Ashley: Could you start us off with an intro of you and your role?

Seb: For sure. So I’m Seb, Head of Biddable Performance at PHD UK. I’ve been in the industry for over 10 years and I’ve worked across a few major groups, including WPP, Publicis, and now Omnicom for the fourth time. I’ve been in both global and local roles, and in my current role, I lead the biddable department, which looks after search, social and the e-commerce teams. I also lead all of our relationships with our partners, including Adthena, and I also sit on the search and social councils here at PHD.

Ashley: How is your team organized?

Seb: I look after a team of about 30 people. There are four core teams I work with, each with varying numbers of Account Directors, Managers, Planners, and Executives. In addition to those core teams, we have our Manchester team supporting us.

On current challenges

Ashley: As we emerge out of the coronavirus crisis, how is PHD responding to the reopening of various markets? Where is the momentum for you right now?

Seb: The first area would definitely be on the cookieless world – and I’m sure every digital marketing professional at the moment is grappling with the same questions. For us, it means we’re trying to future proof our digital planning, buying and measurement processes. We’re also trying to reduce the risk for our clients who are using audience data.

The second set of challenges keeping me up at night are the constant updates from tech giants. There have been major changes for us to stay on top of – for example, Apple’s depreciation of user IDs. All of these changes are definitely keeping us on our toes, both from a tech and a legal/privacy perspective.

Finally, team recruitment and training continues to be the main focus. With the world coming out of lockdown, brands and advertisers are spending again. And this also means that there are new opportunities in the marketplace and people want to move around. Simply put, a lot of talent just wants a change of pace after a full year in lockdown, as we can all appreciate. So, in 2021, our focus is on putting together a robust training plan for our teams. And as a testament to PHD, I’m happy to say that, in 2020 alone, we hosted over 100 hours of team training. It’s really built into the essence of PHD.

Ashley: On that note, how do you approach training and enablement on search tools to make your team smarter? Why is training important?

Seb: One of PHD’s USPs is actually the level of training we provide for our staff. Just considering the candidates I’ve interviewed over the past six weeks – one of the first questions they ask is – what do you offer in the form of training? So, working with partners like Adthena on product training is a great way to bring new talent into the agency, and for our new hires, we get to introduce them to industry-leading technology which they may not have had access to beforehand.

Ashley: How is Adthena helping both you and your clients during this time?

Seb: To start, both my team and my clients find Adthena really helpful and simple to navigate – which is actually a difficult thing to balance. In fact, my team is finding Adthena even more valuable than Google’s Auction Insights. The challenge with Auction Insights is that it only shows you impressions – while Adthena gives you way more info on the specific tactics your competitors are using. Presenting this data has opened doors to new conversations with our clients that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.  It really is one of the most advanced tools in the marketplace.

On the road ahead

Ashley: Coming out of Q1, how are your brands looking to grow for the remainder of this year? What is their mindset?

Seb: Backtrack a year ago, this conversation would have been very different. Now, brands are focused on how we can scale up efficiently. They recognize that we can’t just switch everything on and go guns blazing into the markets – we need to think about how to scale tactically and strategically across channels. There are also a number of key questions to solve – how will the cookieless world and industry changes impact us both operationally and strategically? Are partners offering us solutions, or will we have to build up our own first-party audiences from scratch? There’s certainly a lot of conversations happening at the moment.

Ashley: As different industries come back at different times, where do you think budgets will flow back to as the markets reopen?

Seb: I’d say anything with a physical store. In the case of auto, for example, we’ve had to take a step back since auto manufacturers have had to close their stores – but that industry will no doubt see greater investment once we open up. There’s retail, which should pick up once in-store visits rise again. And finally, of course, there’s travel and entertainment, where there’s a ton of consumer demand on the horizon.

On shaping your career

Ashley: As you grow your team at PHD UK, what are the top three qualities you look for in the ideal candidate?

Seb: I would say the top three qualities I’ll be looking at for potential new hires are: 

  1. Someone with a can-do attitude and growth mindset. These are two traits I can’t teach someone, so demonstrating this in the interview through examples is very powerful and will make that person stand out from the pack. 
  2. Being curious and questioning both the data and the brief. This will help unlock a better understanding of the data/brief and could lead the conversation in a whole other direction that people may not have initially thought of.
  3. Finally, knowing your craft and doing your research. Showing up to the interview and talking about the latest betas and tests that you have done and are proud of, and what PHD has done recently, will show the interviewers that you want this job and not any job that’s in the market.

Ashley: Looking back on your path so far, what is some of the best career advice you’ve received?

Seb: This is a great question! I’d say there are three pieces of advice I received during my career to date which still ring true today:

  1. Answering this question on a daily basis: how can I move the business forward today? This will force you to make decisions on where you spend your time.
  2. Get a mentor. I’ve learned so much from the mentors I’ve had throughout my career and these individuals were great at pushing me outside my comfort zone.
  3. Put your hand up to help. This will allow you to work with people and teams that you might not normally have and it’s a great way to get out of your day to day role and work on some interesting projects.


PHD is a global communications planning and media buying network, built on a culture of smart strategic thinking and creative innovation. 

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