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Toe to toe competitive marketing, legal intervention, and jail; the memoirs of a telecom marketeer

“I’ve always enjoyed applying my brain power to those competitive situations and understanding how marketing can support business objectives.”

David Smith, International Telecoms Marketing Director and former Director of Strategic Development and M&A at Manx Telecom, looks back on his truly global career and how the mobile telecoms industry has changed in this time.

Transcript:

Nathan Anibaba:
This is ClientSide, from Fox Agency.
Nathan Anibaba:
(singing)
Nathan Anibaba:
David Smith is an experienced leader in global telecoms markets, especially small Island telcos with a proven multicultural success across the UK, Europe, Middle East, Asia and the Caribbean. He holds a globally recognized MBA from Cranfield Business School. He’s been a board member for many years, with a P&L responsibility for growing and protecting revenue, business planning, mergers and acquisitions, and company strategy. He was part of the team that successfully floated Manx Telecom on the London Stock Exchange in 2014 with a 220 million market cap. David Smith, welcome to ClientSide.
David Smith:
Thank you very much, Nathan. Big intro. No pressure.
Nathan Anibaba:
No pressure. Well, it’s all your history and background, so you’ve done it all. You studied geography and geology at Manchester University. How did your dissertation on an out-of-town superstore first peak your interest in marketing?
David Smith:
Yeah, I chose geography simply because it was the subject I enjoyed most at school, and tack geology onto it really to try something new. So don’t ask me to identify a rock, I wouldn’t have a clue. But arguably, my final dissertation was an in-depth analysis of Manchester nightclubs, but it was indeed an impact study of an out-of-town superstore in Chestnut in Hertfordshire. And that store’s one of the first Tesco out-of-town superstores at the time, which was built very close to their head office. And after I completed, I duly sent off a copy of my report to Tesco to receive a thank you note and two bottles of gin. I mean, I viewed that as a major result, but I guess more importantly, the dissertation did yes, peak my interest in marketing for sure.
Nathan Anibaba:
And from that point you got your first role at Dixons, but it wasn’t a marketing role. Explain.
David Smith:
Yeah. That’s right. I applied to a few companies as you did back in the day on the graduate milkround, and I actually received offers from McDonald’s and Dixons and literally flipped a coin and chose Dixons. So wow, 36 years ago, I think it is, I reported for duty at the Wood Green North London branch to start as a retail graduate trainee. And I guess people forget, but at the time Dixons was a huge powerful retailer. And they were alongside other names which have long gone. So there’s British Home Stores, Woolworths, C&A Rumbles. And at the time it was run by this legendary retailer Stanley Comms who was hugely influential. And I can still vividly remember Sir Stanley, excuse me, pulling up at the Wood Green store in his Rolls Royce for an impromptu store visit.
David Smith:
Even the customers sort of bowing and parsing as Stanley strode into the store. I mean, he was legendary. By luck, Dixons shaped my entire career in marketing. A lady who was working for a division of Dixons was taking maternity leave, and at that precise time, I just had a chance conversation with the leader of the graduate program and just explaining my interest in marketing. Yeah, three days later, I was a temporary marketing assistant. The rest, as they say is history.
Nathan Anibaba:
So fast forward a couple of years. And after a project management role at Fuji and Belling Cookers, you stumbled across the telecoms company called Hutchinson Microtel, and that brand eventually became the network we all know and love as Orange, but it could have been called something else very easily. Explain.
David Smith:
That’s right. I had been working for the Belling Cookers as a product manager, and again, hopefully many people remember that it’s a wonderful British cooker brand, famous for the Baby Belling. But sadly, this was in 1991 and it was a time of a particularly deep recession. And unfortunately all 300 employees, including yours truly were made redundant. But I struck lucky and I joined, as you say, a company called Hutchison Telecom or more specifically a Hutchison Microtel, and it was owned by Hutchison Whampoa, which to this day is a huge Hong Kong based conglomerate managed by Li Ka Shing who’s one of the richest persons in the world. They just have interests everywhere, but telecoms was a growing thing for them, and Hutchison Microtel was one of two new licenses awarded by the UK government specifically to liberalize the UK telecoms market.
David Smith:
And remember, this is 1994, and I joined this company which had grand ambitions about launching a mobile phone service. And I knew nothing about phones, but I knew retail marketing and I was relatively new to brand marketing. And the brief was quite simple. It was, “Go out and create a brand that matched the company’s ambitions for this new wonderful pioneering mobile phone service.” So yes, I was part of the team that worked on that challenge and three brand names were tested. And yes, I can exclusively reveal they were [Jiminy 00:05:39], Pecan and Orange, but-
Nathan Anibaba:
[crosstalk 00:05:44] everywhere for the Orange one.
