The Fishbowl: David Black, Google

The Fishbowl: David Black, Google

The Media Leader’s interview series asks the media industry’s top salespeople 10 revealing questions, drawn from our fishbowl. The questions will be drawn at random and contain some tricky posers set by the commercial chiefs themselves.

This week is David Black, senior director UK and managing director of technology, media, telecoms & apps at Google.


David Black has worked at Google since 2011, starting as director of online sales for UK & Ireland.

Prior to Google he spent more than eleven years in digital and sales roles at Trinity Mirror Group, now Reach, and has also held board member positions at the Association of Online Publishers and Media Trust.

How did you end up working in media?

I grew up in Essex in a working class family. My mum worked the night shift in Sainsbury’s and my dad was a technician in the NHS. Each day, they’d debate the news over the dinner table. It gave me a real interest in journalism.

My lucky break was having a teacher at school who thought I was smart and pushed me to apply to university — she literally drove me to Oxford one weekend, and wouldn’t let me leave until I’d written my application. I owe my career to that teacher.

At university, I got involved in the student newspaper. It was the mid-90s, the Internet was just starting to take off, and I launched one of the first student newspaper websites. Once I graduated, that helped me to get my first digital role at Virgin growing and expanding Virgin Net which set me on a path to the job I do today, as a managing director at Google.

If you didn’t work in digital, which other media sector could you see yourself working in?

Journalism. My first jobs were in journalism — I won a scholarship to intern at The Times, and worked shifts at the Sunday Express. At Trinity Mirror, the newspaper group, I was chief digital officer and loved the chance to work with amazing editors and journalists to help them reach new audiences online. I soon found my own sweet-spot, in digital and the business of media. But the path not taken would have been in journalism.

**Peer question** Who was your first media industry idol and what influence have they had on you?

Working at Virgin, I loved experiencing the family of businesses and the power of the brand that Richard Branson had built. His businesses are great at spotting trends, finding opportunities, connecting with consumers, and innovating. And I’ll always remember an event he held where he personally greeted every one of the many people who came. Some of those leadership lessons — being a consumer and customer champion, driving innovation, making big bets, and putting people first have always stayed with me.

**Question from Duncan Chater, managing director at Bloomberg Media.

Has selling media become easier or harder?

Harder. It’s never been easy, but it’s now more complex. There has always been a role for great creative, media planning and media sales to help brands connect with consumers. But now, brands and consumers have more media choices than ever before, and that means more complexity. That’s why increasingly technology has such an important role — to simplify the complex, help consumers to get the most relevant information, and help brands to reach the right people.

What’s your favourite ad of all time?

Growing up, I loved the Ian Rush Accrington Stanley ad — an iconic piece of creative for the Milk Marketing Board that everyone could recite off by heart around the school playground. “Who are they?” “Exactly!”

At Google, our Dear Sophie campaign brought tears to my eyes the first time I saw it — a touching piece of storytelling about a girl’s life through the Gmail diary her father kept for her, and the moments where the Internet made a difference along the way. A powerful and heartwarming piece of creative.

**Peer question** What would you tell your younger self about if you could?

Three words: opportunity, optimism, learning. One of the things I love most about digital and technology is the opportunities it brings. People now have the world’s information in their pocket. Entire new industries and new jobs have been created.

I’d never dreamt growing up that I’d do a job like I do now. I’m proud of the work we’ve done in areas like digital skills, helping hundreds of thousands of people get trained up in digital, from courses to apprenticeships.

Staying optimistic in the tough times is another. One of my primary school teachers always used to say: “perseverance wins”. So in the tough times, persevering and finding the positives has worked for me. And finally, always learning — whether learning from successes and mistakes, gaining new experiences, or learning new skills.

**Question from Richard Bon, UK managing director and Europe commercial lead at Clear Channel.

If you could change one thing about the industry right now, what would it be?

Improve diversity. There has been progress in some aspects of diversity, but there is so much more to do. Our industry needs to be more representative of the communities we serve. That will help us all to make better decisions with greater diversity of thought, and more insight into the lives of the people we are reaching, and more opportunities for more people. I’m proud to be chair of the Technology Leadership Group of the Prince’s Trust, which does amazing work with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and is working to help more young people from a wider range of backgrounds get skills and roles in tech and digital.

What keeps coming up in conversations with clients at the moment?

Uncertainty. There’s real uncertainty in the economic outlook over the year ahead, and clients want to understand what that means. But the best thing to do at times of uncertainty is to control the controllables. Above all, it’s critical to keep accelerating digital transformation to harness the power of technology and to reach consumers as efficiently as possible, and ensure marketing plans keep up with consumer behaviour, which is increasingly digital. In previous recessions, those companies that have made focused investments to set themselves up for future success have emerged the winners.

Who’s the best media salesperson you know (other than yourself)?

Early in my career, I got to work for the commercial director of Trinity’s regional newspapers. She was a brilliant commercial leader who had come up through the ranks, from a graduate trainee starting out on the telesales floor to commercial director of the group. The depth of her knowledge of the business, products, and clients was always impressive. She knew the sales operation inside-out, and was a people-focused leader who took time to get to know everyone. And above all, she helped instil in me tenacity. I remember giving a presentation that went particularly badly. She got me doing it again the next week, having coached me on how to do it better, and was there side-by-side with me to make sure I was set up for success.

What are the three most important skills that a media salesperson needs in 2022?

Customer focus, empathy, collaboration. Customer focus, to understand clients’ objectives and how your solutions can help.  Empathy, because sales is about people, and building long-term relationships based on trust. And collaboration, because increasingly sales is a team sport – with multiple teams, teams, stakeholders and specialists to bring together around a common goal to deliver great results and value for customers.

The Fishbowl is a weekly Q&A with the UK’s top commercial media salespeople. Check out recent interviews with Pubmatic, DCM, Meta, and Zee Entertainment.

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