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Driving a strong digital culture through collaboration and innovation

Driving a strong digital culture through collaboration and innovation

BroadcastCase StudiesDigital TransformationTop StoriesUnited Kingdom

André Azadehdel, CIO, Clear Channel Europe, discusses the lessons he has learned in his role as CIO, the importance of never losing sight of your people, and how he plans to continue pushing the Digital Transformation of the world’s oldest advertising medium.

André Azadehdel, CIO, Clear Channel Europe, is responsible for leading the Out-Of-Home (OOH) advertising company’s Digital Transformation. This involves automating processes and operations, digitising products, creating digital channels and using data to enhance products. He now oversees an international team spanning 17 markets with an agile and flexible approach, driving a strong digital culture through innovation and collaboration.

Can you tell us about your role at the company and what this involves?

I am responsible for leading the Digital Transformation of Clear Channel Europe and building the core technology capabilities to enable this. My goal is to drive a strong, agile digital culture through collaboration and innovation across not just my team – which spans 17 markets – but the entire business.

The most exciting aspect of my role as Clear Channel’s CIO is that it has given me the opportunity to put into practice everything I’ve learnt about Digital Transformation over the two decades I spent as a consultant. Being CIO at Clear Channel is fascinating considering the increasing tech focus of the company. Out-of-Home is the world’s oldest advertising medium and we are moving away from a time when our product was only a paper poster sold for two weeks. But now that we are digitising our estate, our proposition is so much more real-time, flexible and data-driven. Tech is now at the heart of our customer experience and business, and this impacts the nature of my role at Clear Channel – I’m driving a transformation that has a highly intrinsic relationship with our commercial product.

What challenges do you encounter in your role and how do you manage these effectively?

One of our biggest challenges comes from a tech talent perspective. Potential hires don’t always see Clear Channel as a company that has digital and tech at its centre, so we are working hard to inform people about the work we are doing and how tech-centric it is. Most tech talent would be surprised to see how tech and business work hand in hand with customers to deliver real commercial impact. We are using contemporary technologies and are embedding modern philosophies such as being product-centric into how we achieve value. I think giving tech talent the opportunity to solve complex and hard problems, work with exciting tech, collaborate with a diverse team and ultimately deliver business results is the best way of solving this challenge.

How do you plan to lead the company to success on its Digital Transformation journey?

We’re seeing a fundamental change to our business model, products and channels to market as a result of digital trends and we are continually needing to improve the capabilities of our digital business. This includes building capabilities in areas such as experience design, product management and customer success – creating cross-functional teams with marketing, sales, legal, design and digital representation – and bringing these teams closer to the customer to understand their needs through research and rapid testing and learning.

A key part of my role is ensuring what we do in tech is fully aligned with, as well as informing, the strategy of the business. We are focused on delivering on a number of fronts: improving customer experience, revenue growth and operational efficiency. Many people see a clash here, but I don’t believe these goals are mutually exclusive.

What similarities and/or differences are there between the various global regions you oversee in terms of strategy and how does this affect your approach in the Europe region?

Historically, our countries across Europe operated relatively autonomously with their own technology teams. Just over a year ago we brought all of tech into one European organisation, so building a common culture to create a single high-performing team is one of my highest priorities. Countries obviously do have differences in terms of market dynamics, the customer ecosystem and market maturity. But most of our differences have been self-created due to historic market autonomy. All of our markets sell advertising in the end, so although we may need to tweak the product and offering, the core process, technology and data backbone should be the same.

A couple of practical tactics for me are: (i) Start from the future and work back. Don’t spend too long analysing the current state or you will get stuck and never really transform. (ii) Focus on one market and prove it. It may be politically hard as this will create ‘not invented here’ resistance but at least you are starting with something tangible and real.

How do you drive a strong digital culture through innovation and collaboration?

For me, the way to cultivate a strong culture isn’t by talking about it but by living and breathing it. It is about how we act on a day-to-day basis to model the type of business we want to be. This is something we need to do as leaders all the time and something that we need to practice together as teams when we are working and delivering. We have worked with our team to co-create a blueprint for our culture and the kind of behaviours that we want to exhibit. This is helpful for getting us to think about our culture and to get alignment and buy-in around it. We have a new Employee Value Proposition under the brand ‘Bring You, Shape Us’ which encourages our current and prospective employees to be vocal about their drivers and talents so we can maximise the enjoyment, impact and growth they can get out of their role.

What advice would you give to other CIOs in the market looking to redesign and transform their businesses and utilise digital trends?

There are several things you need to keep front of mind if you’re looking to transform your business with digital in mind. You need to stay on top of tech trends as several of them could end up causing fundamental change to your business, while walking the fine line between hype and reality.

To ensure you get the most important things right you need exposure to as many experiences as possible within the business. Understanding the business is imperative because tech means nothing if it does not address a business need.

Finally, you need to never lose sight that your highest priority is to your people. The process of attracting, developing and retaining great talent is fundamental to the process of business transformation. This is not a journey you go on by yourself.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve been given and how do you apply this to your role as a CIO?

There will always be more to do so you need to know when to stop. This advice was given to me by a partner at my old employer, Deloitte Consulting, who had noticed I was often the last to leave the office. My most important role is bringing up my three daughters so that advice helps me focus on that and balance my role as a CIO with my role as a father.

Within my role, it has taught me that focus is key. There will always be too much demand for tech for you to satisfy everyone, so I’ve learned to make hard decisions early on to get the most important things right.

What does Clear Channel Europe’s technology roadmap look like for the next 12 months and how do you plan to continue innovating?

We are transforming most parts of our business enabled by tech, and each of these initiatives delivers value in different ways so it’s hard to call out. One initiative of note is a large-scale transformation of our ‘front office’ to make sure that our commercial teams have the processes and technologies to deliver on our digital ambitions, to provide an outstanding customer experience and enable our mission to Create the Future of Media. This is a complex programme touching upon all elements of our operating model across all our markets, the type of programme with a high risk of failure. But I am proud of our team that they are pulling it off and successfully delivering.

We are also scaling our new advertising platform, LaunchPAD, which enables customers to buy our inventory via Programmatic, Automated (via an API) or Direct Self-Service Digital channels. This is making it easier, quicker and more transparent to buy OOH which is attracting new customers to our medium. We now have eight markets live on LaunchPAD, enabling customers to buy Programmatically across multiple SSPs and DSPs, and additional markets are being added as we speak.

This will not happen without keeping investing in and developing our team over the next 12 months so they can continue to innovate, deliver and continue to Create the Future of Media.

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