David Smith:
Well, yeah. I think it was the 28th of April at 8:00 o’clock in the morning. It had to be with an eight because Feng Shui was a big thing for Hong Kong companies.
Nathan Anibaba:
Sure, of course.
David Smith:
Yeah, the future was bright, and the future wasn’t Jiminy or Pecan, it was definitely Orange.
Nathan Anibaba:
Yeah. That would have led to a very different strapline and slogan. Really interesting how things turned out. So you say that it was the agency Wolff Olins that really got you excited about the power of creativity in marketing. Explain what you mean by that, because you worked on some really fascinating campaigns at that time.
David Smith:
Yeah. To a certain extent it was, but to rewind slightly, it’s worth singling out perhaps the person who I think was responsible for the Orange brand, and a lot of people have perhaps slightly disingenuously claimed credit for inventing orange. Definitely not me, but that person is actually a guy called Chris Moss, and he was then Marketing Director of Orange. And he won’t mind me saying, I mean, he wasn’t really interested or involved in the detail, but when it came to big ideas, he was out there, he was unmatched, I think. And the thing he did was involved brand agency in the early stages, who, as it transpired, have just unimaginable powers of absolute creative thought, and that was Wolff Olins. I mean, they wrote the Bible on brands and I didn’t know what they were talking about.
David Smith:
But the agency that brought that brand to life is also worth singling out WCRS. I mean, they were also instrumental in the process, and at the time I’d just never seen creativity like it. I can still sort of vividly hear that Orange ad with a baby swimming through the water and that sort of synthy reverb as it starts. So it was fantastic at the time, but I guess the other thing worth or interesting event, weekly interesting events is worth mentioning, I think about which goes down in Orange folklore. It was about eight weeks before launch and so they called an internal meeting to announce the orange name, which had been kept completely secret from the rest of the team.
David Smith:
And Hutchison at the time was a very technology driven company, the CEO was an engineer and some of the development work was truly cutting edge. So when a marketeer rocks up and tells them their wonderful state of the art network will be called Orange, well, I’ve to say the engineers were absolutely livid. So much so, it was genuinely touch-and-go whether the Orange name would be consigned to the bin or see the light of day. But fortunately it did.
Nathan Anibaba:
Really interesting, because now we sort of take it for granted obviously. But at that time, when the name was first broached to the rest of the company, it must have been anathema to everyone else that was working. So talk us through, what is the process for creating a global brand like Orange from scratch? What does the initial brief look like? What is the process of doing that?
David Smith:
Yeah, the brief is key because in these terms, it was about Chris saying “This needs to be completely different. This needs to have cut through, this needs to stand apart from the other players in the market.” At the time it was Cellnet and Vodafone. So that brief sets the tone. And from that point on, I think it becomes, if I recall, quite a structured process, I mean, Wolff Olins were driving a process of brainstorming and refining an ever decreasing list of possibilities, and considering the implications of those names that yes, they can be used across all sorts of domains that they needed to be. You’re kind of quickly knocking off the options, so you’re left with those three at the end. But the creativity and structure process that goes hand in hand was I think critical to its success.
Nathan Anibaba:
So you become marketing manager for Mercury One To One in 1993. Mercury One To One, that’s a name from the past. And you were there for four years. Those guys dominated the mobile phone market for years. I remember having one or two myself. Tell us what that experience was like building the early days of what we now know as the modern world of mobile phones and connectivity.
David Smith:
Yeah. It was a really interesting time, Nathan. And as I just mentioned at the time, there were two mobile phone networks in the UK, it’s Vodafone and BT Cellnet, I think it was, rather than just Cellnet. And they were operating effectively a duopoly with very high call charges. Bundled minutes hadn’t been invented then, and phones were just these huge weighty pieces of hardware which was seen as a business tool only. So both Orange and Mercury One To One, they wanted to offer a service where a person called a person and not a building or address. And it sounds obvious to say, but again at the time-
Nathan Anibaba:
Revolutionary.
David Smith:
Yeah, it was revolutionary. You phoned the building in the hope that the person was there. But there was still the time to counsel that. There was still quite a lot of skepticism about mobile phones and a lot of concerns over the health impact. But that aside, it was a fascinating period of huge growth and very exciting times working the industry. And to think back from a marketing point of view, Nokia was a huge market leader for network equipment and handsets, and where are they now?
