Adland Secrets: Confessions of a former Silicon Valley ad exec

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 18 June 2018

This first appeared in AdNews' June Magazine.

Under cover of anonymity, this former ad executive reveals the worst in company politics, bureaucracy, and crushed idealism in this new series of raconteurs bending the ear of AdNews.

Why did you leave a career in advertising at one of the Silicon Valley–type giants?

I left after more than five years. Mostly because my ambition outgrew the opportunities available.

But what about the free food, stocks/shares and ski trips? That wasn’t enough to keep you?
Initially yes — the perks were amazing. But, you quickly become an entitled brat. After four years my main motivations for staying were the friends and social life. Not my career.

What was the culture like?

In the early days I loved it — great social life, constant learning and you felt like you could change things in the organisation. As the company grew, I felt more pigeon–holed into my job function, more bogged down with administrative tasks, and the lines of communication to the decision–makers became more complex.

What needs to change in these big tech giants to improve culture?

They are still a great starting point for your career. And, perhaps a great place to enjoy director–level positions (great pay and your own patch to cultivate). But, for the middle portion of your career there aren’t enough opportunities to learn, grow and really get your hands dirty. Every decision needs to be cleared by several lines of middle management and creativity/progress is stifled. The tech giants need to get back to what they were good at — being creative and making stuff users love. Not just focusing on hitting shareholder targets.

You’re now in the Sydney startup advertising space. Has your time at the global tech giant helped you at all? How?

Definitely. It gave me the foundation I needed to understand the industry and presented the key opportunity that we built the business on. And, of course the contacts I made there have been invaluable. I’ve tried to take all the best parts of my time there (great team culture, work–life balance, continuous learning) and remove the parts that frustrated me/made me less productive (admin, slow decision–making, constrained creativity.)

AdNews June 2018

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The best thing about leaving a global tech giant is?

Not being consumed with when your next promotion is coming.

What’s the best part? The one thing that you miss?

The people, the gossip and the events were amazing — hard to match those big budgets!

And the worst bit?

Bureaucracy — not getting real answers and feeling like you’re just a number.

In your advertising role what worked and what didn’t?

We managed the most effective form of advertising that ever existed and the customers loved it. You could see the real impact you were having on people’s businesses and lives. That was really rewarding and a great way to learn. As the company grew, you found yourself in meeting after meeting. Some meetings were about meetings. You didn’t have much time to do anything else. Hopefully, things have improved since then.

Typical company politics that got you down or got in your way?

I was way too idealistic when I worked there. I was always thinking about how to improve things or challenge the status quo. My managers just wanted someone to hit the numbers and not point out the flaws. I would have had better opportunities if I just played the game like everyone else. In the end, those politics just bought the inevitable forward — the realisation that I was never going to be satisfied working in a big organisation.

What seemed like the best way to get ahead?

Dress the part, be punctual and always be positive. A smile and positive attitude get you a long way.

What key things were overlooked in the business?

Asking why. Too many people just went along with what they were told without questioning if it was best for the organisation. For example, the acquisition team were posting inflated sales figures to hit their targets. The numbers were overlooked by their managers because it was in their best interest to report over–achievement. It took a few years for senior management to spot what all of us could see — the numbers didn’t match up. Loads of the acquisition team got fired, but most of them had already moved on to other roles. It was like Enron, but 20 years later. People’s ambition outmatched their integrity.
Client–wise, what were the strengths and weaknesses of clients’ understanding of the selling of advertising online?
Back then the clients knew very little about digital advertising. They were really reliant on their account managers. Now, you have so many other parties involved the clients don’t need to and can’t understand all the technology involved.

What would you like to see happen to create a healthier ecosystem in this style of company?

Reward people who genuinely want to improve things. Spend less time praising people who are only in it for themselves.

Did you see Adland Scerets May? Adland Secrets: Confessions of a media network adman gone solo

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