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Meet our Data Champions: Di Mayze, calling creative brains to draw stories from data

Editor’s note: This is the first blog in a series called Meet the Google Cloud Data Champions, a series celebrating the people behind data and AI-driven transformations. Each blog features a champion’s career journey, lessons learned, advice they would give other leaders, and more. This story features Di Mayze, Global Head of Data and AI at WPP, the creative transformation company that uses the power of creativity to build better futures for our people, planet, clients, and communities. Read more about WPP’s work and listen to Di speak at this fireside chat with Google Cloud’s VP of Marketing, Alison Wagonfeld, and this Forrester webcast with Bruno Aziza and Noel Yuhanna.

Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? What did your journey into tech look like? 

I grew up in Essex and was there for 16 years until my dad, who I lived with, got remarried and moved to Somerset, and I tagged along with him. Apart from several years in Nottingham, I’ve lived in London since I went to Kingston University. I now live in Barnes in Southwest London with my husband and 13 year old son. Our house is ridiculously techie, which is fun until we have a power cut and realize we have no light switches and we can’t function without our Google Home.

From a tech point of view, I was always a bit nerdy. In 1996, I wrote my dissertation on the internet as an advertising medium. I figured so little was known about it that I stood a good chance of getting a good grade, but in reality, I was hooked on the opportunity brought by new tech, particularly in marketing. Roll forward to 1999, I became the first Head of Digital (or Online Manager as it was called then) at Hearst UK, a glossy magazine company that at the time didn’t think the internet was any kind of threat to traditional publishing because you couldn’t take your computer on the train or in the bath! 

As the second chapter of my career, I left work to do a full time MBA. As a part of my course, I developed a project for dunnhumby in 2006, which is when my love for data started. I subsequently went to work there. What an amazing company to start a data career! I’ve worked in data and tech roles since then, at Boots and then at WPP, where I’ve been since 2014.

Which leaders and/or companies have inspired you along your career journey?

Clive Humby at dunnhumby was my first data inspiration. He is unbelievably smart, always a step ahead of any other data people I know and he made data accessible to all. The culture that he and Edwina Dunn created at dunnhumby was incredible; many companies try to foster a culture of curiosity and collaboration but dunnhumby really had it! 

Now, I get inspiration from the 3,000 members of the WPP Data & AI Community in so many ways. It’s incredible working for a creative transformation company, as the opportunities to be creative with data are limitless and the agencies have created brilliant client work. 

What’s the coolest thing you and/or your team has accomplished by leveraging data and AI?

The WPP Data & AI Community Data Challenges are really exciting to me. We release a data set in the Data Catalog and set a challenge to the community members to bring the data to life. I love how different all the entries always are. It reinforces to me that the power is never with the data, it is with the creative brain that extracts stories and insights from it. We have just launched our fifth challenge and the quality (and volume) of the entrants just keeps getting better and better. My boss, WPP Global Chief Technology Officer, Stephan Pretorius, is the lead judge and we both love watching the finalists present their work to us. I’m enormously proud of the data talent at WPP.

Technology is one part of data-driven transformation. People and processes are others. How were you able to bring the three together? Were there adoption challenges within the organization, and if so, how did you overcome them?

The WPP Open Platform brings together technology, people, and processes. Everyone across WPP can join a community, participate in training, learn more about our valued partnerships (such as our partnership with Google Cloud), and understand what products and data are available. It’s the people side that’s the hardest but fortunately, employees are always keen to discover what exists across WPP. When we created the Data & AI team in 2020, we inevitably had some cynicism around our mission and worked round this by focusing on building partnerships with the teams that could see the benefits of collaborating with us. After three years, everyone recognizes that we are here to ensure they have the data they need to deliver extraordinary client work!

What advice would you give people who want to start data initiatives in their company? OR What was the best advice you received as you were starting your data/AI journey?

Get reading, listening, and thinking about data stories. Find a blog or podcast or something that gets you thinking about the role of data in society. My go-to data podcast is BBC Radio 4 More or Less (one of my favorite episodes is Numbers of the Year 2022), which highlights the role of data in society. I’m also a voracious reader; a few of my recommendations are the book Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez, and The Week in Data and Quantum of Sollazzo newsletters. I always say to anyone who has an interview coming up to have some opinions or stories ready to show that you think differently about data and can make the subject come to life.

What’s an important lesson you learned along the way to becoming more data and AI driven? Were there challenges you had to overcome?

I’m not a data scientist and I was stressed in my early data career on whether that would limit me. I absolutely obsess about data but I had no interest in coding. After a few years, I realized that I could use my skills to champion data practitioners and that the data world had as much need for data storytellers, evangelists, strategists, and creative thinkers as it did scientists, and I could play a role there. 

Thinking ahead 5-10 years, what possibilities with data and AI are you most excited about?

I love where no/low code is heading, which should make data accessible to so many more people. I’m hoping this accelerates interesting ways to visualize data, making it more immersive and motivating. 

Want to learn more about the latest innovations in Google Data Cloud for databases, data analytics, business intelligence, and AI? Join us at the Google Data Cloud & AI Summit to gain expert insights and data strategies.

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