Wenda Millard

Wenda Harris Millard on Digital's Impact

MediaLink is a strategic advisory firm that “live[s] at the intersection of media, marketing, advertising, entertainment, technology and finance.” The same can be said of MediaLink’s President and COO, Wenda Harris Millard. We spoke with her about the implications of the technology shift we’ve undergone in the past 20 years and the future of “digital” as an adjective.
October 6, 2015

You’ve had an impressive career in pioneering digital roles, but you started out in print media. What was it about the potential of the Internet and digital media—and this whole new channel that opened up as a result of this new technology—that called to you, after years in magazine publishing?

At the time, it was difficult to evaluate the opportunity presented by digital media. This was back in 1995, and while digital existed, it was unknown to the media and marketing world. From my perspective, it was fascinating to think about the potential of a truly new medium, which hadn’t really existed for decades—really, since the birth of television. The notion of having an entirely new way to communicate with people, to sell, to merchandise and to create brands—the new and the untested and the unknown, all combined—it was irresistible to me.

You’ve said that "[digital is] not the future ... [it’s] very much now."

Right. At this point, we’re 20 years into the digital revolution, so any company that’s looking at being contemporary, and any company that’s looking at the future, should already be actively participating in the digital space. I think it won’t be that long from now before we stop saying "digital media" and "digital marketing." It will just be "media." It will just be "marketing." It really wasn’t all that long ago when this was called "new media"—now, you’d never call it that. I think we’ll see digital as an adjective go away in the next five to seven years or so.

MediaLink notes that "adapting [to the marketplace] is not good enough." What does it take to be a business that goes beyond simply adapting and truly excels in this fast-paced, data-driven environment?

This is a relatively new phenomenon, this focus on a data-driven world—it’s very different from the way many industries have operated in the past, and I think everyone is coming to the realization that they need to pay attention to data and figure out their place in this new environment. That said, I don’t think we’re even close to understanding, at large, what a data-driven world looks like—I think we’re at the very beginning. We’re still in a place where we have more data than could possibly be imagined, and we don’t necessarily understand what that data means and how to use it.

Of course, I think what people are learning is that data isn’t where it stops—it’s the derivative of the data that has value. So, it’s the consumer insights that are really the focus of what data means, and the more information you have about your consumer, and the better you can apply that data, the better off your business will be. That is, if the derivative of that data—again, the insight—is used properly.

You and your business partner Michael Kassan have talked about how certain roles in the C-suite—namely the CIO, CTO and CMO—are working more closely together than they ever have before. How do you see the C-suite evolving, as these roles continue to become more intertwined?

I don’t think we’ll see the day where the CMO and the CTO positions merge and become one, but I do think there’s overlap between the two, and I see them continuing to be more dependent upon one another for knowledge about how to use data and how to leverage all things digital.

Part of what MediaLink does is executive search—helping companies to identify and onboard talent. How has the technology shift of the past two decades or so impacted the ways companies operate and the skills that are most in demand?

As we move forward in a world that’s driven by data and technology, we’re seeing the creation of new jobs and the elimination of others. The talent pool is changing. If you had said to anyone in the 1980s that we would have data scientists in the media world, for example, they would have looked at you very curiously. The reality is that the talent requirements for many businesses have changed radically. We’ll continue to see the need for different types of skills and experiences across many different industries.

Looking ahead, what do you see as the next big platform or opportunity for advertisers and marketers? Are there any emerging trends that business leaders need to be aware of, if they’re not already?

I see the two biggest trends as mobile and living in a data-driven world. At the highest level, I think it’s understood that those are important, but the implications may not be clear to everyone yet. We’ve been living in "the year of mobile" for about the last 10 years, and while usage has gone through the roof—many, many more people in this world use a mobile device versus a desktop—we don’t yet fully understand all the benefits, from a marketing standpoint.

In 2012, AdAge named you one of the "100 Most Influential Women in Advertising in the Last 100 Years." What advice do you have for someone who might want to grow into a role like yours?

Be a student at all times. In a position like mine, you’re still learning as much as you’re teaching. In my opinion, that’s one of the keys to success, to be ever a student.


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