tools and a focus on small businesses, I may have been the most bullish analyst on the stock for several subsequent years
By 2017, Facebook was starting to exhibit a number of problems - ad measurement mis-haps, social consequences of using the platform, its contribution to genocide in Myanmar, election interference, etc. It was important to call these issues out, even if only to discount the probability that those issues would have commercial consequences. But the biggest issue impacting them and many other stocks was that investors appeared to be assuming that even as the biggest digital advertising companies were coming to dominate the industry, somehow the industry could permanently grow at a much faster clip. The implausibility of this assumption informed many subsequent stock calls.
In 2019 I was presented with the opportunity to build on foundations established by Rob Norman and the late Adam Smith at WPP's GroupM, now the world's largest buyer of media. I was keen to add to my knowledge of the industry but also ensure that what I believed to be true from my earlier years and time as an analyst was, in fact true - a sanity test for ones' profession, if you will. The client and client account leader engagement was particularly rewarding, as was the regular interaction with thousands of WPP colleagues around the world.