BT boss Patterson: marketers must take action on brand safety

Gavin Patterson: BT boss broached a number of topics during Marketing Society event
Gavin Patterson: BT boss broached a number of topics during Marketing Society event

Brands must step up and take action in the wake of the Google brand safety scandal, warned the chief executive of BT.

Gavin Patterson made the comments last night (29 March) at the Marketing Society’s "Annual Conversation" (previously known as the "Annual Lecture").

In a wide-ranging conversation at The Royal Horseguards at Westminster, London, Patterson revealed his thoughts on issues including the brand safety scandal engulfing the industry, brave leadership and BT’s mega-acquisition of EE last year.

When the topic of brands’ ads being placed near extremist content came up, Patterson said: "Ultimately, if the channels that you use and the places you put your brand is not living up to the ethics of your company you are going to have to take action."

He added: "Unless Google fix it, it will be something that affects its business model," but went on to say he was "confident" that Google would be able to do so.

Patterson peppered the phrase "reaching the point of indifference" throughout the conversation. He explained said this was about being clear on what you wanted but knowing when it was better to walk away and gave the example of BT’s £12.5bn buyout of EE, which completed at the start of last year.

Choosing between EE and O2, which was originally owned by BT, was a choice between "reconnecting with an old friend" or making a "better business decision", he said.

A leading example of a marketer-turned-chief executive, Patterson said having the top job was vastly different to being a divisional head.

"When you step into the job you realise it’s not like any other job you’ve done before," he said. "When you become a CEO you don’t have any peers, you have a board that’s challenging you every month."

Turning to the topic of leadership, Patterson highlighted resilience as a key characteristic for good leaders to have. He also said "bravery is fundamental to leadership".

"You want individuals who are prepared to take a different path, change direction and go against the current. It’s critical for anybody who wants to be a business leader in any function."

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