Nathan Anibaba:
Huge missed opportunity for Nokia. They should be the Apple of today, because if you think about it, they just dominated the mobile landscape for many years. That ringtone is synonymous with the ’90s, really. And if you think about sort of where they are now and how far they’re falling from the likes of Samsung, Apple, et cetera, it’s a real shame and a testament to, I guess, lack of leadership. What went wrong there in your opinion?
David Smith:
I’m testing my memory here, but if I recall, they were keen to follow a smartphone methodology in the way that Apple have… what is synonymous with Apple nowadays. And they effectively passed up that opportunity and concentrated on flip phones and basic kind of break phones as they’re called. And obviously they backed the wrong horse and unfortunately they suffered as a consequence. And Apple until later extent Samsung basically revolutionized that sector. So yeah, they just backed the wrong horse unfortunately.
Nathan Anibaba:
They really did. Let’s talk a little bit about your time in Pakistan because in 1998, you moved to Pakistan to become the marketing director for Mobilink Pakistan. What factors led to that decision?
David Smith:
Yeah, I’d worked for four years at Mercury One To One. I really enjoyed my time there. We had a lot of fun and some great marketing campaigns. But I did feel my career was at a bit of a crossroads. I could have stayed at One To One and round out a career though over the following few years, but I felt it would have been more interesting and more fun just to take a bigger role in a smaller company. And travel had always been in my bones, I always enjoy traveling, so I started to look overseas and I spotted an advert for a two-year marketing director contract role in Pakistan, for a company called Mobilink, which sounded great. So I applied very opportunistically, and would you believe I got the job? And I think I was the only person who applied, and I don’t mean that disrespectfully, it was just, it was quite a buoyant time and it was tough to recruit at that time.
Nathan Anibaba:
Sure.
David Smith:
But it turned out to be a wonderful two years. At the time, mobile phones hadn’t really caught on in this part of Asia, which is amazing to say. They were still expensive for the market there, and the infrastructure investment was just inadequate. In fact, we only had about, if I recall, about 150,000 customers and 50 cell sites. And today, one of the guys who worked for me actually, he is CEO for Mobilink, and they have 36 million customers.
Nathan Anibaba:
Amazing.
David Smith:
Of course, I taught him everything he knows, but kudos to Aamir Ibrahim, he’s CEO of Mobilink.
Nathan Anibaba:
Really, really fascinating. And of course in the developing world, we’re seeing countries sort of bypassing the landline stage that many of us went through in the West here, in Western Europe, and going straight to mobile and sort of bypassing that stage completely where now the vast majority of upwardly mobile people have mobile phones, which is really fascinating to see. Your wife and two children came to join you. It was really difficult out there in the beginning, you say, but you say in many ways the Pakistan experience, the two years that you spent out there was really the making of you. Explain.
David Smith:
Yeah, it was actually, Nathan, and I’m not ashamed to say the first couple of months was very, very difficult either way. It was a hugely different culture and environments than I was used to, and it just made me realize what a safe and sheltered environment I’d been used to an experience of the last few years. And frankly, after a couple of weeks, I was very homesick and wanted to come home. But I stuck at it, I rolled up my sleeves and grounded out, I guess, in stiff, upper lip and all that. But yeah, after eight weeks my family arrived and that was obviously a big help, and we never looked back.
David Smith:
At the time, the country was relatively safe, and a country like Pakistan always looks challenging from the outside, but when you’re on the ground, it is so much more different. And the Pakistani people are simply wonderful. And as a country, I’ll do my bit for tourism, areas of Northern Pakistan into the Himalayas, there’s just nothing like it on earth.
Nathan Anibaba:
Stunning.
David Smith:
It’s tough to travel, but if you get the chance, go. You will not regret it.
Nathan Anibaba:
Amazing.
David Smith:
We’ll do a travel blog, Nathan.
Nathan Anibaba:
We’ll have to. You say that there was a time that you almost went to jail for putting up prices. Tell us that story, because I know there was some fascinating stories from your time in Pakistan.
David Smith:
Yeah. One of many. There was never a dull moment in Pakistan. It was a lot of fun. Perhaps this one wasn’t quite so fun at the time, but we-
Nathan Anibaba:
Go to jail fun?
