The Revolution Will Be Digital and Diverse

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For the CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network UK and Ireland, 2016 will be a pivot year. “It’s not ‘just advertising’ anymore – we’re in a new era of creativity, in a new economy that is digital,” said Tracy De Groose.

“Statistics from Enders Analysis, confirmed by our own proprietary tool Consumer Connections System, show 50% of media consumption will be digital, and 50% of digital usage will be via smartphones,” she said. “We will be living in a predominantly digital world, which itself will be primarily mobile, so the idea of technology disrupting the norm is now normal.”

In the digital economy, the analogue world is playing catch-up and winning demands a big shift in how we work, she said. “Businesses need to adapt quickly to succeed. We now live in a world of scaled networks of connected people. Every action customers take is an opportunity for us to learn more about them and their needs. But it demands bravery and vision, and a new type of analysis to spot the solutions which are there amongst billions of lines of data.”

Innovating the “How”

De Groose pointed out that we’re into the Fusion Age, as described by Peter Hissen in his book The New Normal, and summed up what this new age looks like. “What we are trying to do as marketers and communicators hasn’t fundamentally changed. We are trying to reach the right people at the right time, in the most engaging and relevant way. How we do that is exponentially different,” she said. “Every audience has the potential to create value, to be nurtured, activated and monetized. Data helps us spot the patterns and understand consumer behaviour to a completely new degree of granularity; it enables us to be laser-sharp with our targeting, more relevant and personal to the consumer, and demonstrably more targeted and effective for our clients. There is a massive opportunity for marketing to be increasingly critical to the success of the whole business and a much more powerful force in driving growth.”

Innovation Drives Growth

For De Groose, this growth is driven by innovation, and to truly revolutionise means a completely different approach to how we work. “We need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable and step out of our silos, because innovation is in the overlaps, the margins and the meeting of colliding worlds.” Shifting from the silos to her means creating more connected organisations. “The old rule book is being re-written in favour of dynamic digital businesses, free of restrictions and quickly able to compete in the market, creating huge opportunity. The winners in this world will be the ones who think about themselves as a start-up, or in turnaround,” explained De Groose. “Success will demand re-thinking business models and competitive sets; a more connected style of leadership and innovating organisational design to be more agile; working collaboratively and seeing old competitors as allies; making data and technology your friend.”

With fifteen media, marketing and creative agencies, Tracy is at the helm of a diverse organisation that reflects the very nature of the marketing and communications landscape where the depth of specialisms required to maximise business growth have become even deeper.

“We are beyond the point where any single brand can do everything brilliantly; the future of our industry lies in the coalition of genuine experts in media, creativity, digital technology and data-driven effectiveness.”

Diversity Drives Innovation

Getting the right mix of people is just as important as the right business model, explains De Groose. She believes the heart of a successful future lies in a fresh approach to talent and redressing a diversity imbalance.

“I believe innovation drives growth and diversity drives innovation,” summarised De Groose, a longtime champion for greater diversity in our industry. “We need to break the cycle of recruiting ‘look-a-likes’ – we don’t want teams of people who look, sound and think the same, as chances are they’ll come up with the same answers. We should encourage difference, embrace new ways of working and value fresh perspectives.”

Where there are diversity gaps De Groose advocates positive action. “Last autumn we launched a leadership programme that invests specifically in the top women in our organisation. In the absence of enough female role models across our industry and society at large, you need to take positive steps.”

For Tracy, some of the most exciting and diverse talent are the people joining the industry for the first time. “Obviously it’s important that they understand ‘our world’ but, equally importantly, that we learn from them too – continuous learning and personal growth is a two-way thing. Our partnership with the Prince’s Trust and our entry-level talent programmes are designed with this in mind.”

Investing and cultivating the right culture is key for diversity to thrive. “Finding the right talent is one thing, we need to create environments which inspire creativity and confidence; enables people to work in ways which works for them and us; and where everyone has a purpose and aspiration to be the best version of themselves. Put simply, creating the conditions for our people to shine is one of the most important roles of our Group.”

A collegiate, collaborative approach is the foundation for success and these characteristics have followed her from the days of revitalising the Stella Artois brand in the ’90s, making it 1998 FMCG Brand of the Year, to turning media agency Carat into one of the fastest growing networks on the planet and one of The Sunday Times’ top companies to work for in the UK.

Now, as CEO for one of the leading networks in the UK and Ireland, De Groose comes with a steely self-confidence underpinned by a belief in people to deliver. “In this connected world we need to share more, talk more and learn faster, and we need to shift from focusing purely on top talent to unleashing the potential in everyone.” Just as she revives brands and energises those around her, De Groose may be one of those in the industry to forge a new path in this digital economy where mobile is becoming king…or queen.

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Tracy De Groose, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network UK & Ireland, is joined by a notable and diverse panel including; Will Greenwood MBE, England Rugby star and presenter of SKY’s ‘School of Hard Knocks’, and Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE, entrepreneur, author and role model in the black community in the UK and Europe, for a thought-provoking debate about the challenges facing our industry and how we must adapt to succeed.


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