source: https://download.havas.com/posts/the-data-surfer/

Havas Media Chief Data & Innovation Officer Bret Leece was born in Orange County California and spent most of his days surfing growing up. After realizing pro surfing wasn’t his future an Applied Econometrics class changed his trajectory and led him on the path to being a leader at Havas. Leece handles the data at Havas Media and through new offerings like Converged and Mx, innovates the way we use data to accomplish our mission of making a meaningful difference to brands, businesses, and people.

How did you start your career? What attracted you to a career in advertising?

I started my career working for a little telco called Sprint. I was working with data to help Sprint staff their call centers appropriately. One of the predictors of call volume was ads and so I started realizing the power of data and this was when big data was a floppy disk. And I also realized the power of advertising to drive people to do things.


Tell us a little about your role at Havas? 

My work ultimately is a bridge between marketing, statistics, systems, and data. That’s what I’m really focused on now; bringing data to decisions. Nowadays with data everywhere and it all saying something different we’ve lost a bit of the ability to understand how and why we make decisions. At Havas, we have a layer between the data and the decisions called the Mx frameworks. These are very well thought through approaches to understanding what’s the most meaningful media to people and then using the analytics behind them to present the options to the client. So the frameworks help us understand and organize, and the outputs of the framework are the recommendations and the options that our clients hire us for. They want to know what their choices are. Part of the reason Mx was created is that data was leading us rather than supporting us and we wanted to switch that around and have more influence over how people think, feel, and experience brands.


What is Converged and what is Mx

Vivendi exists to create meaningful brands, within Vivendi we have a lot of resources and I work with Havas Media so we believe that the most appropriate and powerful way to communicate a brand message is through media that matters to a person. If we’re in places and spaces that people are just skipping through to get to something else then we’re not really being effective or making any meaningful impact. But if we’re in the places where there’s actual meaning to people, then that’s the core of meaningful media. From a data perspective, we start with our target audience and look at how to create an entire experience for them through media with connection, context, and content. We’re starting to apply some rigor around the context and the content pieces so we can run more analytics on that. Through the Mx frameworks, we’ve separated the data from the decision layer so we organize how we decide and when we use what data to make a decision.


What does innovation look like for forward-thinking agencies? Especially with growing data privacy and general skepticism in mind.

I think this is ultimately about the village. In the media experience, there is connection and context which we’re really good at. The content part…media agencies have been doing that for a while but they don’t do it nearly as well as creative agencies. So I think really having the village approach and working together with the creative side to work with our strengths and create spectacular media experiences in how we’re going to push forward.

There’s a long history of the media industry being timid about creative effectiveness. The reality is the analytics prove that about 70% to 90% of the effect of the media experience is the content. So with more structure around the kinds of content and what kinds of context, we can then start to analyze how those two things work together along with the audience and connection. We will be able to be much more objective whereas creative is very subjective. The two sides are coming together and Havas has a big edge because not only are we in the same building, but we have agreed to the same strategic process.


You have some cool hobbies outside of data and innovation? What are they and how did you get into them? 

I love to surf and skateboard. There’s a skateboard park on Pier 62 and that’s become my go-to. I brought three surfboards with me when I moved to New York, but I really haven’t used them because the skate park is so convenient. That’s kind of my thing now and when I get the opportunity I swim so that when I do get the chance to surf I’ll be in shape and can handle the waves.

I also love to travel and understand new cultures. That’s part of the reason I love this job, I love media because you get to study people and understand them from a variety of angles and perspectives.


How do you inspire others?

What I try to do when I have a team is to understand three things: what they’re passionate about at work and outside of work, how they learn, and where they want to go in the next 3-5 years.

Then the challenge is lining up what they work on with their passions and giving them time outside of work to dive into their passions. Then it’s also just guiding and helping with that understanding of how they learn and the tools they need to grow in the direction they want to grow.


What is something your colleagues don’t know about you? Or just generally surprising about you?

Probably that I was homeschooled. In high school, I got serious about becoming a pro surfer for a year and a half so I was homeschooled until I realized that I wasn’t going to make it as a pro surfer, haha. Other than that, I love to laugh and I see the world as fairly ironic. I want to take an improv class. I think some of the best minds are in comedy. And the most twisted.


What are you really good at?

I’m good at self-criticism. Honestly, I’m good at knowing what I’m not so good at. There’s this idea of the Golden Mean and balance of mind body and spirit, and that’s great, but there’s not a lot of thrill in that. So for me, I look back at the history of philosophy and there are other core principles around how to live your life and mostly it’s how do you have the maximum thrills without the downside.


What’s the best advice you ever received?

I forget where I heard this, but “the future is always a combination of things that already exist.”



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