After a long and successful career in the data marketing industry Jon Cano-Lopez took over the reins at The REaD Group a year and a half ago and has helped refocus the business with a new, high-powered management team and a freshly unified strategy. Antony Begley caught up with him to hear about the journey.
by Antony Begley
As so many pivotal business developments have done in the past, it all started with a conversation on a golf course. Certified golf nuts Mark Roy of The REaD Group and long term friend and industry colleague Jon Cano-Lopez of Communisis were indulging their passion for whacking a little white ball around a park with a stick when the often discussed topic of the pair working together surfaced once more.
“Mark was a supplier of ours at the time,” recalls Cano-Lopez. “He had launched his Gone Away Suppression (GAS) file in the early 1990s and we had been early adopters as there weren’t many bureaux back then. We had jokingly discussed working together on and off for years but this was the first time when it occurred to me that, actually, this might be a real, genuine option now.”
Cano-Lopez remembers the discussion that was to change both their lives being triggered by an off-the-cuff remark he made to Roy on a leisurely stroll up the seventh fairway about how The REaD Group had a fantastic portfolio of products but they weren’t brought to market as a unified offering.
“As an outsider at that point, it was clear that The REaD Group had some seriously high quality products and services but the market didn’t necessarily see that portfolio as a linked, unified offering from a single business,” he says. A fair observation, probably, and it is certainly true that in the 20-odd years since Roy had founded the company in 1991 its portfolio had grown enormously. New products launched or acquired and a certain degree of diversification had resulted in a successful business but one that meant many different things to many different clients.
The company marketed a diverse array of data products, insight offerings and services. They were, in reality, all related offerings but that fact perhaps wasn’t immediately obvious to the outside world.
Cano-Lopez comments: “One of the things that struck me was the fact that if you were a client already using one of the Group’s products but were considering using a different one, you were actually handed over to a different account manager who you might never have met or even spoken to before. In today’s world and in my experience that’s not the way clients want to work.”
So, long story short, that golf course conversation started a ball rolling that ultimately saw Cano-Lopez quit his role at Communisis and take up the newly created role of Chief Executive of The REaD Group in late 2014. At the same time, Roy took up the role of Chairman, a theoretically part-time role.
From day one Cano-Lopez had a clear vision of what the business required and how to go about it, with Roy allowing him a free reign to execute his ideas. For those that know the larger-than-life, dapper, opinionated, effusive, Ferrari-driving, bursting-with-passion and frequently out-spoken Roy, that may come as something of a surprise, but Cano-Lopez insists that he is the model chairman.
“Everybody that knows Mark knows he’s a real character with plenty to say for himself and more energy than a man half his age, but I’ve known him a long time and I knew when I took over that he would give me my head and let me run the business the way I saw fit,” he says. “And that’s exactly how it’s panned out. He lets the management team make all the decisions and offers his counsel wherever he deems fit, just as a good chairman should. He knows this business inside out and he knows the industry back to front so his input is always, always welcome.”
It’s also clear to most objective observers that since appointing his new chief executive, Roy has regained the lust for life and boyish enthusiasm that had characterised his approach to life and business.
“The most obvious barometer for that is the fact that Mark is only supposed to be in the office three days a week but he’s here far more often than that, and that’s because he’s enjoying it!”, says Cano-Lopez.
And why not. The REaD Group’s annual accounts have not yet been published for the latest financial year but Cano-Lopez smiles coyly and says that “everyone is delighted with the financial performance of the company over the last year, but 2016 is the one we are really excited about!”
Much of that success he is keen to put down to the hugely experienced and gifted senior management team that he and Roy have put together over the last 18 months. Making good use of their contacts books, the team they built reads like a who’s who of the data marketing industry and the appointments of Scott Logie as MD of REaD Group Insight, Clive Rumsey as Commercial Director and Colm O’Hara as Client Services Director in particular clearly set out Cano-Lopez’s stall and framed the level of his ambitions.
“The management team was always going to be what this business stood or fell on and my first task when I joined was to create a team I thought would be capable of delivering what we wanted to deliver,” he says. “It was a difficult period in some senses because it involved making some tough decisions but that’s what we had to do and I think the success we’re currently enjoying goes a long way to vindicating our strategy.”
One team, one goal
Just as importantly, he believes, it’s a fun place to work. “The team have come here for a couple of reasons: one, they’ve bought into our vision and can see the same opportunities as Mark and I can. And secondly, we bloody enjoy it! We all respect each other, we are one team moving forward together and there are no agendas and no politics – so we have fun, and that’s important.”
Aligned to that strategic management team shift was the unification of the Group’s offerings into a simpler, more coherent format. That task quickly got both more complicated and more exciting when the news broke in September 2014 that the Group had struck a deal with Acxiom to take on sole UK reseller responsibilities for its entire suite of lifestyle data products. The agreement covered Behaviour Bank, InfoBase Lifestyle Census, Personix segmentation data and the Charity Prospect Pool for direct mail and telemarketing as well as email rental files.
