Q&A with Shelby Saville

Saville ShelbySenior Vice President, Managing Director, Spark Communications

Shelby Saville, formerly the digital practice leader at Publicis Groupe's Spark Communications, in September was promoted to that agency's co-managing director, another example of digital leadership taking on larger roles in media organizations. She says her first order of business will be understanding the human experience, which is "ultimately the key that will unlock our client's ability to make a connection that transcends media vehicles." She discussed the agency landscape and leadership with Gavin O'Malley recently.

You came up under Rishad Tobaccowala; how did that experience prepare you for the challenges facing the industry, today?
If you have heard Rishad speak lately you will know that he loves to talk about how change sucks and that he does not actually like change. Change is hard, change is uncomfortable and change puts you in a position of not knowing what you are doing. Even though change can put you in a more vulnerable position, you need to decide if you are going to flow with change and drive change or have it shoved down your throat. Working with Rishad, I was empowered to be part of change. He taught me that in order to learn, I would need to challenge myself to be in an uncomfortable place. Even now, if I am in a place of comfort, I take a step back and think, "Am I learning something? Am I pushing forward hard enough?"

How do you plan to stay ahead of the curve?
We're never done learning, we never know it all, but it's our job as creators of the new media model to gather and interpret the multitude of data that is out there to better serve our clients. We need to evolve in a way that ideas and data can come together. That is a different kind of skill set and we look for talent that can blend those two seemingly opposed forces together. We stay ahead by never forgetting that we are in the talent business. A tool, a computer or a process will only get you so far. You need fantastic people who are curious, driven and focused on how to evolve what we do in order to achieve our clients' goals. We believe that great ideas come from everywhere and everyone as long as at the end of the day it is about driving our clients' business forward.

Like Rishad, you're known for being quite the digital trend spotter - what major trend, today, could you not have predicted 10 years ago?
I would not have predicted that consumers would use a platform such as Facebook to bring all of their social circles together in one place. Don't get me wrong, I am not surprised that consumers are using the Web to connect through social networks, because social networking has always been part of the digital landscape. Consumers have been using digital to connect to new and old communities since I can remember. Even ten years ago, communities were prevalent via groups (I belonged to Yahoo groups for pug owners six years ago). Online dating had already exploded (I met my husband on eight years ago) and consumers spent an inordinate amount of time in chat rooms (I belonged to a college alumni chat group in 1995). Social groups, however, were usually kept within a finite box defined by consumers. My pug owners group would not be connected to my alumni group. Now, consumers are bringing all of these groups together through social platforms that allow for the aggregation of social groups connected through one consumer. The fact that I have one place where I can communicate with my 14-year-old nephew, 65-year-old mom, all five of my previous bosses, my college roommate and a 21-year-old girl I used to babysit, blows my mind. Recently I posted a Facebook comment that started a conversation between a coworker I have not seen in eight years and my sister-in-law. This ability to bring multiple groups together through one person has begun to allow scale among communities. The consumer's voice - talking about their likes and dislikes - have increasing power, and now scale as well.

What's your bold prediction for digital ten years from now?
There are three things I am keeping my eye on right now: First, all ads will be content; meaning disruption will be replaced with value. To take this even further, marketing and entertainment will be one in the same. We're seeing that push more and more, but ten years from now, I don't think there will be a clear line. All marketers will be entertainers. Second, with the rise of social, there will inevitably be a social backlash. Consumers will put their virtual walls back up and will most likely struggle between personal transparency and anonymity. Last, the word digital won't even be in our vocabulary. It will simply be content, marketing, media. Digital will not be a relevant word as everything will have a digital core. There is one prediction I am 100 percent positive will come true: In ten years, my daughter (now 7 months old) will be teaching me about technology.

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