Shane Skillen on the Power of Advertisement, Teamwork, and Family

Shane Skillen

Hotspex was voted the most innovative insights firm in North America in the 2018 Greenbook Research Industry Trends Report. Laser-focused on launching innovative tools that drive impact and ROI for global insights functions, Shane and his team have launched cutting-edge implicit measurement tools focused on evaluating distinctive memory cues and brand assets.

Most recently, they have blended behavioral science with Google’s deep machine learning to create an award-winning cognitive media targeting tool that helps ads work harder. With over 13,000 followers on LinkedIn, Shane’s opinion of the future of marketing, insights, and advertising is sought after by senior marketers around the world. His passions include new ideas of super cool tech-driven, the future of MR, and his family.


How did you come up with the name of the company, Hotspex?

Shane Skillen: It was the year 2000, myself and two colleagues from business school had started the company Hotspex. Our idea was to be involved in helping create the hot new specifications for products and services. So it became Hotspex, and “hot” was a big word back then, and thankfully it still is. You’ll see that you can get fire emojis in your text when something’s good, so hot is good!  It was all about, you know, using marketing insights to come up with what’s next and what’s going to be cool. 


When is the best time for commercials? Many people talk about how the Super Bowl has the best commercials, but are there other times where companies target commercials at a certain time?

Shane Skillen: I gotta have a very biased answer for you right now. This is a new product that we’ve created called, Cognitive Media Targeting. The best time for someone to see an ad is when they’re in the exact right mood to see that specific ad. We work with Google to get access to their artificial intelligence, machine learning capability. I developed a platform that can predict what mood somebody is in based on what they’re watching or reading, and then it matches that mood with a catalog of advertising. So, when the mood aligns, the ads work better. So if it’s a Super Bowl, people are either excited, inspired or having fun. They’re not in a sort of a pensive, concentrating state, so the best ads for that time are ones that have had a similar emotional state, citing ads and inspiring ads. A good ad is best shown to someone when they’re in the right mindset to take that in. 


So how do you explain commercials like Liberty Mutual insurance ads or ads that are always playing anywhere that aren’t consistent with the show they’re watching?

Shane Skillen: Advertising is interesting. What you want to do is get your brand out there. Advertising is important; it’s a $2 trillion annual business globally. It must work if that amount of investment is coming. Our client’s biggest line item is typically the media spend in the advertising and marketing budget. So if Liberty Mutual is in the Super Bowl, it gives them a very large audience. 

A lot of executives, including CEOs, like to see ads for their brands during the Super Bowl. I’m sure that Liberty Mutual has a very sophisticated media planning function like where to put ads and if they are working or not, they’ve got a good strategy for why they show up where they show up. I always think it can be better, though, where you should be showing people insurance ads.


How do you think your family life has changed in terms of media consumption?

Shane Skillen: Right now, Tiktok is one of our big global clients, and it’s a very interesting platform. It’s very good at understanding what’s interesting to a human brain and giving them the right amount of content at the right time. It uses an incredible machine learning algorithm because it creates such relevant content. But it’s almost like eating a candy bar, so I’m not going to let my kids eat candy bars all day long.

We’re pretty diligent about screen time and getting outside because of the pandemic; I would attribute my wife to my success. Our kids are involved in nature. We very much live in a digital world, but I don’t think you can overdo it. Everything is in moderation. 




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How has your staff adapted to the post-pandemic change?

Shane Skillen: Our business is thriving through this. The remote work has been interesting; we have had some clients hire us to look into this. We’ve done extensive research on what the future of work looks like. We think it will be a hybrid model where you don’t need to be in the office all the time but just sometimes. We are very focused at Hotspex on building brands but also on building careers, like the careers of our staff and our clients. We’ve just seen the amount of learning, growth, and performance that our staff has laid down through this; it’s been amazing. 

We try to keep an eye out to make sure that people aren’t working too hard. I think the sense of camaraderie has been amazing, and the team that we have right now is the best one we’ve ever had. I’m a servant leader; anything our staff needs, we’re there for them. When anybody has a problem, everyone rushes to the aid of that person with the problem. We’re not even really a team anymore; it’s more of a family. 


Did you aim for a particular culture you wanted to set for the company over time?

Shane Skillen: A key part of us has always been innovation, to try new things. We’ve been ranked the number one Insights Firm in North America four years in a row now, hopefully for five. We definitely want an innovative-minded individual. We want someone that’s about growth. If you want a traditional job with traditional methods, models and insights then this is not the right place for you. The person that we’re looking for is a very intelligent, creative type. 