David Smith:
Yeah, it sounds like a monopoly board. We increased some business tariff prices one day and by sheer quirk of some arcane historical law, a local lawyer decided we hadn’t followed due process and decided to sue me and one other person of which I trivially might think, but it quickly became quite serious. And I kid you not, the whole jail beckoned. But to cut a long story short, our shareholders hired a top local lawyer who coincidentally, as I was chatting to him the night before our court case, he was a local TV celebrity. In fact, having grown up in England, he confidently declared he was Pakistan’s equivalent of Bob Monkhouse. He didn’t exactly fill me with confidence, [crosstalk 00:17:46] being defended by this wise-cracking Bob Monkhouse. Anyway, I did appear in a hot dusty courtroom in the hall, and fortunately the case was dropped fairly quickly.
Nathan Anibaba:
Really interesting. So you say the government in Pakistan never really totally trusted telecoms, and one instance, one story you tell is when they sent henchmen around to cut the main cable that connected you to your customers. Talk a little bit about that.
David Smith:
Yeah, it was always challenging. And just one day the Karachi pleased decided that our network shouldn’t be on for the following weekend, as there were “some security concerns” which never really understood what they were. And we sort of desperately tried to ignore this, but that failed. So they just forced their way into our main switch room, and cut through the main interconnect cables with a bolt cutter, bringing the entire network down. And it happens Nathan, you just have to sort of deal with it. But I mean it was a lovely couple of years. I could tell you about my introduction of a first ever telco advertising hoarding featuring women, launch of a prayer timing service that crashed on network, and how a mobile phone allowed General Musharraf to continue with a military coup. But I’ll, save that for my memoirs.
Nathan Anibaba:
We’ll have to get you on another podcast. So you left Pakistan and had a brief stint at Keenan Systems selling billing systems to telecoms operators, but you missed the competition of the telecom’s business. So when you were head-hunted for Cable & Wireless to take on Digicel in the Caribbean, you actually jumped at the chance. They were rapidly taking market share from Cable & Wireless. Tell us a little bit about that experience.
David Smith:
Yeah. The context is quite interesting here. And I was thinking back to the Nokia example. Cable & Wireless is now a textbook case study of how to make poor choices in business in the ’90s. Yeah, they held some really big investments in the early stage mobile phone networks in places like Australia, Hong Kong, South Africa, Bahrain, and many other countries. And they decided to sell all these off, and invest still in worldwide internet services and in the UK. And it just proved to be a terrible decision. And the company just gradually retreated until it had investments in 13 Caribbean countries and a few other similar size small countries. And so the good news was that Cable & Wireless held “monopoly positions” in the Caribbean, and the profits were used to prop up UK. But the bad news was this company Digicel, who are private mobile phone company run by the successful Irish businessman called Dennis O’Brien, was about to arrive.
David Smith:
And Digicel was everything Cable & Wireless wasn’t. It was this young, fresh, dynamic, bright red… Everything was red, smiley faces everywhere, just a challenger brand which was just going to take Cable & Wireless to the cleaners. And they actually launched in Jamaica in April, 2001, but at that point, Cable & Wireless had 100% mobile market share. And Cable & Wireless wasn’t ready, they underestimated Digicel. And Digicel put on a 100,000 customers in 100 days, which was their target for the first year-
Nathan Anibaba:
Amazing.
David Smith:
… and never looked back. And within three years, the company had a 75% market share in Jamaica. It’s huge.
Nathan Anibaba:
So you were hired as the marketing director to keep those guys at bay. How did you approach that challenge?
David Smith:
Yeah. So I was recruited to effectively stop Digicel doing the same in Barbados in early 2004. Piece of cake, you think.
Nathan Anibaba:
Sounds easy.
David Smith:
Yeah. Digicel was this huge aggressive brand coming in. And to this day they remain the toughest competitor I’ve faced. And there’s times you just have to kind of slug it out and face your competitor head on, and that’s what we did. And even though Cable & Wireless had this reputation for a low quality service and some pretty uninspiring communications behind it, but fortunately in Barbados we were a little more prepared as a management team. So leading up to the launch we made a big investment in the network, and that has to drive any marketing proposition.
Nathan Anibaba:
I was going to say, the product has to back up the marketing messages that you’re taking to market, right? You can’t put lipstick on a pig after all. [crosstalk 00:22:42] So the infrastructure has to be there to support what you’re saying.
David Smith:
Yeah. And as Cable & Wireless had under invested, they quickly turned on that tap of investment. So that’s the first thing you do. But alongside that, they made some big price cuts, they courted all of the top business customers and tried to lock them into long-term contracts where they could. And we made some big organization changes alongside that. And most importantly, I think from my point of view, we invested in marketing communications big time. The brand in the Caribbean, our brand had almost grown old with the company itself, safe, boring, and just lacking originality. So we set about giving it a kind of paint, which it did and prepared for this onslaught of Digicel.
