THE BLOG
24/03/2015 13:34 GMT | Updated 24/05/2015 06:59 BST

Why Transformational Technology Is the 'Red Thread' at Advertising Week Europe

This year I'm involved in two panels at Advertising Week Europe. On Tuesday, I join MediaCom, Lady Geek and the FA on the YouTube stage to discuss how diversity is a powerful formula for success. On Wednesday, I'll be discussing leadership in the face of relentless change alongside Ad Age, MediaCom, Sky Media, ZenithOptimedia and TIME Inc.

There is a red thread that runs through both sessions; how technology is reshaping the industry.

It is impossible to discuss diversity without touching on the new technological skillsets all agencies need under their roof, from UX designers to software engineers. I was recently asked by a journalist, "if you could offer one piece of advice to an undergraduate who'd like to work in the advertising industry, what would it be?" My answer was three words: learn to code.

As a company, one of our biggest obsessions is empowering the next generation of school children and university graduates with the right skillsets both to pursue rewarding careers in the technology industry, but also excel in the long list of industries that are intersecting with technology. Advertising is the perfect example. When you look at consumer expectations today, as revealed by Microsoft's Digital Trends, 53% of people around the globe don't want their online and offline experiences to be separate. And that number is growing, so just imagine how important technological dexterity will be by the time today's students enter the workplace.

There isn't a career in advertising - planning, buying account management, creative, design - that isn't being reshaped by technology. The next Don Draper will need to understand the amazing creative canvasses that emerging technologies like augmented reality and the Internet of Things will provide. In tomorrow's media agencies, an in-depth, intimate understanding of the different ways data can be used to forensically target audiences will be vital. Finally, with the consolidation of competencies across agencies, consultancies and publishers the industry is witnessing today, this list can only grow.

The title of our panel - Avengers Assemble! - captures the challenge perfectly. As we say in our event synopsis, diversity isn't a 'dull box-ticking exercise'; rather it's about assembling a wide range of people with different superpowers to crack some of the toughest communications and creative challenges we face day-in, day-out. Our tech superhero is a particularly important figure - and they should be drawn from as wide a segment of society as possible. We believe that this diverse workforce enriches our performance and products, the communities where we live and work, and the lives of our employees.

It is also impossible to talk about how industry leaders can chart the right course in a period of unprecedented industry change without acknowledging the part technology has played in creating the disruption or the role it will play in navigating it. In my view, we spend a little too much time and brain space as an industry reflecting on the former rather than focusing on the latter.

Great leadership is about successfully navigating an organization towards a fixed point on the horizon. In an article last year in the New Yorker, President Obama said: "One of the things that I've learned to appreciate more as President is you are essentially a relay swimmer in a river full of rapids, and that river is history." To me, this perfectly captures the leader's dilemma; how do I tackle changing currents and still arrive at my destination?

Technology has an important role to play. Big data will enable marketing leaders to adjust their engagement strategies in real-time, ensuring they respond to shifting tides. Creative technologists will help agency and brand leaders to reimagine their businesses in the context of new and exciting technologies. It will be a long journey, but the best leaders will turn, what Donald Rumsfeld referred to as "unknown unknowns" into "known unknowns" by hiring the right people to ask the right questions. We hope we can use big data to find small patterns, and have those small patterns make a real difference in consumers' lives, growing the value they experience from brands.

I hope we'll all make some progress together over the next week.

Andy Hart heads up the Microsoft Advertising & Online team in Europe, leading the growth of digital advertising for Microsoft and its European partners. His remit covers Bing, MSN, Xbox, Skype, Windows Phone, Windows 8 Ads in Apps, Mobile and Microsoft's third party ad network alongside the Microsoft Advertising Exchange.