We design our whole company around our five core values; give a shi*t, got your back, yes before no, inclusive and we’ve got guts. Give a sh*t is all about learning nonstop. Got your back is that we take care of each other and support each other. Yes before no means we’re solution-focused. Inclusive means we look for different opinions, making sure all voices are heard. Often introverts have the best ideas but don’t have an opportunity to speak, we ensure that we get those opinions and we give them a microphone to get their voice. Lastly, we’ve got guts means that we really are about empowering change and taking those beliefs and really trying to be innovative.


As CEO of the company, when do you feel extremely satisfied?

Shane Skillen: When you see someone grow and do something they never thought they could. Anything that can be around someone learning, growing, and building their career. It’s great that we build brands, but everyone’s trying to get ahead at the end of the day. You can have a meaningful impact on a client getting promoted, which we celebrate. That’s when I get that satisfaction.


What is your style when it comes to managing people to get the best out of them?

Shane Skillen: Everyone has it within them; it’s giving people the belief that we have their back. It creates psychological safety, so making sure that people know it’s okay to fail. If people don’t think it’s okay to fall, they don’t take risks: no risks, no reward, no progress. We like to make sure that people know that we’re a culture of innovation and feel free to fail because we’re going to fix it.

And that’s why we get to do all the innovative stuff that we do—letting people have that space to go and be creative.  We don’t have templates for our reports; we let the creativity of our professionals come out as they tell stories for our outputs back to clients. This leads to growing brands and making profits, so we let our people have that freedom to go in and be creative.


Let’s say I’m about to start my own company like Hotspex. What advice would you give me?

Shane Skillen: ​​​I would focus heavily on your people. Find the right kind of people, and it’s cliche, but you know, hire slowly, fire fast, find the right people. Make sure that you’re going to like working with them because you’re gonna spend more time with them than you do with your family. I love the people we work with; we’ve got amazing people. Then be a servant leader to them, help them do things they never thought they could do. Help them be better than they ever thought they could be. If you get the right people, you’re enabling them to do that; only good things will happen. 


What do you fear in business?

Shane Skillen: Irrelevance. I fear not being able to add value, not being able to grow a brand or help people grow their careers meaningfully. I’m scared sh*tless of that, but as a result, I read a lot.  I demolish podcasts, books, newsletters, and just talking to clients about what’s got them growing their brand.

I would hate to think if someone came to Hotspex and spent five years with us then had trouble creating their best possible life. 


What do you think leaders, executives like yourself aren’t doing enough of in your industry?

Shane Skillen: If you go into a supermarket, every single thing on a shelf is based on insights. Turn on the TV; every ad you see is based on insight. Every successful company in the Fortune 1000 is based on insights. I don’t think the market research profession does a good enough job promoting that and getting people excited about what a career could look like. 


Where do you see the industry 20 years from now, or where do you see it heading?

Shane Skillen: There’s a lot of talk about research tech. We’re building a lot of tools that clients can use, and we’re building a lot of tools that machine learning can use. I see the industry going into bifurcating. I think there’s going to be high-end market research consulting around brand strategy, product strategy, or business strategy. Also, I think there’s going to be lower-end rapid insights where clients are doing a lot of their research for simply easy stuff with programmed methods. I see that happening right now, and in fact, that’s our strategy, so we’ve got some incredibly talented human beings that work at Hotspex that are creative, can consult, and have great ideas. We also developed automated tools that our clients can use to do quick and easy ad testing. So I can see more of that happening.


Where do you get your inspiration from?

Shane Skillen: I get my inspiration from my kids and wife. I believe that life should be about trying to create as much joy for yourself as much as you can. I get that from my family. I also get it from my team at Hotspex and watch them do all the amazing things they do. It makes me feel so proud and so inspired to say I get to work with that group of people. 

External to that, I also read a lot. I love Peter de Montes, TED talks, and a bunch of podcasts. Honestly, this is super cliche, but GreenBook, the grit study done with the most innovative companies, all the articles, and all the data, is how we’ve created our strategy at Hotspex. Everything I’ve told you where I think everything’s going and everything we’ve built all comes from GreenBook.


How do you start your day, or what gets you productive?

Shane Skillen: I usually have a double espresso, and then I read the Wall Street Journal. I read that to see what’s going on, and then I try to do some physical activity. I love to jump on a bike and ride up a massive hill to watch the sun come up. I will think about what I’m going to achieve on that day, and then I write a list of everything I’m going to do that day when I get home. Then I get after it.


How would your close friends describe you?

Shane Skillen: My close friends would say, I am caring, I have ADD, and I crave adventure.


Who is Shane Skillen?

Shane Skillen: I’m a husband first, then a father second, and then I’m a leader. I relish the opportunity to be as good as I could possibly be across those three different roles that I have in my life.


Photo by Michal Czyz on Unsplash

The post Shane Skillen on the Power of Advertisement, Teamwork, and Family first appeared on GreenBook.


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