David Smith:
And it was an epic battle. And we literally, as a say, slugged it out in the press, advert for advert, dollar for dollar. Whereas in Jamaica, I think Cable & Wireless behaved like a rabbit trapped in the headlights, it transpired that for Barbados they loved a good fight. They really did, and they started respecting us and actually listening to Cable & Wireless because we’d sort of come back and said, “No, we’ve changed.” Et cetera.
Nathan Anibaba:
So you defended yourselves, you stood up for yourselves, you sort of went toe-to-toe in the press and the media against this bright new challenge of brand. Talk about some of the more interesting stories that came out of the back of that. From what I understand, Digicel were very aggressive in the communications in the media and you matched that totally sort of one for one. Talk about some of the language and some of the communications that you’re most proud of.
David Smith:
Yeah, we did. I think you summarized it quite well, Nathan. We did match them toe-to-toe as it were. And our marketing was, and I guess in some respects, yeah, we’d created almost a Cable & Wireless version of Digicel, and to a certain extent, it became a zero sum game. And if you’re an incumbent defending your position, that’s no bad place to be. Your aim is to retain your position and proves that your proposition is equally if not stronger than this aggressive challenger. So we pushed our advertising extremely hard. It’s maybe worth just emphasizing or highlighting one in particular, it was relating to this sort of comparative drive test campaign which persuaded most riders put their name to, which I was running in the local press. And off the back of it, I received a legal letter from Digicel basically asking us to stop, which obviously went straight in the bin.
David Smith:
But I actually didn’t, I have kept it. Because at that point, I knew I had them on the back foot. For a company like Digicel, to send a legal letter, that’s a last resort. So it worked for us. The other thing we did which is worth mentioning, we got lucky with a radio campaign, which is huge in Barbados. Radio is a big deal. And we developed this campaign around this sassy local lady called Sharon or Sharon in Bajan lingo. And Barbados just fell in love with her. A family, a builder boyfriend from Jamaica and the whole… Yeah, it was a wonderful campaign and actually won a few Grammy awards. And that just kind of lifted back the spirits of our internal team as well as our customers.
Nathan Anibaba:
Really fascinating. So what are the main takeaways that you take away from that experience, that battle with Digicel in your time in the Caribbean, that you use subsequently with Manx Telecom and where you are now as someone who’s self-employed, which we’ll come onto in a moment. But what are the main takeaways from that experience in the Caribbean?
David Smith:
Yeah. As I’ve been a marketing director over the years, every situation is different, and I’ve always enjoyed applying my brain power to those competitive situations and understanding how marketing can support the business objectives we have. And applying those principles in different cultures and countries, more by luck than judgment, has just been hugely enjoyable for me and something I take great pride from. I guess my one takeaway, I guess for anyone, is if you get the chance in your career to either take yourself out of your comfort zone or work in a different country, absolutely go for it because you won’t regret it.
Nathan Anibaba:
Let’s talk a little bit about Manx Telecom. In 2011, you came back to the UK and spent nine years with Manx, where we actually met. I was working for another digital marketing agency at the time. You were director of marketing and consumer sales and ultimately director of strategic development and M&A. Why did you decide to come back to the UK?
David Smith:
Well, you won’t believe me, but there’s only so many perfect beaches you can sit on on the weekend in the Caribbean.
Nathan Anibaba:
I disagree.
David Smith:
Okay. All right. But I think from a personal point of view, my children were at secondary school age and that was an important factor in the decision. To get back closer to home really, I guess there was a risk of never go back, which is something I hadn’t really entertained. So yes, it was more for personal reasons if you like.
Nathan Anibaba:
And what attracted you to Manx Telecoms specifically? What problems were you facing at the time, and how did you help your customer solve them?
David Smith:
Yeah, I can honestly say when I was looking for a route out of the Caribbean as it were, I hadn’t heard of Manx Telecom. I knew very little about the Isle of Man. And when I was approached the job, I quickly discovered it was a company with a really good reputation for innovation. It was originally part of BT and Cell less, which was subsequently taken over by Telefonica. So it was a small part of Telefonica, which was a user test bed for 3G and 3.5G services. That was really interesting. And more potently, the company had just been bought by private equity owners. So they didn’t have a marketing director, in fact, they hadn’t had one for some time. So it looked like a really interesting challenge.
