Episode 3 – Deva Bronson from Dentsu

“It’s important that we are data and science-based. We’ve got to be careful because the narrative is always changing. The news cycle never stops.”

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Welcome to Episode 3 of the Breaking Through the Mayhem podcast — the show where we explore marketing and advertising in a time of constantly shifting risk and opportunity.

Brought to you by Sightly, our goal is to share the insights of industry leaders from brands, agencies, publishers and partners as they discuss the challenges and possibilities emerging from the ever-shifting media landscape, such as real-time marketing, brand safety and purpose, influencers, cancel culture, data privacy, technology and more.

Today’s guest is Deva Bronson, EVP and Global Head of Brand Assurance at Dentsu Media. Dentsu Media is the largest area of specialism within Dentsu International, and is brought to markets globally through three award-winning agency brands: Carat, iProspect and dentsu X. All three are underpinned by a scaled network offering of talent, capabilities, and services to support, grow and transform the world’s leading advertisers

Deva is a digital marketing professional, with over 20 years of experience in technology, pharmaceutical, consumer packaged goods, retail, quick service restaurants, and financial services.

In the episode, which was recorded live at the Brand Safety Summit NY on November 3, 2022, Deva discusses:

  • Her career and role as EVP and Global Head of Brand Assurance, as well as her activist roots
  • How she brings brand safety and doing good into client campaigns
  • The importance of being data and science based in media
  • Ways in which the media landscape has become more chaotic over time
  • How the current environment creates opportunities for new processes that speed brands’ responses
  • The benefits of focusing on fact based information sources

To find out more about all the great work Deva and Dentsu Media do, visit the company’s website or follow the company on LinkedIn and Twitter @dentsuintl. You can also connect with Deva directly on LinkedIn.

GuestDeva Bronson

Dentsu

The Breaking Through the Mayhem Podcast - Episode 3

Host: Adam Katz, Chief Revenue Officer & GM, Sightly
Guest: Deva Bronson, EVP and Global Head of Brand Assurance, Dentsu Media
Recorded live at the Brand Safety Summit NY, November 3, 2022

Adam Katz:
Welcome to Sightly’s Breaking Through the Mayhem podcast. It's been a long day here at the Brand Safety Summit, right? We've been doing interviews, we’ve been on stage, and it's been a lot of fun. We're talking a lot about marketing in a time of constantly shifting risk and opportunity.

It's a struggle for all of us. And we are very lucky to have with us today somebody I've looked up to for a while. Listen, when you're an outsider and a vendor in our industry, you pay attention to a lot of the great people who drive the dollars that go the other way.

And I've watched Deva move up the ranks of the industry and it's well-deserved. So let's give ourselves a round of applause for having our friend with us today. I'm going to kick it over to you, Deva, to tell everyone about what you do, what your role is, and we'll jump in.

Deva Bronson:
Wonderful! First of all, thank you so much for having me. Such a pleasure.

I was born in digital 23 years ago. Fell into the industry not knowing what the heck I was doing. Fell in love with it very quickly. I'm currently at Dentsu. I've been at Dentsu for about four and a half years now. In the last six months I transitioned over to lead brand assurance globally for Dentsu, and brand assurance is our term sort of catchall for media responsibility.

So, very much centered on what we're talking about here at this conference now — brand safety and so forth. Also, aspects of sustainability, extending the diversity conversation, philanthropy, data, ethics, you name it, we think about it.

Adam Katz:
So, your job is very easy.

Deva Bronson:
It is, yeah. We don't do anything ever.

Adam Katz:
So, starting with a little bit about your job and then we'll jump into more, do you sometimes feel lonely on an island in your role? Or, do you feel lately like it's becoming more integrated? Obviously, it's becoming more profound, right?

Deva Bronson:
Yeah.

Adam Katz:
Now you're starting to hear that. And I've been asking this too, so I’ll throw this in as a follow up to that. Like you never thought you were going to be in this role 15, 20 years ago because there was none of this…

Deva Bronson:
Exactly.

Adam Katz:
…discussed. How have you taught yourself? How have you embraced it, and how have you done a good job of bringing things together within your organization?

Deva Bronson:
Sure. Sure. So, for the first part of your question, sometimes it can get a little bit lonely, but that's when I tap into my talent as a bull in a china shop. I kind of just elbow my way into meetings and conversations and repeatedly explain why it's important to think of safety and to think of doing good. Right, because you're right, this time that we're in right now, these are crazy times.