“That was a very significant deal for us because we already had a product offering that was market-leading in many ways, but the addition of the Acxiom data helped us move up another gear,” he says. The expanded product portfolio has now been unified as have the insight and services portfolios creating what is to all intents and purposes a one-stop-shop for data and insight-driven marketers targeting a wide range of industry verticals, from financial and retail to charity and insurance.
The challenges didn’t end there for Cano-Lopez, however. “The technology that underpinned the entire REaD Group offer just wasn’t up to scratch,” he admits. “It wasn’t where we needed it to be so we had to upgrade our tech to support the broader, deeper offer we now have. Additionally, we had to shift the entire company’s focus onto helping our clients become more profitable. We had perhaps become too targeted at increasing our own sales and profits, rather than increasing the sales and profits of our clients. Ultimately, we are only going to become more successful as a business if we help our clients become more successful.”
The result of those series of seismic shifts is a new REaD Group that Cano-Lopez says is now fit, lean, hungry and ready for growth.
“We finally have all of our data and all of our tech in one place – The Oracle, we call it – allowing us to deliver what is effectively a Single Customer View of the UK,” he says. “We have fully merged the offline and online worlds and we believe we have a unique set of solutions for the UK’s database marketers. Now we just have to make sure The Oracle drives our solutions and drives better decision-making for our clients.”
With the Group now in great shape, the future will see Cano-Lopez and his team of almost 70 take the company’s offering aggressively to market. “We’ve shaped a strong business that has a lot to offer,” he concludes, “and now it’s time to take that offer out there. But there’s a lot of work still to do and we’ve got to work with our clients to help them ensure that every interaction a customer has with their brand is consistent and high quality. We have to help our clients move to true end-to-end marketing and customer engagement.”
On top of all that, the Group is preparing to launch version 2 of its GAS and Qinetic products later this year with Cano-Lopez stating on the record that for the first time the company will be happy to tell its clients where the data comes from. In an industry that his traditionally been fiercely defensive and protective of where it gets its data, this represents a huge, potentially game-changing shift.
“It’s something I’ve always believed we should do,” he says. “We have nothing to hide and we’ve no reason to be so secretive about it, so we’re going to make our sources known to our clients – and if that prompts a similar response from the rest of the industry, that’s got to be a good thing surely, hasn’t it?”
And if all that wasn’t enough, the Group is also going to have to work with its clients to deal with the repercussions of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). A reflection of how seriously Cano-Lopez takes that challenge is the fact that Andy Bridges has been recruited to spearhead the Group’s approach to getting clients both GDPR-ready and future enabled. Bridges was previously European Data Privacy Governor for AIMIA, the Data Loyalty Group which owns Nectar.
“While GDPR is going to cause issues for some people, burying your head in the sand is never going to work,” says Cano-Lopez. “Andy’s appointment will enable us to both focus our clients’ attention on the issue but also help them to deliver solutions to the challenges that lie ahead.
“Fundamentally we believe that GDPR will create an industry that is more open and transparent and more consumer centric in its approach. As a company we intend to be ahead of the game, which is why we’re leading from the front.”
Among Cano-Lopez’s key strategic targets was to bring together the extended portfolio of REaD Group data products and services under a unified structure that was easy to understand and access for its clients and prospects. Alongside the Group’s insight and services offerings, the extensive data product portfolio now includes:
Multi-channel, lifestyle consumer database of marketable individuals collected from online and offline surveys
The UK’s largest multi-channel and in-depth lifestyle consumer database, collected from surveyed marketable individuals
Business Suppression File (BSF)
Marketing suppression file for removing obsolete businesses and employees from B2B mailings
Gone Away Suppression File (GAS)
Established in 1993; provides verified forwarding addresses and new occupants linked to an existing goneaway; no assumed data
Provides marketers with the ability to track customers or prospects to their new address; 59m goneaways from last eight years provide over 30m forwarding addresses
ProspectUs for Charity
Data and analytical tool for entire UK that enables selections across charity bias and targets groups
ProspectUs for Insurance
Comprehensive dataset and analytical section tool that covers the renewal dates and insurance products of every adult in the UK
Data hygiene solution sold as an enterprise package to end users only. Includes GAS, GAS REaCtive and TBR. Recently enhanced by the addition of data uniquely supplied from two of the three credit reference agencies
Research Opinion Poll
The longest running online questionnaire-based lead generation platform. Research Opinion Poll has switched itself to a verticalised collection programme to ensure compliance with PECR regs in the future
The Bereavement Register (TBR)
Long established suppression file allowing marketers to remove anyone who has died from their mailings