Charting a course through global data streams

When he is not dealing with the complexities of worldwide data integration at Regus, Thomas Brennan likes nothing more than to race ocean-going yachts. David Reed finds out how he came to his current marketing database berth.

If you were at the Data Strategy Awards last October, you might have noticed Thomas Brennan, head of Global Database Marketing Operations for Regus, was on the guest list. To find him, however, you would have needed to look further afield than the dining room of the Lancaster Hotel. About three thousand miles further south, in fact, to the Mediterranean, where he was taking part in the Middle Sea Race.

“I got invited to crew a 65 footer and that’s not something you pass up,” recalls Brennan. Offshore yacht racing is a major passion which he indulges most weekends, building up to participation in some of the major classic yacht races, such as Fastnet. By skipping the Awards night, Brennan was able to claim fourth place in Class for the Rolex Middle Sea Race.

His involvement in the sport started at college and has expanded in adult life, just like his engagement with data in working life. At Cardiff University, Brennan studied Economics and Law, then took the CIM postgraduate diploma. Many chartered marketers continue their careers without touching the hard stuff of data.
For Brennan, it was a consultancy role with CMR that set him on his current course. “I was working with Tony Dent, a statistician, on pan-European and global projects for IBM and others. He got me into Chaid, multi-variate testing and the like,” he says. The statistics he studied for that economics degree turned out to be very useful.

Following a spell at Coca-Cola, he joined Providian (now owned by Barclays) where he got involved in auditing the company’s data and that of its external providers. “I was carrying out data audits and the merging of files to understand if it was done correctly. Over time, I was able to demonstrate to our data provider that they had flaws in their unique reference numbers,” says Brennan.

Stripping processes down to the raw data and asking for samples to prove how a matching routine had been carried out is a forensic skill that not many marketers possess. It has been important for his current role with the global workspace provider Regus.

“The attraction was to work with a truly global company across 78 countries. For example, have you tried to purchase B2B data in Paraguay or merged a customer dataset in Japanese with one in English – which match key do you use as they have different character sets? I have overcome these sorts of challenges and enjoy this aspect,” he says.

Having been invited to join by a former colleague, Brennan is now part of a small CRM team, answering to the Vice-President of Global Marketing, which draws on a virtual team of people in each region where Regus operates. The key objective is to drive enquiries for the company’s sales team, which fits well with Brennan’s outlook.

“I see myself as a data person working to help drive business results,” he says. While the focus of his current job is less on defining the parameters for data than ensuring it is delivering the right outcomes, he has the knowledge to track back to sources and verify how well data has been supplied, selected and matched.

This is useful in the context of Regus’s migration to version three of the database managed by its external agency Entiera. Part of the process has been to append URNs to customer records to allow Regus to correctly identify and track individuals, even if they move to a different country. “We might have had ten records on the old system that we now recognise as one individual. That is the whole point of the new system – to have global URNs,” he says.

The business is data literate, but also highly entrepreneurial with a keen eye for the profitability and cost of any activity. Maintaining data quality, process adherence and delivery to campaign schedules, while adapting to any last minute changes, are the key aspects of Brennan’s job.

“Most business people I have worked with think data is quick and easy, when in fact it can be the most complex and challenging part of a marketing campaign. But also the most interesting,” he says.

Having joined to do six months of consultancy, Brennan is still helping to drive Regus’s objectives of being quicker, better and more profitable 18 months on. With global B2B data to deal with, that is never going to be a straightforward challenge.

Yet it is still probably less stressful than one of his sailing experiences. “I did a delivery of a yacht across the Atlantic in 2008 and we got rolled upside down,” he says. Facing difficult situations and putting them the right way up is clearly a challenge Brennan enjoys, both professionally and in his leisure time. l


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