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Agency Life

The Data Surfer

The Data Surfer

Danielle Smith

Danielle Smith

August 14, 2019

Havas Media’s Bret Leece shares how he rides the waves on the beach and in the boardroom

"My work is ultimately to build a bridge connecting marketing, statistics, systems, and data."

Havas Media’s Chief Data & Innovation Officer Bret Leece was born in Orange County, California, and spent most of his days surfing while he was growing up. After he realized that pro surfing wasn’t his future and philosophy wasn’t going to pay the bills, an Applied Econometrics class changed his trajectory, and he started on the path that led him to become a leader at Havas. Through new offerings like Converged and Mx System, he innovates the way we use data to accomplish our mission of making a meaningful difference to brands, businesses, and people.  

How did you start your career? What attracted you to a career in advertising?

I started my career working for a little telco called Sprint. My first job was building models to predict call volume into the customer service centers, and with that data, helping Sprint staff those call centers appropriately. One of the predictors of call volume was TV ads for Sprint and its competitors. I started realizing the power of data in making decisions. And this was when big data was a 3.5” floppy disk, one megabyte! I also realized the power of advertising to drive people to take immediate action.

 

Tell us a little about your role at Havas? 

My work is ultimately to build a bridge connecting marketing, statistics, systems, and data. What I’m really focused on now is bringing data to decisions. Nowadays, data is everywhere and it overlaps. Because of this, there is confusion about what data should be used to make media decisions: survey panels vs. digital behavioral or stated intention vs. actual behaviors. At Havas, we believe they both have a role in media. The trick is putting them into a simple framework to help clients understand how we make decisions.  

At Havas, we have a layer between the data and the decisions; we call these layers the Mx frameworks. These are simple, logical approaches that at the core use data about the growth target’s most meaningful media. We have Mx frameworks that support each step of the Mx System. For example, the Meaningful Rating Point helps us understand and rank the TV programming that has the attention and loyalty of the target. We use the output of the frameworks to have a discussion with the client on options to place their message in the media that is most meaningful to the audience that will grow their brand. 

 

What is Converged and what is Mx? 

Converged is a data platform that helps advertisers combine the ID and non-ID data for complete consumer insights, omnichannel planning, and addressable communications.  We created it because we believe that ID data (first-, second-, and third-party data) is fundamental to modern media and we must start with client ID data if they have it.  At the same time, we also believe that ID data alone does not provide enough information to make omnichannel planning and buying decisions. Panels and surveys, while imperfect, cover offline media and, critically, are balanced and projectable. 

Further, the use of ID data is limited by governments General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), consumers themselves (ad-blocking) and now by media companies (Google, FB, Amazon).  Our data platform, and therefore our approach, enables our clients to thrive in a two-data type, walled-garden world, with their customer ID data at the core

"I think innovation happens when people look at the same thing through different lenses."

What does innovation look like for forward-thinking agencies? Especially with growing data privacy concerns and general skepticism in mind.

I think innovation happens when people look at the same thing through different lenses.  The Village Model is a perfect set up. Now, we need different marketing and advertising functions at Havas to look at the same data with their own lens. We have defined the Media Experience as the combination of Connection, Context, and Content. Havas Media knows Connection inside and out. We know Context pretty well, too, but we need help from Creative on understanding different kinds of Content. Then we need to work together, and this is where the Village comes into play. At Havas, the three come together in unique and brilliant ways I never thought of before.    

I believe there is a huge opportunity for analytics in this space. There is a long history of the media being timid about creative effectiveness. The reality is the analytics research shows that 70% to 90% of the effect of the Mx is the content. So, with structured data around the kinds of content and context, we can then start to analyze how those two things work together for different kinds of people and audiences.  While we have a lot more work to do, we are already joined up across creative and media at the start by using the same first step, Meaningful Brands Index (MBi), in our planning process.  

 

You have some cool hobbies outside of data and innovation. Tell us about how you unwind and relax.

I love to surf and skateboard. There’s a skateboard park on Pier 62, and that’s become my go to. I brought three surfboards with me when I moved to New York, but I really haven’t used them because the skate park is so convenient. That’s kind of my thing now…ok, I’m obsessed. I also swim in a lap pool when I can so that when I do get the chance to surf, I’ll be in shape and can handle the waves. 

I also love to travel and understand new cultures. That’s part of the reason I love this job. I love media because you get to study people and understand them from a variety of angles and perspectives. 

 

How do you inspire others?

What I try to do when I work with a team is three things: First, admit what I don’t know and dive deep. Second, give people space to figure out how to reach an objective. And third, align what people work on with what they are passionate about. To make this alignment, I ask three questions: What are you passionate about at work and outside of your job? How do you learn? Where do you want to go in the next three years? 

 

What is something your colleagues don’t know about you? Or something generally surprising about you?

Probably that I was homeschooled. Early in high school, I thought I could become a professional surfer, so I convinced my mother to let me do homeschool for a year and a half. I did my school work quickly so I could surf a lot.  My mother designed the foundation of the curriculum to be the classics of Western Philosophy, science, and literature. So, I also read a lot of philosophy and religion. Through studying English culture, my most meaningful comedy media became Monty Python, which fed my love to laugh and to see the world as full of irony. Someday, I want to take an improv class and be on stage like Suli Beg (my hero).  I think some of the best minds are in comedy. And the most twisted.  

 

What are you really good at?

I’m good at self-criticism. Honestly, I’m good at knowing what I’m not so good at. 

There’s this idea of the golden mean and the balance of mind, body, and spirit, and that’s great, but there’s not a lot of thrill in that. So for me, I look back at the history of philosophy and there are other core principles around how to live your life. I’m still searching for the one that maximizes the thrills and minimizes anything that gets in the way of that.  

