We sat down with Matt Sato (senior vice president, Edelman Intelligence) to discuss his background in data and analytics, as well as his interest in bringing better data solutions to Edelman’s clients.

How long have you been at Edelman?
It has almost been two years now. Prior to this, I was at Accenture for eight years. Was there any transition that came along with making the switch to Edelman? It's been a big transition, the cultural differences can be greater, but in a good way. I came out of the technology bubble and then into more of the agency world, so the transition for me was a lot more of my job has to be talking about what I do, educating people and really starting to bridge the skills that are in that technology world with what we do here at Edelman.

What do you tell your friends and family that you do?
At the end of the day, I'm an applied statistician. I know most people probably don't know what that is. To put it into layman's terms, I usually just tell them that my role at Edelman is to bring analytic solutions that measure the value of the work that we do and the value that our clients bring to the world.

How did you get into this line of work? What excites you about data and analytics, and how did you find yourself in these types of roles specifically?
I studied economics when I was in graduate school and as an undergraduate, so I always looked for ways to apply that discipline. There was a lot of interest in the business community around measurement, especially in the media side. That's when I started to work to develop those sorts of approaches to measure, what's the value of different kinds of television, or here it's the different types of earned media and linking it to sales. It’s taking a lot of those analytical tools that measure the economy and applying them to the work that we exist in, such as the business world and areas like that.

What's been some of your favorite projects that you've worked on so far?
My role here is to build what we're calling a “business science” practice. Being able to land my first, I would say, “big client” was a great project. That was with people that I knew from my old world. I was able to bring in different parts of Edelman's capabilities to that solution. Being successful in the client's eyes was fantastic.

Personally, I get a lot of pleasure from when clients are happy, and when things turn out well for them, they turn out well for everybody. That has led to more engagements with other brands of theirs and follow-on work, so that's great.

In terms of the data privacy, always a hot topic, what do you think companies can and should be doing to face those kinds of issues?
There are ways to measure that require a lot of PII data and things like GDPR. But there's also ways to measure things that don't require PII data, and that's been what I've been working to develop here. I don't need to get social media profile data. The approaches that we're developing in business science is how do we deal with aggregated data and things that aren't sensitive. That's been my mantra all along, and I think if you're creative with statistical methods, you don't need as much data as you think you might. I don't need to know everything about individuals. I need to understand your business.

We're not asking to get your click stream data and stuff like that. We're using regression and statistical methods to tease out those effects, so we don't have to go at all of this PII type of data. As someone who's been in the field of data and analytics for their whole career, I don't necessarily think that personal, granular data about people is better data.

We are in a stage with big data where it's like, water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink. People are beginning to realize that you could waste your time studying a bunch of digital exhaust out there.

On that note, how is Edelman using data to drive business needs for our clients?
Part of it is measurement and knowing what's working and what's not, and where do we need to scale things, and where do we need to look more carefully? Something we're just beginning to do here, which has been really fun, is using analytics to develop campaigns. There are a lot of data driven campaigns that are being developed.

What do you find interesting about analytics and insights? What are some topics that you find interesting right now that you would like to explore deeper?
On a personal note, I think that there's more that can be done around machine learning, and I'm curious to see how that space evolves over time. As those kinds of algorithms become smarter and smarter, there's a lot of discussion around will artificial intelligence replace us? It will be interesting to see how that evolves and how we can adapt it to the work that we do here.

What do you enjoy about working at Edelman Intelligence?
For a lot of my career, I relied on my technical skills, but Edelman has taught me the social skills and how to put yourself together to get in front of an audience. This has really built out the other side of my brain in a way that I don't think I would have had before. The work has been taking me out of my comfort zone and putting me into some of these other situations. That is exactly what you need to do to develop as a person.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
With corporate America specifically, we go around and do a lot of things because we're told. I was actually told by somebody, “just don't do things that are stupid.” I know that seems like obvious advice, but as we get into the day-to-day, we end up doing things just for the sake of doing them. You're a more valuable employee and you're a more valuable person if you stand back from that and are deliberate with why you’re doing things.

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Jannes Glas