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Rob Norman on new interest Playbuzz and GroupM

Rob Norman has spent 31 years in media agencies, beginning his career at the UK’s CIA (later WPP-owned MEC) and the last five years as Chief Digital Officer Global at GroupM. He retired from GroupM last year and remains a consultant. He joined interactive storytelling platform Playbuzz as a director this year.


1/Now you’re retiring from GroupM there must be lots of new media opportunities. Why Playbuzz?

They have a valuable, differentiated proposition in a sea of sameness. Happily that differentiation helps publishers, advertisers and agencies create real engagement in a low attention world.

2/Is there room to grow such companies in new media when so much advertising is funnelled into Google and Facebook?

Of course there’s room. As long as consumers spend time outside of Google and Facebook properties, there’s room for Playbuzz. The company is not trying to be the ‘3rd force.’

3/Do you see any signs of this duopoly being broken?

There’s any number of theoretical scenarios but that’s all they are. People should focus on the value of their own businesses to consumers and advertisers and stay committed to adding to that value all the time.

4/The trust debate has dominated media, especially digital media, since the ANA report. Are there any signs of a consensus emerging?

Sure, the supply chain is imperfect but not as imperfect as the inflation of cost and conflation of issues suggests. I think that everyone in the value chain – from platforms to publishers to ad tech suppliers, agencies, trade associations and journalists – should take a good hard look at what they could do better. By better I mean ‘create most value, cause least harm.’

5/You’re remaining a consultant to GroupM. Is there a future – or the same kind of future – for such big buying points when clients can do it themselves or deal direct with media owners?

Clients can do what they like with their shareholders’ money. I believe strongly in the necessity of understanding their contracts and being a full stakeholder and sometimes owner of their adtech/martech supply chain. At the same time, it’s important that they recognize that they will never have the visibility of categories, countries or channels that GroupM has. They will never be able to offer their people the variety that comes with multiple clients or the career path with such a media practice.

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