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Ad Spotlight: with Melissa Blaha, Head of Product, Data and Analytics

Sep 15, 2021

Welcome to the Ad Spotlight series where we will hear from a different guest from the industry each month to get an insight into the landscape of advertising as well as their own personal experiences.

Our guest this month is Melissa Blaha, Head of Product, Data and Analytics at Finecast. Melissa studied and worked in the U.S. before moving to London in 2012 and joining Finecast in 2020.

As a woman in a senior position, she is well-placed to speak about what it is like as a female in advertising, so we quizzed her on it and where the industry is heading in general…

Why did you choose a career in advertising?

Initially I wanted to be a journalist but was put off by the idea of deadlines. Which is ironic if you know anything about advertising!

I studied advertising at Syracuse University in the States. I took creative ad classes – coming up with concepts and designs – but I really like numbers and solving problems so gravitated more towards the business side of advertising.

What are the biggest challenges facing the industry right now?

The ability to innovate is one of the biggest challenges as well as one of the biggest opportunities. Taking advantage of the new things going on like the proliferation of streaming and the drive to use more audience-based targeting to generate better results can bring advertising to the next level.

At Finecast, we work in connected TV, but always have an eye on what is coming next so we can factor in evolving viewing habits and industry changes. For instance, the rise of streaming during the pandemic – and the diverse range of devices and services used to stream – gave users more options. Appreciating how enhancements to those existing platforms make for a better streaming experience is important.

And where is the most exciting innovation taking place?

The pace at which tech is evolving cannot be underestimated. Things you couldn’t dream of doing when I started are now totally obsolete because the technology has caught up and surpassed it.

We’ve gone from booking campaigns via the post to full automation. If you told someone today they had to mail or fax something to book a campaign I don’t think anyone would bother.

More and more, automation and technology allow us to do new things and do them better. For instance, programmatic has become widespread across the industry. With Connected TV you can buy and serve your ad and get so much data off the back of it. The integration here – between supply, platforms, data, and systems – is the driving force behind this powerful new way of working. As integration and cooperation increases in the industry, we’re going to be able to achieve bigger and better things for our clients.

Whether on a billboard, on TV, or on radio, there is opportunity to move at pace and be more targeted and intelligent about who and how you speak to audiences because you don’t need to worry about the time-consuming manual processes.

We’ve gone from spending days and weeks completing paperwork to a computer making decisions – based on my chosen criteria – in nanoseconds.

Sum up the future of advertising in three words…

Speed. Integration. Creativity.

What is your biggest career highlight…

It sounds cheesy but joining Finecast. Being on the technical side of advertising, I had always worked on very male-centric teams. When I joined Finecast I was leading a team of very smart, senior-level women working in the tech space.

It was very inspiring to see how Finecast built a team of women who want to work – and are doing great work – in this space.

…and biggest regret?

Taking too long to learn to say no and create balance in the workplace. It can be scary as a junior to push back when you think something in unrealistic, but it is important to do so otherwise client campaign requests can get out of hand.

Let’s turn our focus onto women in advertising. Are there any specific challenges you have faced as a woman in the industry? And how have you overcome them?

Oftentimes I will find myself as the only woman who has a seat at the table, which can be intimidating and, even at a senior level, difficult to find your voice. There must be more opportunity for diversity in the workforce so situations like that don’t happen to people who come after me. I always try to make sure I nurture female talent below me so that there is more of it at a senior level as time goes on.

Things are improving, but there is still work to do so that the host of incredibly qualified and experienced women in this industry have the opportunity to shine in roles at all levels. We are seeing more examples of women being promoted and celebrated regardless of taking a more circuitous career path and this can only be a good thing. I’m quite excited to see the great initiatives across the GroupM agencies to improve diversity, and especially the Visible Start programme championed by WPP and Mediacom. 

Who would you single out as your mentors and inspirations?

I can attribute my success at every stage of my career to a woman that was above me, supporting me.

Rachel Kupasrimonkol, at Razorfish, took me under her wing and showed me what it meant to be a strong female in the workforce. She did that by not changing who she was but by showing me that she could use her natural skillset as a form of leadership – rejecting the “loudest person in the room” aggressive leadership stereotype.

Adrianna Matyaskova, Head of Media at Digitas when I worked there, was fearless. She taught me how to have those hard conversations that are still constructive.

In my time at Dentsu, Michelle Patrick, Claire Ritchie and Vanessa Horgan were huge inspirations. All three were balancing work and childcare when I was also pregnant and returning to work. They really helped me at a time when a lot of women can feel very vulnerable – helping navigate the road back from maternity leave. 

It can be hard if you haven’t gone through that particular life change to understand how weird it is to return to somewhere that you used to know so well but has subtly shifted. Without the support of a good manager or mentor at that time I don’t think you can successfully do it and companies lose talent by not managing that process well.

And, finally, I’ve been blown away by the talent I get the chance to work alongside each day at Finecast. Women like Samantha Lister, Helen Quaid, Melita Gorewal, Stacey Collings and Meritxell Saura have welcomed me to the team and continue to be great examples of the passion and imagination that will drive this industry forward.

What advice would you give any women entering the advertising industry today?

Two things.

One, don’t be afraid to use your voice. It can be intimidating especially if you’re one of the only women in the room but don’t be afraid to speak up.

And, secondly, leadership doesn’t have be that stereotypical “loudest man in the room” approach. There is value in power and leading in a way that is authentic to yourself. You don’t have to compromise or make yourself feel uncomfortable in a style that doesn’t quite fit.

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