Ad Spotlight: Neelam Shahbazi, Managing Partner Capabilities, Finecast
Welcome to the Ad Spotlight series where we hear from a different guest from the industry each month to get an insight into the landscape of advertising as well as their own personal experiences.
Our guest this month is Neelam Shahbazi. Neelam has spent her career leading teams and innovation across the media landscape. She recently joined Finecast as Managing Partner of Capabilities where she helps set the technology vision for Finecast UK and collaborates with platforms to deliver innovation.
Neelam has a wealth of experience working for, and with, some of the big names in media so we caught up with her about her career and what’s next for the industry.
Why did you choose a career in advertising?
The short answer is, I didn’t. I've developed a deep understanding and appreciation of the advertising space in platform-side roles throughout my career with the likes of LoveFilm, Amazon, and my5. But being part of Finecast – as Managing Partner of Capabilities – is my first full-time advertising role.
Saying that, I started my career in TV as a live gallery producer for a shopping channel – selling the weird and the wonderful - which helped me understand commercial TV. Over time, my focus evolved from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’.
What are the biggest challenges facing the industry right now?
Time. There’s a lot of competition for how people spend their time and media consumption is just one option. With so much choice of platforms – and content within those platforms – it’s almost becoming harder for people to find what they want. The variety is not yet catering to the individual.
There are four different audiences within my household alone and we all want different things. Platforms need to catch up to give people what they want, quickly. Endless scrolling is wasting people’s time.
The future is about fine-tuning those algorithms that are still quite immature, so people don’t have to go looking for what they want. From an advertising perspective, addressable TV delivers that by pinpointing the audience and finding solutions to reach them.
Sum up the future of advertising in three words…
Relevancy. User-centric. Tailored.
When ads can be truly tailored to what people want, the effectiveness increases. New ways of implementing new technology are helping drive thinking around the individual and will allow the industry to reach them with more appropriate, relevant creatives.
Social media platforms do it really well (too well sometimes) and it’s about getting TV advertising to that level with household audiences.
What is your biggest career highlight?
Throughout my career, I’ve tried to go out and get to know new tech and articulate it in a way that influences change and creates results.
One of the best examples of this was when I enabled an established technology team to rebuild the My5 product proposition and tech stack from the ground up within 18 months. Then doubling down to help it become more stable, robust, and user focused.
…and biggest regret?
It took me too long to believe in myself and have the confidence to disrupt. When I was younger, I worried too much about how much mental strength to put into my job versus keeping my family secure and my home life as a mum, and I think it held me back.
People shouldn’t be afraid to challenge the status quo or feel too hard on themselves if plan A doesn’t go perfectly. Spoiler – nobody knows the definitive answer. It’s about solving it together.
Your favourite (TV) advert?
I’m a sucker for Hollywood glamour. So, the powerhouse fashion houses – Chanel, Dior, etc. – always caught my eye growing up as aspirational. I’m not sure how it has aged but the Chanel N°5 film with Nicole Kidman was iconic.
Let’s switch from the silver screen to the world of multi-screen and multi-platform where you’ve spent most of your career…
You’ve been at the centre of platform launches. What is the key to successfully introducing a new platform to market?
I’ll pick out three important elements.
Have a clear vision and strategy. Understand what the product and proposition is and what you want to achieve in the market. Having that north star when it comes to the what and the why enables clear decision-making and communication.
Always question. As you work towards that north star, continue to question things to stress test at every step. By bringing different people together and creating a space where they feel comfortable voicing their opinion, you can avoid doing things just because you assume you’re supposed to.
And keep the customer at the heart of it all. Don’t rush to what you think they want. Technology can help us know the customer better. But use it to enable the proposition to come to life and drive forward customer benefits rather than falling into the trap of migration for migration’s sake.
How has consumer behaviour changed since 2020. And how do you see it evolving in the next 2-3 years?
There are such distinct age groups now in terms of who is consuming, and where they’re choosing to do so. The younger generation doesn’t have that same relationship with TV that their parents do. They’re all about short form content and I think platforms and advertisers have to figure out how to address that.
There are still plenty of eyeballs on advertising. It’s about making sure that it is relevant, meaningful, and can build those relationships with customers in this new, more fragmented TV advertising landscape. Even big brands like Coca Cola can’t rely on Gen Z knowing it is Christmas when the truck appears on screen.
Is there a go-to framework you follow when it comes to pushing boundaries and delivering business results?
I like to cherry pick based on who is working in my team. Frameworks are all about a vision, clear objectives, and allocating resources across a defined timeline. But you won’t achieve your end goal if the people working on it don’t feel empowered and part of something.
Making sure teams have autonomy to make decisions as much as possible to give them that sense of achievement when innovation takes place, and something goes to market.