Media Director of the Year: Vision7′s Joseph Leon

The self-proclaimed "data nerd" was chosen by the MAOY judges for the honour this year.
Joseph Leon@300ppi

Joseph Leon is a self-proclaimed “data nerd.” The president of Vision7 Media is happiest when on a diet of ratios, probabilities and fractions, and he’s now leading a team to understand the true power behind numbers.

Leon came to Vision7 in April 2013, landing in the role of chief digital officer before becoming president in June this year after David Jowett vacated the post and returned to the U.K.

During his time at the company, Leon has adapted it to align with digital- and data-based transformations in the media space. Following Vision7 International’s restructuring of Cossette and Jungle under the Vision7 Media umbrella, the co has picked up two big accounts: Government of Canada and Yellow Pages. Vision7 is growing fast, and under Leon, it is meeting current-day challenges by being nimble, adaptive and innovative.

How is Leon doing this? To begin with, he has instituted an always-on digital program that pulls from the strengths of a combination of areas: business strategy, programmatic buying, data science and custom tech to drive revenue for clients. (One client saw a 2.5 times increase in acquisitions after its campaigns went live using the Leon model.)

That model involves unearthing the resources of big data. Vision7 teams now provide advanced analytical services (think attribution modelling, data discovery and custom measurement). And under his guidance, they extract relevant data from the company’s proprietary data infrastructure, a numbers treasure chest better known as D-Mart. Through it, they pull apart aggregated information, drill down to deliver rich insights and develop predictive customer models, as well as data visualizations for clients.

A central focus of his leadership is on building the right team. He was instrumental in shifting the company’s recruiting process to expand the skillset of its entry-level employees.

“It’s no longer about just having media experts,” says Leon. “That is naturally what we do, but it has to be supplemented by people who understand business strategy, people who understand analytics, people who understand technology.” Vision7 candidates undergo personality and numeracy testing, respond to a strategy case study and sit through structured interviews – only 2% to 3% of the total applicant pool receives an employment offer. And Leon has “dramatically increased” the pay structure to give the best talent what they deserve (and to ensure they stay).

Vision7 hosts a weekly Digital Insights program (talks by industry execs), and employees, including the boss, undergo a regular Google certification process.

That process began two years ago, and Leon feels the company he presides over today embodies what the 21st century media agency should be: a service delivery company that is agile and adaptive to data.

To understand how Leon arrived here begs a little walk down memory lane.

As a student of literature and language at King’s College in London, England, he made the most of “hacker startup territory” by flogging personal website services to residents of upscale neighbourhoods outside tube stations. “There was a novelty to it,” says Leon. The income from that effort paid his way through college.
In addition to rising and crashing with the dot-com bubble – developing business strategy for a product that helped deliver media over narrow band connections – he established a startup focused on online credit lending (Lloyds Bank bought the co) and co-founded digital agency Essence. He eventually crossed the Atlantic (Leon’s better half is a Canuck), bringing his life lessons to Vision7.

“Media is about evolution,” he says with confidence. “It’s not about turning off the light in one room and turning it on in another.”