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The Brandtech Group CEO David Jones chats GenAI

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May 20, 2024
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David Jones. Photo illustration: Axios Visuals; Photo: Michael Allen

Advertising veteran David Jones' company thesis is that all marketing can be done "better, faster and cheaper" with technology. He dined with Kerry this month for our "1 big meal" interview series.

Why it matters: Jones was CEO of French ad giant Havas. He launched You & Mr Jones in 2015, which was renamed The Brandtech Group in 2022.

  • The marketing tech company raised $115 million at a $4 billion valuation earlier this year. It garners about $1 billion in annual revenue with 7,000 employees.

🇮🇹 Why we chose the restaurant: Casa Lever at Midtown East. Jones described the food as "great" and staff as "super efficient" with a quiet enough atmosphere — ideal for a business lunch.

🍝 What we ate: He ate the arrabbiata pasta with a side of spinach and leeks. I ate the wild ramps and pine nuts pesto pasta. We both drank iced coffee.

This interview was edited for clarity, style and length.

Your agency claims to be tech-driven. How?

  • "We'll never buy traditional ad agencies or traditional media agencies. There's a big industry that does that really well. ... [But] it's not growing very fast, and investors don't think it's very valuable compared to tech or tech-enabled businesses."
  • "I think probably the most important thing was that on Day 1 we launched with machine-generated content and AI as a founding vertical."

You must compete with traditional agencies on acquisitions. How do you win?

  • "I think smart founders go, 'Actually, it's never the big legacy businesses that do well, so it's probably a really bad idea to join them.'"
  • "The hardest thing for me is any company we want to buy is a great company, doing brilliantly, highly successful, high growth, super profitable and has no reason to sell. ... You've got to convince them."

What do you want to acquire next?

  • "There's nothing we need anymore. That does not mean to say we're not going to make acquisitions. Of course we will, but we don't have a hole to fill."
  • "In terms of sectors and areas, it goes without saying, AI and GenAI. Geographic — if the right opportunities arise to increase our size and scale and clout in Asia and Latin America, and then opportunistic, tuck-in or interesting businesses to complement things we already do."

My colleague recently wrote about debates over GenAI in Hollywood. What are you seeing in the ad industry?

  • "As a brand, you need to go in with your eyes open. There are a number of issues. Take bias, for example. We created a thing at Pencil called Bias Breaker ... that will give you different diversity rather than prescriptive."
  • "We actually have the potential for this to make marketing better. People don't hate brands, and they don't hate ads. They just hate really crappy ads from brands they have no interest in."

ğŸŽ¾ 1 fun fact: Jones was a professional tennis coach and played first division rugby.

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