Nathan Anibaba:
Really interesting. And then as I said, we met at the time. And one of the striking things that I remember from that experience was being met at the airport by somebody that came to pick us up from Manx Telecom. And on the drive down to your offices, we were told that the Isle of Man is where the really famous annual cycling event happens every year, where at least a couple of people lose their lives. And I was shocked to hear that. And it sort of frightened me a little bit, but really beautiful scenery, I imagine a really amazing place to work out in the fresh air as it were, not so built up. Talk a little bit about what the culture of the company was like, and what factor did that have in attracting you to them and the success of the company subsequently.
David Smith:
Yeah, you’re right in that I’ve spent the last 10 years on the Isle of Man and it is a hidden gem. I believe it’s a stunningly beautiful island, with a lot to do on the island which is captivating. You mentioned the iconic TT races which are held every year, which is a big pool if you’re into motorbike racing. And it’s like a holy grail type of event, if you’re into that kind of thing. People from all across the world come over to the Isle of man. Yeah, it’s a place I’ve warmed to massively over that time. And in many ways Manx Telecom has mirrored that. When I turned up, I found differently from Cable & Wireless, a company which had actually delivered a very high quality service to its customers, but I felt the company was just lacking a little bit of confidence and proactivity and grounding in the Isle of Man in the way it presented itself as you hinted at.
David Smith:
So one of my first tasks was to reset that brand, and on an Island like the Isle of Man, with populations less than 100,000, every business and consumer has a view on the company and a relationship with the company. And if they don’t like it, walk into the local supermarket the next day they will-
Nathan Anibaba:
You will soon find out. Right
David Smith:
They will bitch about it. But I hope they’ll agree, I helped engineer a brand which was, I think, much more rooted in the Isle of Man and gave the company I think a more contemporary image, which 10 years on is still in place.
Nathan Anibaba:
In February 2020 of this year, you decided to go self-employed. Great timing by the way, with COVID just a month after. You help businesses with business strategy and M & A. Why did you decide to make that decision to go self employed?
David Smith:
Yeah, it’s an interesting one. I mean, as my career have evolved, if it’s right or wrong, I set myself a goal of remaining as a marketing director until I was 50, and happy days, then I’d be sort of achieved one of my personal goals. And I absolutely love marketing, I’m privileged that I have had a really enjoyable career. But what I didn’t want to be was this dinosaur marketing director who wasn’t really tuned in to the latest thinking and suffer as a consequence. A famous person, I think, once said, “The right time to leave is when someone asks you why you’re leaving, not when you leaving.”
Nathan Anibaba:
True.
David Smith:
So I passed that goal by a couple of years, I’d work with Manx Telecom on some strategy and M & A projects. And I felt it was the right time just to do my own thing and just have a bit more fun and hopefully passing on some of the experience to others.
Nathan Anibaba:
And how have you found the challenge of COVID-19, setting up a business and going self-employed in the midst of probably the largest economic downturn that we’ve had in the last, I don’t know, 30 years.
David Smith:
Yeah. Well, challenging in part. The PS to that is that the Isle of Man fortunately has been COVID free for quite some time and life is relatively back to normal. So the island hasn’t suffered hugely as a consequence, which is wonderful and I feel very privileged again to be here. And I’ve been able to do a little bit of work with Manx Telecom and one or two others. So touch wood it’s worked out okay, but I feel this podcast is the springboard to global domination. No doubt about it.
Nathan Anibaba:
It definitely is. So after 30 years in the mobile and communications industry, talk about some of the most exciting changes that we’re now seeing in the industry. What are the most exciting things that you’re looking forward to or seeing?
David Smith:
Yeah, no, I’ve loved every minute of my time working in the telecommunications industry. If I hadn’t, I would have moved on. And product life cycles, just the pace in this industries is huge, and I just think it will continue to be relentless. It’s a very exciting industry. When I started out, fixed lines were what you used and payphones were everywhere. But mobile was just starting, and now everything is mobile. Email didn’t really exist, now it dominates business life. You think the power of applications you have on your smartphone, it’s real frightening, and it will continue. And from a pure telco point of view, the level of bandwidth needed to support those applications will continue to increase. Right now the priority for Manx Telecom and just about every telco around the world is to make sure that bandwidth is delivered, whether it’s fiber on the ground or 5G.
Nathan Anibaba:
Did you ever think, when starting in the industry 30 years ago, that you would see the level of innovation and technological sophistication that we’re now seeing with our mobile phones and personal computing? Question part A, and part B what does the next 30 years look like?
David Smith:
Yeah. And I’ll give you a very glib answer, which is no, I didn’t. And therefore I have no idea what’s coming up in the next 30 years.
Nathan Anibaba:
Visionary.
