No longer ‘just’ a mediabrand

Caroline Foster-Kenny, CEO EMEA at IPG Mediabrands, shares how digital culture has transformed IPG Mediabrands as well as the wider media industry.


I understand that you’ve been with IPG Mediabrands for three years. Could you tell me a little bit about how you came to be CEO EMEA and your main responsibilities in this role?

I joined IPG Mediabrands after spending many years at WPP. I had a wonderful time so leaving was hard, but I needed a fresh challenge. As global brands were – and still are in many cases – reinventing themselves for a digital-first world, they needed partners that were of a certain scale but still nimble enough to act quickly. IPG occupies that space: it’s in what I call the ‘Goldilocks’ zone, so it felt like an exciting place to be. 

I’m responsible for driving transformation across EMEA - in simple terms. My job is to enable and accelerate growth, both for the business and for our clients. On a personal level, my ambition is to make IPG Mediabrands the most progressive media network on the planet. 


In the 25 years you’ve been in the industry, how have you seen it evolve?

The media landscape was very different in the mid-nineties. Newly established media agencies were vying with old school ad agencies for clients and the newcomers were viewed with some scepticism. 

Things look very different now. Paid ads aimed at a mass audience still have a part to play in brand building, but owned and earned media have moved up the pecking order as a strategic driver for business growth. It feels like there’s a new order: media agencies now sit firmly at the top table, and with data in the mix, we’re in a position that can only get stronger. 


Has digital culture affected IPG Mediabrands across Europe, the Middle East and Africa in different ways? 

Our business is made up of multiple experts. The specialists – a coder or data scientist for example – may be required to support a client project anywhere within the network, and that may be remotely or on the ground. The key thing is you need to be agile enough to call on this specialism at short notice.  

Digital skills translate into any regional market and what digital culture teaches us is that, on the whole, we’re more similar than different. Of course, there are regional nuances and a ‘one world’ view doesn’t work, but you trust in your local account team to manage that.  


As each client’s need is slightly different, how do you approach the creation of new models and solutions to suit them? 

There’s no single solution as every client has particular business needs. You can’t expect them to bend to your way of working, so the first step when planning a strategy for a new client should always be to work backwards from the desired results. Then implement the right data planning processes and tools to achieve that outcome. 

To some, that may mean integrated client team setups which combine people and skill sets from multiple business units, while to others it might be in-housing with their team part of the time. Tailoring the approach to suit each client means you simply cannot operate businesses within a network in a siloed way anymore. 


How have you used technology to improve your employees’ workload and experiences?

Shared infrastructure such as intranets and collaboration tools like Skype or Google Docs are key to agility. It’s thanks to cloud-based technologies that we’re able to bring teams closer and combine the right talent from multiple departments, and indeed regions, to meet the specific requirements of projects. 

A data-led approach increasingly allows for the automation of certain processes, from the activation of campaigns through to the reporting. This will increasingly free teams to focus on high value – and more strategic – services for clients, such as consultancy. 


How has technology assisted you in finding and retaining talent?

Technology has a role to play in both finding and retaining talent; it’s a key consideration in this sector. At the recruitment stage it has made talent pools more accessible and we’re able to employ objective tools such as psychometric testing to find the right people (rather than hiring in our own image, which we’ve all been guilty of in the past). This levels the playing field and allows us to find a more diverse range of candidates to take our business in new directions. 

Keeping the best talent means being sensitive to the individual needs of your staff. Remote working (and the tech that enables it) changes the game for those who have to pick up their children, care for relatives, or just find it easier to focus away from the buzz of the office. It’s a more progressive approach and we’re proud to have embraced it so wholeheartedly at Mediabrands. 


With the breakneck speed with which technology is evolving, what challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

Media businesses must be able to use their clients’ data in intelligent ways. IPG made its biggest-ever acquisition in the shape of data business Acxiom in late 2018. It was a huge deal, but we knew we had to do it to stay relevant and compete in a market where data has, and will continue to have, the greatest impact on our clients’ businesses. 

What’s equally significant in the post-GDPR world is being able to use that data responsibly. Finding the right balance will be an ongoing challenge for the industry. We’ve taken the decision to remain data agnostic, as we feel strongly that this is the only way to ensure brand safety for our clients. 


What has been your change management strategy when instilling digital culture?

Successful change management relies on having a vision. Getting everyone to buy in to a change mindset is reliant on setting a strategy to which the whole leadership aligns.

I was able to bring in some new blood to the senior leadership team who wanted to do things differently when I joined IPG Mediabrands. For me, it has been as simple as making the right hires and breaking down the silos to ensure that best practice and new opportunities are shared between teams. Because we now naturally operate in this way, we’re able to thrive.




How do you believe the acceleration of new technologies will shape the marketing industry in the next 3 to 5 years?

Again, this comes back to data. Many brands have masses of first-party data, but they don’t necessarily know how to make the best use of it. Agencies will need to double up as data consultants and make their clients’ most significant asset work harder. Technology advances over the next five years, notably in the field of automation, will free teams up to focus on strategy and that’s an exciting prospect.  

Yes, we’ll be going up against competitors operating in this space. However, while they may understand data, they’re still playing catch-up in the media world.

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

We can’t really think about being ‘just’ a media business anymore, because that’s not what clients need. We will still be supporting clients’ marketing teams to help them overcome their challenges, but those now go far beyond media and branding. Our role will be to help them make the most of the data they own to drive transformation across their businesses. The Mad Men vs. Math Men debate has been settled decisively and, thanks to solutions like Axciom, media agencies are now very much at the top table. 

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