Crazy times. And it was a weird kismet that I was asked to take on this responsibility because I do have a bit of a history of being an activist way back in my family roots, my personal roots.

Adam Katz:
That’s so cool.

Deva Bronson:
So, really, it's been a lot. It's a difficult job, but it's super gratifying that I've been able to focus on doing what's good and building practices around it.

Adam Katz:
Very cool. Focusing on that, jumping into more of a conversation around brands. Obviously, Dentsu, you guys are amazing, right? One of the things that I think makes Dentsu great are the reports you put out. You do a phenomenal job. We read them all the time on how brands think and what they think.

You use very, very strong data to be able to make a lot of the decisions that you do, which I think is unique, right? How do you see brands now being able to navigate the speed of culture and the tendency, frankly, for people to align with their own values versus what a brand thinks about? How do you think about that today?

Deva Bronson:
Yeah. So, first of all, thank you for your observation. It's very important that we at Dentsu are data based and science based whenever possible so we can track goals and have everything be measurable — and we can interpret data on the back end for any goal that we try to achieve.

The answer to your second question is, we've got to be careful these days, right? Because the narrative is always changing. The news cycle never stops now.

You know, it used to be, my husband and I used to joke years ago that you’d turn on the news on a Friday afternoon and every channel had something about a shark sighting, like off the coast of Long Island. Like, oh, okay. Good. The week is done. The news cycle has died down. But that doesn't happen anymore. Everything is breaking news on every channel, you know? So, it’s difficult.

Adam Katz:
Do you think it's because there's so many more sources today that we feel that way? Or do you think it's actually become different? Our perception is that people have become more aware. But then you have this side of it where it's sad to just see so much negativity?

Deva Bronson:
Yeah.

Adam Katz:
So how do you at Dentsu think about opportunity when there feels like a lot of risk out there?

Deva Bronson:
Mm hmm. Yeah. So, yes, I do believe people are more aware. I do believe there is more access to what is happening. I won't always say news, but there is definitely more access. Creation of content, as we've been seeing all week, has become democratized. There's just a lot more out there. I do believe to a certain extent, we as Americans, but also as the human race, we're used to this sort of constantly being locked in, you know, a state of panic, which is uncomfortable, but it's also an opportunity to have these difficult conversations.

It's also an opportunity to create processes and to decide how we are going to react, how our clients are going to react. So we don't get caught in a position, hopefully, where we are behind the eight ball and have to make things happen very, very quickly.

Adam Katz:
And I think that's a very interesting concept that you bring up about not being behind the eight ball. But you actually just heard me and I really do believe that brands also need to give more of a benefit of the doubt to a lot of their agencies, too, because, frankly, you are learning with them along the way.

With so much change, how do they expect you to know all the answers? So what do you focus on when you're learning? Where do you go to learn? How you educate yourself would be how I think about it.

Deva Bronson:
That's a great question. I educate myself by trying to limit my intake of information to things that are not opinion, things that are fact based, and by using sources that are middle of the road and trustworthy. Yes, I do personally love a little bit of scandalous news content I have, yeah, and I have a long history of loving celebrity news specifically. It's like the ultimate escape, you know, whenever you don't want to think about your life anymore.

But it's important if I'm building a framework for a client that we tap into the middle of the road, that we tap into fact, that we tap into science when we can and exclude any of the chatter from outside and be ready to have those conversations.

Adam Katz:
You brought up a really good point. How do you do that if you don't have a better strategic way of onboarding a client? I think a lot of our conversation today is about humanizing a brand the way they are broken down today. People look at competitors, influencers, different things. But what we haven't done well is put all that into one place.

I think that's the place to create more opportunity. That's our belief. Obviously, everyone's going to have her own belief. I think what's critical is that we figure out a way to not look at opinion based news. I understand that part of it. But to get to a place where we all can have conversations. Because what ends up happening is then we start focusing on ROI.

Deva Bronson:
Right.

Adam Katz:
And I was there Tuesday at the amazing DEI day. Once you start focusing on ROI and let's just say that doesn't happen quickly, people, people tend to give up. So, in a world where ROI drives the fact that marketers are getting let go faster than ever, how do we have those balancing conversations about consistency of these important topics? That's something that keeps me up all the time. How do you think about that as you educate your clients?