David Smith:
Absolutely, always a visionary. But, and that’s quite important because what will happen in the next 30 years is so difficult to predict. Yes, it’s about mobile, it’s about 5G, it’s about artificial intelligence, it’s about predictive analytics and so on and so forth. But what that means to everyday businesses and consumers, it will be fantastic whatever it is. So I have no doubt that the telecommunications industry will just be continued to be this hotbed of innovation.
Nathan Anibaba:
You mentioned 5G. So maybe don’t talk about the 30 year forecast, which is pretty hard for you to… It’s a hard question. I’ll give you the more immediate one, 5G, what are some of the more unexplored applications that you’re excited by when it comes to 5G?
David Smith:
Yeah, I mean, I will downplay 5G a little bit without getting too technical about the standards and rollout of 5G services. The really interesting part of 5G is still a little way off, it’s two, three years away, and that’s where you get low latency, super high bandwidth communications. In fact, in effect replication of what you have as a fixed broadband service. And I think over the next one or two years, it will simply be an upgrade to 4G, nothing wrong with that. But the interesting bit, yeah, two or three years time is where it dovetails into this wonderful thing called the internet of things space, which I know-
Nathan Anibaba:
People have been talking about that for a long time.
David Smith:
But yes, probably another 30 years. But in my view, Nathan, it is more a question of when rather than if. And if you delve into the sector which we certainly do, or did as part of my role at Manx Telecom. But this principle of things being connected rather than people, yeah, there’s some obvious things like driverless cars, panic and alert buttons for elderly, smart metering song. But the more you think about it, there’s some really weird and wonderful ideas. I’ll give you one small example. There is now some serious mobile based applications and sensors which target livestock farming to monitor the whereabouts of livestock managed certification around herds, whatever you need to do, and some SIM based sensors which tell you whether animals are ready to birth. So you think about this, you think actually the mobile market, it’s addressing every person in the world, it could quickly address every animal in the world as well. And where does that go?
Nathan Anibaba:
Really fascinating stuff. Final question before we get into our speed round of questions that we ask all of our guests, the early ’90s, it seemed as though innovation in mobile comms was just going on these massive leaps of not incremental change, but sort of these huge jumps. And the innovation now, it seems as though it’s more incremental and sort of unnoticeable, I’m sure it’s still significant. But is that a fair assessment to say that the early ’90s was characterized by more of these big leaps in innovation and we’re now seeing more incremental changes?
David Smith:
Totally unfair.
Nathan Anibaba:
All right, fair enough. [inaudible 00:39:31] question.
David Smith:
It’s a great question though. I think in part we’re used to it and therefore we don’t notice the pace of change that I still believe is continuing, is relentless, and it will continue. And I think that value chain has also shifted immensely. And when I think back 30 years ago, the network operators like One To One Orange were dominant, and they controlled their customers through a billing relationship on their SIM card. And in part that still exists, but you think how much control handset providers and application providers now have over consumers and businesses? I mean, companies like Samsung, Apple, Facebook, so on and so forth, they will continue to drive huge innovation which plays out right across the value chain. So no, I think that pace is here to stay.
Nathan Anibaba:
Well said. Let’s get into our speed round. So I’m going to find some questions at you. David, if you can fire some short, sharp answers back, that would be appreciated. Which CMO or marketing director has the most difficult job in marketing right now?
David Smith:
I would say anyone connected with the travel airline industry.
Nathan Anibaba:
Sure.
David Smith:
So I’ve singled out the CMO for British Airways, which unfortunately alongside COVID is a brand which was great when I was growing up, but it’s been unpicked by a bunch of accountants. So I would suggest it’s a little more than a budget airline. So rebuilding that, good luck.
Nathan Anibaba:
What a shame. What do you think is going to happen? Is air travel going to return to the levels that it was before this pandemic? What’s the future of the airline industry?
David Smith:
Yeah, I always have a positive outlook on these things. I think the airline travel industry will get back to exactly where it was and beyond. Again, it will just take a little bit of time.
Nathan Anibaba:
Now, this is an agency focused podcast. I couldn’t let you leave without question about working with agencies, because I know that you’ve worked with several over the years. Are agencies a luxury or a necessity in your opinion? What do agencies do that’s so unique to clients that they can’t achieve on their own or replicate internally? Because obviously it will be crazy to think that you could do something in-house that you’re then paying someone else to do. So what do agencies bring to clients that they can’t replicate themselves?
