Automation won't steal your job, unless you resist it

Nobody really knows how the job market will change but you can take steps to future proof your media career. Brainlabs' chief executive explains how.

In 162 Future Jobs: Preparing for Jobs that Don’t Yet Exist, Thomas Frey shares a list of possible roles that will be created in the near future.

As VR becomes more prevalent, for example, we’ll probably need "avatar relationship managers" – people who help to resolve conflicts between our digital incarnations, or the rise of 3D printing may lead to the birth of 3D food printer chefs – experts in designing printable cuisine.

As convincing as Frey's list is, nobody really knows how the job market will change. Our parents certainly didn’t know we’d be PPC specialists and app developers, and their parents probably didn’t foresee so many jobs centred around email and Microsoft Excel.

Technology has always changed the landscape of human labour, regardless of people’s enthusiasm, anxiety or resistance.

The modern agency

Media agencies are a case in point. Rewind a decade, and the "performance agency" was more or less non-existent. There were agencies tasked with buying media, sure, but their role was to create relationships with publishers, secure good deals through negotiation skills and smart strategy.

The telephone was the most high-tech equipment required to do a good job.

The modern media agency needs to use data analysis, coding. Its staff need to have an intuitive understanding of a range of complex digital platforms. And, to truly flourish, media agencies need to be able to use automation for optimising not only the performance of ad campaigns, but also its staff.

Automation didn’t kill media agencies, it simply changed the game and for us it created the foundation of our whole business model.

AdWords and programmatic display are replacing the need for manual buying by creating an automated auction system, but they are certainly not replacing the need for human input. Now, instead of traditional media buyers, there is an industry demand for those who can operate the machines to their fullest capacity.

Over half the staff in my company have the management of AdWords or programmatic campaigns as their primary function, supported by a tech team that builds tools to assist them with this. Automation didn’t kill media agencies, it simply changed the game and for us it created the foundation of our whole business model.

Complementary automation

If you don’t want automation to steal your job, then you need to learn how to use it to enhance what you do. David Autor, the MIT economist, draws a useful distinction between automation that either substitutes labour or complements it. In digital advertising, automation can always be used for the latter.

Working with Deliveroo, for example, we used automation to build unique campaigns for more than 20,000 restaurants within the UK, Dubai and Singapore. Automated location targeting was the only way to create ads that could link to a relevant local restaurant, which was essential to the business model of Deliveroo, which delivers within a maximum five-mile radius of the customer.

Machine learning enabled us to fill in the gaps of another client’s data, in order to improve targeting based on location, device and time of the day. We have used a genetic algorithm (it works as it sounds) to optimise bidding for a client who needed great versatility within a continually changing market.

Automation allowed us to create ads for Domino’s during Euro 2016 that could be sensitive to the emotions of the fans, or react to controversial decisions on the pitch.

For AdWords campaigns, automation enables personalisation at scale and is the best way to maximise cost-effectiveness.


So far I’ve talked about paid search, but what about programmatic? Rubicon, to take a topical example, built their business based on a demand that would have been inconceivable to the previous generation of advertisers, ie to connect a publisher to various ad exchanges into which advertisers feed their ads via an agency, via a DSP (yeesh).

New problems lead to new roles being created – digital media auditors, S2S providers - along with new opportunities for marketing creativity.

Programmatic has already enabled a level of granularity in targeting that the previous generation couldn’t have dreamed of. As outdoor and TV programmatic develops, there will be so many new ways of interacting with a consumer, such as the "Looking for you" campaign for Battersea Dogs and Cats. The work targeted customers in a shopping centre with images of dogs that followed them around the stores. New tech breeds new opportunities for creativity.

Automation is the only future

With media, automation has created hundreds of thousands of new job opportunities and entirely new businesses. It has also provided vitality to the commercial world in general, through its supply of advertising revenue to companies that might otherwise have wilted without the magic of automated digital media buying.

Traditionalists within any industry will be resistant, but the future will always prevail. Just as the internet itself required an entire generation to adapt, the rise of automation in media requires a similar reskilling, and a new brand of creativity.

The advertisers and agencies that survive the next wave of technological disruption will be those that learn how to use automation to its fullest advantage.

Those who oppose it should start looking for a new line of work.

Dan Gilbert is chief executive of Brainlabs.

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