Trevor O’Brien, Partner and Chief Technology Officer at Deutsch, has found a career that perfectly balances his right- and left-brain talents. He studied computer science at university in London and, upon graduation, veered away from the prescribed IT career path, instead accepting a job in media. “I got into a creative environment right out of school,” he explained, “and I realized that I liked the freedom to work in creative forms.” His creative/computer science background was well timed in the age of media data and analytics. It led him to a career in advertising, helping agency clients leverage technology to best reach their target consumers. Today, his work in Deutsch’s New York office involves the use of A.I. (artificial intelligence) to build intuitive sites and mechanisms as part of a greater agency team that includes talent from across the agency landscape.
Charlene Weisler: You studied IT and yet found yourself in a completely different type of IT-based career. Does that surprise you?
Trevor O’Brien: Yes. I didn’t know about this world of creative interest in technology when I was a student and even today, when I talk at schools, they don’t know that a career on Madison Avenue is an option. The students only know the big tech players. I knew nothing about the creative space and the use of technologies to do creative things.
Charlene: How has the advertising industry evolved since you first started?
Trevor: When I first started my agency career, they were trying to figure out what to do with people like me; for example, which meetings to attend. And the project process was linear -- once the creative was done it was then passed on to the technologists to place on platforms, etc. But now we are collected into a project team, which is much more intuitive. Technologists, like creatives, are problem solvers and it all works well. At Deutsch, all participants working on a project that will take a month or two to complete meet in a room called a War Room in order to organize and prioritize. The team works on the project through its duration including design and software within and through the creative phase. The space has matured enough so there is value in having a creative technologist alongside a director, for example.
Charlene: Can you give me an example of a War Room project?
Trevor: Yes. We are excited about our client Acuvue which is the premier contact lens company owned by Johnson & Johnson. In February we started a global website that was specifically developed for that brand. It allowed us to use the War Room model -- with a producer, designer, etc. -- to envision the user experience from all angles with all of us sitting together in the new development process. Every two weeks we would deliver a new piece of the project for review by the group to assess and attach storytelling to the general brand advertising and media mix. This was a business changer for the client. We will be launching in multiple markets this year. A.I. will impact how the content will connect to consumers.
Charlene: How important is TV in the media mix at this time and as it moves into connected TV?
Trevor: My expertise is primarily in digital but I work closely with our Chief Creative Officer, Dan Kelleher. We try to look at ideas with both a TV and digital execution. I was involved in personalizing TV ads for some time, based on browser data, so the consumer can see different versions of the creative at the same time. I see the future of TV as more addressable, with more cloud-based technology where the video is rendered dynamically creating the potential for thousands of personalized versions that can be targeted to TV set top boxes. I believe that online will move to TV and other screens. TV today is an awareness driver and measurement is still tough. It is still not a perfect science. With the move to smart TVs, then TV will move from awareness to more personalized messaging to [consumers] to better connect [them] with a brand.
Charlene: What advice would you give to the next generation of IT students?
Trevor: For me, the days of tech people being confined to dark backrooms are gone. The nerd is the new cool. There are new ways to take your talent in new creative ways. Take your technical knowledge and discover new ways to use it to do new things. There is so much data and there will be so much more. We need amazing data scientists who are also creative and have the ability to tell stories using data. The data scientist who can bring a narrative to the numbers will be golden.
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