M&S: Bringing data management in-house 'imperative' for brands

In-housing: Hourani and O'Flynn
In-housing: Hourani and O'Flynn

Role for agency partners is providing specialist expertise, retailer said.

Brands should recognise areas in which media agencies are best-placed to provide expertise but must find the "arrogance" to take control of their own data, Marks & Spencer’s head of media channels has said.

The transformation of the retailer’s approach to media had been focused on "ownership of data", Maria O’Flynn, who joined M&S in 2018, said. O’Flynn was speaking on a panel on in-housing at the ISBA conference in London today (Thursday). 

"When you look at the distribution of your core data, where that lives and the value that could unlock for us as a brand, that’s at the core of what we’ve been doing," she said.

"There’s obviously planning and buying functions, all of which are moving at pace in terms of the specialism and expertise. It’s difficult and possibly a bit arrogant to think you can own expertise there in-house. But data – you have to own that arrogance, and acquire that arrogance, and deal with your data better than anyone else can. Bringing that in-house is absolutely imperative."

M&S, which last year divided its creative duties between Grey London (for food) and Odd (for clothing and home), primarily works with Mindshare for media across both parts of the business.

"You can’t distribute your strategy," O'Flynn said. "You can take advice from partners, from specialists in these really fast-moving areas, but own your own strategy and your own data, and beyond that look for your specialists."

She said M&S had recently reviewed its arrangements around search and decided to in-house its SEO, while keeping its paid search advertising external – a decision O'Flynn said was based on "the job being done by technology" in each case.

With SEO, she explained, "we need to keep those skills in-house – those skills are really specific to us. Our tech stack is like no other."

For paid search, on the other hand, "we needed a high degree of automation, but that’s technology that’s developed by our agency – I’m not going to have people in-house building, developing and keeping that technology up to date."

Also on the panel was Hanna Hourani, programmatic and search lead, EMEA, at Uber. The ride-sharing app’s approach to media was to move towards in-housing and automation in large areas, he said. 

"When you have so much supply consolidated in one place, the thing you start to think about is: how do I optimise that further," Hourani explained. "One way to do that is to automate that way you transact on those supply services.

"So what we’ve tried to do as much as possible on our biggest media partners – Google and Facebook – is just move everything to automated in-house tools and reduce the amount of hands needed."

But he said Uber would continue to work with media agencies on areas such as brand campaigns. The company has worked with Manning Gottlieb OMD on campaigns including a recent push for Uber Eats created by Mother, starring comedian Guz Khan.

Start Your Free 30-Day Free Trial

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.com, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free