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5 Minutes with… Mitesh Lakhani

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Adverity’s director of solutions consulting on how analysis will produce the answer, uncertainty around third-party cookies and keeping his hand in as a devoted Arsenal fan and football writer

5 Minutes with… Mitesh Lakhani

As director of solutions consulting at Adverity, Mitesh Lakhani uses the wealth of knowledge he’s built up in his career to help clients maximise their data insights. 

Having previously worked at MEC, which later merged into Wavemaker, the second largest media agency network in the world, Mitesh worked on accounts such as BMW and Fidelity International, covering data management platform onboarding, tag management, optimisation, attribution, and measurement. His knowledge and understanding of pain points for both brands and agencies alike has given him the perfect foundations to help clients navigate their data journey with Adverity. 

To find out more about how he helps brands make the right decisions guided by data, LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Mitesh.


 

LBB> Where did you grow up and what sort of kid were you? Were there any clues back then as to the career path you’d end up taking?

 
Mitesh> I was football obsessed. Like many kids dreaming of being a footballer in Crawley, I loved kicking a ball about at every opportunity and had wide-eyed hopes of going professional – I even played for my county. Part of that was driven by a determination to do something outside of the norm; surrounded by accountants left, right and centre, I wanted an alternative path.
 
When the juncture came to choose my long-term direction, however, I realised being a full-time footballer may not be entirely realistic. Looking back, you could say there were some early indicators of my future path. I was fascinated by numbers and spent hours trawling over league tables and match statistics. Today, I still love playing and writing about football analysis in my spare time, and I remain a lifelong Arsenal fan. But I’ve also become a proud marketing data nerd.


LBB> How did you get into marketing? Was it a purposeful decision or more of an accident?

 
Mitesh> I first discovered marketing pretty young but didn’t pursue it straight away. At GCSE level [aged 14-16], I was already thinking about career options and marketing called out to me. I’d also developed an interest in business studies and economics, heavily fuelled by the perception that finance-based roles might offer fast growth prospects.
 
What tipped me from intrigue to active exploration was an inspiring and charismatic teacher. My business studies tutor opened my eyes to how marketing powers every area of company success, as well as explaining the diverse opportunities available and where I could go in the field. That drove me to choose business management marketing as my major at Brunel University and, ultimately, changed my life.
 
Moving into digital marketing brought its own challenges, including graduating just as the 2008 recession hit and cutting my teeth in professional services. But since I got my break, each position has only confirmed that marketing was the right choice, and I haven’t looked back.


LBB> And from there, how did you begin to specialise in or take a particular interest in data?


Mitesh> I’ve been lucky to meet several people who have helped me gain a new perspective at pivotal moments. Right at the beginning of my marketing journey, I was focused on the search engine optimisation (SEO) space, but the person I was interviewing with urged me to consider another route. Seeing that what I needed was the chance to learn about wider digital marketing, she recommended switching to advertising operations instead.
 
While slightly sceptical, I took the advice — and she was right. My initial ad ops job with iProspect provided two-and-a-half years of invaluable knowledge development; allowing me to understand the whole ad cycle from planning to measurement, alongside best practices for optimising activity across online and offline channels. It was also the perfect foundation for joining MEC (now Wavemaker), which is where data edged its way onto my radar.
 
Across multiple management roles involving harnessing data to inform team efforts, I was increasingly captivated by its possibilities. There is nothing more absorbing than uncovering fresh insights, and I find it reassuring that whatever the question, analysis will produce the answer. So, transitioning to data director was the natural next step for me, followed by solutions consulting with Adverity.

 

LBB> In the early days of your career, what were some projects that particularly helped you to grow and understand the business?

 
Mitesh> When I was at iProspect, I took part in the inaugural Google Squared course. I was brought into the organisation for three months with 83 other young professionals and, naturally, we spent a lot of time at Google’s offices enjoying free lunches. But that course gave us a golden opportunity to learn about every marketing channel and meet industry trailblazers in the flesh. 
 
It was that exposure, early on in my career, that really propelled my growth. I met experts like Rory Sutherland, who was recently on Stephen Bartlett’s ‘Diary of a CEO’ podcast. I still aim to embody his mindset because he was a key influence for me. While Google Squared is now an online course, back in 2011 it gave me the chance to meet advertising’s thought leaders face-to-face, which shaped my understanding of the whole industry. That experience gave me a picture of where I wanted to go, and it’s guided my path ever since.”


LBB> What’s the thing you’re most proud of in your career so far?

 
Mitesh> All the teams I’ve had the pleasure of managing. Especially when I see what people have gone on to achieve afterwards. 
 