Deva Bronson:
As my grandfather used to say, that is the $64,000 question. You know, that you have to have the hard conversations. You have to be brave. And you have to start. We are the agents of our clients. It is our responsibility to approach them. We can't always sit back and be reactive. That's one of the things that we at Dentsu always try to do: be proactive in informing our clients of situations, making recommendations.

You know, we don't make anybody do anything ever because we are a client centric business. But the only way to really do it is to have the courage to have the hard conversations.

Adam Katz:
How long have you been at Dentsu again?

Deva Bronson:
Been at Dentsu for a little bit more than four and a half years.

Adam
So let's say you were there for 11 and a half years. Let's fast forward a couple of years. What would you hope that data that we're missing today that could help make this better? Like if you had your own opinion on a piece of data that you think's missing, what would that be?

Deva Bronson:
I find myself wishing for this all the time. I wish there were some sort of consumer sentiment meter that we could tie to macroeconomic trends, for instance, or political trends that would, I don’t want to say, help us predict how the conversation in the country is going to go, but would make us a little bit more informed.

Adam Katz:
So we should talk.

Deva Bronson:
Yeah. Yeah. So does that sound familiar?

Adam Katz:
Very familiar to us. And that's part of the point that I think I was trying to make today in all these conversations with people. We've gotten to a place where we're starting to put people in buckets in a way that I actually think is what we didn't want to do.

Deva Bronson:
Right.

Adam Katz:
I think what would make the world a better place — and the media industry is a big driver of that — yeah, obviously, you want to know what's factual, you want to know all the things to talk about. That's a huge point because think about it: something that bothers me may not bother you. Something that bothers you may not bother me.

And how do you judge that based on your own specific perspective is to me the key for what we think. That's the type of metric we need. One of the things we think about a lot is that we should be working together on those things. This is why I'm happy you're bringing this up. I think what happens is a lot of the time you have the agency, you have the brand, and everyone's like, do you have the perfect thing yet?

Deva Bronson:
Mm hmm.

Adam Katz:
What we all need to do is get together and agree on what we believe together. And then you can get to a place to start to build those things, because a metric like that, a lot of people have to believe it right? So you have to be able to say to your clients, do you know, like I believe that metric and here's why.

Deva Bronson:
Yeah.

Adam Katz:
Right. So, ultimately, I agree with you 100% on that. How you get there is going to be the trick. But, you know, thinking about that in closing, can you give me examples of some influencers or brands that you love? People that make you make decisions. People that, when you wake up every day, you're like, yeah, that drives my decision.

Deva Bronson:
Right, right. So I'm going to answer this in two ways because I'm a Gen Xer. I have some opinions that some younger listeners might not understand. Because I'm a Gen Xer, I can say I love brands like Tide and Bounty and Hellmann's. I know they're different manufacturers, but I'm just saying because my mother loved them and because my grandmother loved them before that.

Adam Katz:
So legacy matters to you

Deva Bronson:
Yes. And I don't know that I've ever really stopped to understand why I love these, you know.

Adam Katz:
Sounds like you love those people and that mattered to you

Deva Bronson:
Yeah. And I mean, Kleenex. And, you know, you name it. I don't know that I really understand why, I just know that I do because I believe that my mother knew what she was doing. That's the first half of the answer.

The second half of the answer is around influencers. And it's different for me because again I am Gen X, so influencers are sort of new, and didn't always exist. I like a good mix of folks. I like my traditionals like Oprah and her favorite things. But I also enjoy Ayesha Curry. I also love Dylan Mulvaney, who is really big on TikTok right now. I think she's super brave, so it's a really good mix of people, that I will listen to.

Adam Katz:
Do you find yourself, to that point, making more decisions on what you buy lately based on what a brand believes?

Deva Bronson:
Yes, absolutely. I do think that that has to do with, again, my history around activism. I tend to rely heavily on my moral compass. And I recognize that and respect that in other people and other brands.

Adam Katz:
That's awesome. Well, listen, this was a very unique conversation. Thanks, Deva. Seriously, thank you for being so open. Thank you for being so real. And I hope to get to know you even better over the next couple of months.

Deva Bronson:
Absolutely. That would be wonderful. Thanks so much for having me.

Sightly
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