 

What’s the best advice you ever received?

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"My work is ultimately to build a bridge connecting marketing, statistics, systems, and data."

Havas Media’s Chief Data & Innovation Officer Bret Leece was born in Orange County, California, and spent most of his days surfing while he was growing up. After he realized that pro surfing wasn’t his future and philosophy wasn’t going to pay the bills, an Applied Econometrics class changed his trajectory, and he started on the path that led him to become a leader at Havas. Through new offerings like Converged and Mx System, he innovates the way we use data to accomplish our mission of making a meaningful difference to brands, businesses, and people.  

How did you start your career? What attracted you to a career in advertising?

I started my career working for a little telco called Sprint. My first job was building models to predict call volume into the customer service centers, and with that data, helping Sprint staff those call centers appropriately. One of the predictors of call volume was TV ads for Sprint and its competitors. I started realizing the power of data in making decisions. And this was when big data was a 3.5” floppy disk, one megabyte! I also realized the power of advertising to drive people to take immediate action.

 

Tell us a little about your role at Havas? 

My work is ultimately to build a bridge connecting marketing, statistics, systems, and data. What I’m really focused on now is bringing data to decisions. Nowadays, data is everywhere and it overlaps. Because of this, there is confusion about what data should be used to make media decisions: survey panels vs. digital behavioral or stated intention vs. actual behaviors. At Havas, we believe they both have a role in media. The trick is putting them into a simple framework to help clients understand how we make decisions.  

At Havas, we have a layer between the data and the decisions; we call these layers the Mx frameworks. These are simple, logical approaches that at the core use data about the growth target’s most meaningful media. We have Mx frameworks that support each step of the Mx System. For example, the Meaningful Rating Point helps us understand and rank the TV programming that has the attention and loyalty of the target. We use the output of the frameworks to have a discussion with the client on options to place their message in the media that is most meaningful to the audience that will grow their brand. 

 

What is Converged and what is Mx? 

Converged is a data platform that helps advertisers combine the ID and non-ID data for complete consumer insights, omnichannel planning, and addressable communications.  We created it because we believe that ID data (first-, second-, and third-party data) is fundamental to modern media and we must start with client ID data if they have it.  At the same time, we also believe that ID data alone does not provide enough information to make omnichannel planning and buying decisions. Panels and surveys, while imperfect, cover offline media and, critically, are balanced and projectable. 

Further, the use of ID data is limited by governments General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), consumers themselves (ad-blocking) and now by media companies (Google, FB, Amazon).  Our data platform, and therefore our approach, enables our clients to thrive in a two-data type, walled-garden world, with their customer ID data at the core

"I think innovation happens when people look at the same thing through different lenses."

What does innovation look like for forward-thinking agencies? Especially with growing data privacy concerns and general skepticism in mind.

I think innovation happens when people look at the same thing through different lenses.  The Village Model is a perfect set up. Now, we need different marketing and advertising functions at Havas to look at the same data with their own lens. We have defined the Media Experience as the combination of Connection, Context, and Content. Havas Media knows Connection inside and out. We know Context pretty well, too, but we need help from Creative on understanding different kinds of Content. Then we need to work together, and this is where the Village comes into play. At Havas, the three come together in unique and brilliant ways I never thought of before.    

I believe there is a huge opportunity for analytics in this space. There is a long history of the media being timid about creative effectiveness. The reality is the analytics research shows that 70% to 90% of the effect of the Mx is the content. So, with structured data around the kinds of content and context, we can then start to analyze how those two things work together for different kinds of people and audiences.  While we have a lot more work to do, we are already joined up across creative and media at the start by using the same first step, Meaningful Brands Index (MBi), in our planning process.  

 

You have some cool hobbies outside of data and innovation. Tell us about how you unwind and relax.

I love to surf and skateboard. There’s a skateboard park on Pier 62, and that’s become my go to. I brought three surfboards with me when I moved to New York, but I really haven’t used them because the skate park is so convenient. That’s kind of my thing now…ok, I’m obsessed. I also swim in a lap pool when I can so that when I do get the chance to surf, I’ll be in shape and can handle the waves. 

I also love to travel and understand new cultures. That’s part of the reason I love this job. I love media because you get to study people and understand them from a variety of angles and perspectives. 

 

How do you inspire others?

What I try to do when I work with a team is three things: First, admit what I don’t know and dive deep. Second, give people space to figure out how to reach an objective. And third, align what people work on with what they are passionate about. To make this alignment, I ask three questions: What are you passionate about at work and outside of your job? How do you learn? Where do you want to go in the next three years? 

 

What is something your colleagues don’t know about you? Or something generally surprising about you?

Probably that I was homeschooled. Early in high school, I thought I could become a professional surfer, so I convinced my mother to let me do homeschool for a year and a half. I did my school work quickly so I could surf a lot.  My mother designed the foundation of the curriculum to be the classics of Western Philosophy, science, and literature. So, I also read a lot of philosophy and religion. Through studying English culture, my most meaningful comedy media became Monty Python, which fed my love to laugh and to see the world as full of irony. Someday, I want to take an improv class and be on stage like Suli Beg (my hero).  I think some of the best minds are in comedy. And the most twisted.  

 

What are you really good at?

I’m good at self-criticism. Honestly, I’m good at knowing what I’m not so good at. 

There’s this idea of the golden mean and the balance of mind, body, and spirit, and that’s great, but there’s not a lot of thrill in that. So for me, I look back at the history of philosophy and there are other core principles around how to live your life. I’m still searching for the one that maximizes the thrills and minimizes anything that gets in the way of that.  

 

What’s the best advice you ever received?

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Danielle Smith is the Communications Manager of Havas Group. She’s believes every meal can be tacos if you have tortillas and the heart to try.

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