Day one of AdTech kicked off at London’s Olympia yesterday, kickstarting a two-day event showcasing the latest insights and vendor offerings from the world of advertising.

One of the morning’s keynotes that particularly caught our eye was a panel discussion on the data challenges currently facing advertisers. Just after 11, we headed over to the Headline Theatre to bring the lively morning to a close.

To discuss the latest trends and developments, CEO of The Exchange Lab Chris Dobson chaired a panel alongside Ben Foster, Digital Director of MC&C, Kath Ludlow, MD of Four Engage, and Nick Suckley, Digital Partner of Goodstuff. The panel debated the state of the UK industry and agency approaches to data in a post-GDPR world.

Testing the water

It is no secret that the post-GDPR world is inhabited with businesses treading carefully around their data pools. In fact, some are barely dipping their toes. UK media agencies are no exception, with only 20 per cent of brands actually making use of the data they own. The figure is striking in an industry where data is very much the lifeblood.

As GDPR fines can amount to up to four per cent of a business’s turnover, you can understand why many agencies are unwilling to take a gamble on data, and why their clients are seeking to gain direct control over the data used to fuel campaigns.

Chris Dobson points out that complicating matters is a change in attitude of younger demographics towards data discretion. He invited the panel to share their views on how these changes are affecting the industry.

“GDPR had a clear and direct impact, making clients stop and rethink data as a whole,” says Suckley.

“What we are actually seeing is clients wanting to ensure that they own their data, when historically agencies have owned the data and reported it back to their clients.”

Creative combinations of first and third-party data allow agencies to glean a more rounded view of consumers

“A vast majority are still trying to get to grips with [GDPR], asking ‘What does it mean?’ and ‘Are we going to get fined’,” he adds.

With IoT gaining ground, the volume of data available to agencies is only going to increase in the coming years, and with it whole new opportunities in driving value for clients. It is essential that agencies restore client trust and maintain the progress made so far with innovative and creative use of data sets.

One of the biggest fears raised by GDPR was that third-party data would become too hot to handle. This is because the regulations require companies to inform consumers about the data they are collecting, how they intend to use it, and with whom they intend to share it.

According to Suckley, however, the regulations have not proved as much of a hit to third-party data use as first feared. He also emphasised the necessity of utilising it, albeit in careful compliance with GDPR. Creative combinations of first and third-party data allow agencies to glean a more rounded view of consumers.

“The concern I have with the market is that if everybody uses data in the same way you are going to get the same outcomes,” he says.

In contrast, Ben Foster reveals MC&C have ‘turbo-charged’ first-party data and eliminated reliance on large third-party data sets, only using the latter to complement the former. Kath Ludlow says Four Engage are engaging with data in similar ways.

“What clients are really enjoying, I think, is that we have managed to simplify that data gathering and sourcing, and offer transparency from the start,” she says.

On the exhibition floor, other agencies are keen to point out the positive long-term impact GDPR will have on the industry, and how, in essence, it only amounts to a tightening of regulations set out in the existing Data Protection Act.

David Wain-Heapy, Director of Best Response Media says: “For us it’s a good thing. And it will really just shake out the badly run agencies that are doing things they shouldn’t be doing anyway.”

Despite anxieties within the industry regarding data and GDPR, the outlook for independent media agencies is positive. Chris Dobson finished by applauding the industry’s ‘rude health’, and anticipates a ‘golden age’ for media agencies as media itself grows ever more complex.