David Smith:
Yeah, in my opinion, they can be both a luxury and a necessity, and they have to continue to add value to any brand or company. And as long as they continue to do, it’s a fragile position, but as long as they continue to do that, they are a necessity. If not, they can become a luxury. And the one thing, and I’ll go back to my days at Orange, the one thing that sets any agency apart is creative thinking. And when you get an agency who can apply some deep intellectual rigor to any problem and solve it in a highly creative, unique fashion, that’s worth paying big bucks for. Whatever the price was for the Orange brand, I think at the value of the orange company today, it’s peanuts.
Nathan Anibaba:
Yeah, really fascinating. We all hit low points from time to time, how do you motivate yourself?
David Smith:
If you’re talking really low, thinking back to my career and if your job is just not motivating you, leave, move jobs. When I’ve looked back on my career, if I don’t feel, or if I feel I’m undervalued or the value I can add is limited for whatever reason, and it could be a whole bunch of different reasons, move on. I think genuine self motivation comes from a role where you’re empowered, especially as a marketeer to solve business problems or opportunities, and really challenge the gray matter. If you haven’t got that, find it somewhere else.
Nathan Anibaba:
Really interesting. What excites you about your current role and position being self-employed for the first time? Very different from the corporate world, how have you taken to that change?
David Smith:
Yeah. Hopefully well. I don’t want to get too altruistic about it, but how do I put this politely? I guess I’m in the Twilight of my career. So what motivates and excites me now is simply being able to pass on a little bit of that experience and learning to others, and hopefully knowing it’s valued fingers crossed.
Nathan Anibaba:
If you didn’t have a job in marketing, what else would you be doing?
David Smith:
I’d be a chef.
Nathan Anibaba:
Oh.
David Smith:
Yeah. I’m a completer finisher by nature, but I also enjoy creatively thinking around things. So for me, a recipe is a challenge rather than something to be followed religiously. So yeah, just chef. Definitely Jamie Oliver rather than Gordon Ramsey.
Nathan Anibaba:
Wow. Dinner at your place then. I’m just inviting myself around.
David Smith:
You’re very welcome.
Nathan Anibaba:
If you could live or work anywhere in the world, knowing what you know now about Pakistan and all the beaches in the Caribbean, where would it be and why?
David Smith:
Thought about this a lot actually. I’ll give you a sitting-on-the-fence answer, which is, I wouldn’t live in any one location. Travel has been huge for me personally. A few years ago, actually I set myself the challenge, which has now become a family challenge amongst my two kids and wife of keeping the number of unique countries I’ve visited ahead of my age, which I’ve managed to do.
Nathan Anibaba:
Wow. What are you up to without giving away your age?
David Smith:
I’m up to 65 countries.
Nathan Anibaba:
Amazing.
David Smith:
So I’ve got by UN standards about another 130 to go. Because of that, I wouldn’t settle in one particular place.
Nathan Anibaba:
Oh, wow.
David Smith:
So I’d be nomadic.
Nathan Anibaba:
Great air miles. Top two or three places that you’ve visited while we’re on the subject.
David Smith:
Yeah. Tough one. I singled out from earlier the parts of Northern Pakistan. I’ve enjoyed, let me think. Oman has a wonderful indigenous people and some stunning countryside. So I’d single out Oman.
Nathan Anibaba:
Oman.
David Smith:
Yeah. Lovely. Enjoyed seeing Australia as well. Just colossal in terms of size, scope and immense [inaudible 00:46:02]
Nathan Anibaba:
Huge.
David Smith:
Yeah. Everywhere. Everywhere has some kind of appeal or benefit. Number one on my list though, is South America. I don’t know particularly well. So hopefully this time next year.
Nathan Anibaba:
Brilliant. And my final question, David, what advice would you give to a recent college graduate or millennial who wants to start their career in marketing?
David Smith:
Embrace it. It’s a great career, and hopefully a little bit of the Finding Simon I’ve had over the years will rub off on one or two who perhaps listen to this podcast. I’ve never regretted a minute of it, and above all else, when it comes to choosing a role or company, even the first one you choose, my advice is follow your heart rather than your head. If it feels right, just go for it.
Nathan Anibaba:
Great place to end. David, thank you so much for doing this.
David Smith:
You’re very welcome.
Nathan Anibaba:
If you’d like to share any comments on this episode or any episode of ClientSide, then find us online at fox.agency. If you’d like to appear as a guest on the show, please email chloe@fox.agency. The people that make this show possible are Chloe Marie, our booker/researcher, David Claire is our head of content, Ben Fox is our protective producer. I’m Nathan Anibaba. You’ve been listening to ClientSide from Fox Agency.
Nathan Anibaba:
Join us next time on ClientSide, brought to you by Fox Agency.