Uplifting others and then watching them grow, thrive, and make their mark on the industry has made me so very proud. I have great relationships with some of those I’ve managed and was even invited to one of their weddings last year. Whenever a former colleague moves jobs or has an issue at work, they still give me a ring and we talk it through. It’s a privilege to be a part of some amazing people’s lives. 
 
When I see them flying high, it’s truly inspiring and reminds me why I love being a manager. I’ve got a team of six in my current role, and I know we can help each other do great things.

 

LBB> Although timelines have changed, it seems that cookies will soon be rendered obsolete. What are the key ways in which brands need to prepare for this future?

 
Mitesh> Much of my role at Adverity is about understanding business challenges and identifying which tools will fit unique data needs. Right now, however, third-party cookie issues are making it tougher for many firms to define what their requirements will be. A lingering chasm of uncertainty means they’re understandably struggling to pin down precisely how depreciation will affect data processes and which measures they should implement.
 
What will happen in the near-term is hard to predict, but my money isn’t on a return to the Mad Men days of basing decisions purely on gut instinct. It’s unlikely Google will pull the curtain permanently on cookies until the industry has viable alternative mechanisms for serving relevant advertising, without impinging on user privacy. In fact, Google has said so itself in multiple blogs, including the latest delay announcement.
 
Organisations need to keep a scrutinising eye on emerging developments. Rather than blindly adopting one-size-fits-all offerings, they must assess the validity of each new innovation and opt for best-in-class solutions; preferably those with the capabilities needed to enable secure, cookie-free audience building, segmentation, and targeting.
 

LBB> What do brands most often need help with when it comes to kind of understanding the data that they have access to?

 
Mitesh> Typically, companies need support in looking beyond what they expect, or want, the data to show. All too frequently, there is a view from the top that data-driven marketing must perform exceptionally to be worthwhile, which fuels fear of failure and overshadows the value of learning from insight.
 
Years ago, I was assigned to a client who planned to continue spending on Facebook because of impressive engagement figures, ranging from 15-20%. My team’s analysis, however, revealed discrepancies between in-house metrics, such as viewability, and tangible interactions with ads. Our bespoke measurement formula found engagement rates actually aligned with the 2-3% industry average. But although interested in this data, the client told us reporting would emphasise the original higher ratings to avoid losing their marketing budget.

Such examples speak to the need for openness to experimentation and adaptation. As a new generation of data-positive marketers emerges, it’s good to see that attitudes are changing and the CMOs in charge of future budgets will be those who want to understand what their data means and the next best actions it highlights. This will be a major gearshift that takes the sector and businesses forward, but leaders will still need experts to support them in interpreting and extracting maximum value from their data.


LBB> But what about creativity and magic? What are the most emotionally fulfilling ways you've seen data put to use by brands?

 
Mitesh> A big creative inspiration is YouTuber Mr Beast. His super-scale stunts, competitions and giveaways are so entertaining to watch and it’s no surprise he has the largest YouTube subscriber base in the world. But the greatest draw for me is the ethos behind his magic.
 
As a guest speaker on one of my favourite podcasts — Dhar and Jay — it was extremely motivating to hear about Mr Beast’s business approach. His top priority is quality content, and because he understands that great results come from continual investment, every penny of profit goes back into production, which is often based on insights around the events and prizes audiences would like to see.
 
This way of working tallies with my personal and professional philosophies. I have always believed it’s important to embrace and flow with the tide, rather than standing still and eventually being washed away. In the business sphere, I feel the same applies. Firms must pivot and innovate to succeed, and those who use data to help guide continually smart investment will enjoy the greatest and longest-lasting gains.”
 

LBB>  Outside of your direct line of work, what's inspiring you right now?

 
Mitesh> Living well and, of course, football. In my youth, one of the kids I kicked a football around with was Jay Shetty. Now an internationally acclaimed life coach, he gives advice to the A-list stars like Will Smith and Justin Bieber. Still unshakably grounded, his mission is all about enabling people to find everyday fulfilment through small changes and achievements.
 
I regularly look to his content for ideas about how to be healthier, build better relationships and offer the kind of support I want to receive; be that for friends, family, or colleagues. As a former Huffington Post content creator himself, Jay’s mentorship is a major reason why I continue to write about football. Without his encouragement to keep following my passion, I wouldn’t have reached the milestone of seeing my work recently published in Sports Bible.
 
Similarly, I frequently check in with my own long-standing mentor: former Wavemaker CEO, Paul Hutchison. He has moved to Australia, but still makes time to help me develop as a team leader and individual. I firmly feel these kinds of relationships are essential to ensure we can stay balanced and see the wood from the trees. We should never underestimate the value of welcoming different points of view and being willing to learn.
 

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Adverity, Tue, 24 Jan 2023 17:11:34 GMT