Leadership Lessons from Advertising Week Europe

Advertising Week Europe saw a diverse meeting of minds and opinions in sessions exploring subjects of real importance to the media and advertising industries. However for those in other commercial sectors tasked with driving growth, what were the lessons? There were calls for leaders to become more curious, courageous, and committed; themes that played out in sessions ranging from ad blocking to women in media.

Marketers "overestimate our role in our customer’s lives", challenged Nina Bibby, the Marketing and Consumer Director of O2. She argued that we need to move from thinking “about our processes and services a lot” to being “people-centric and thinking about people’s lives beyond the consumption of our products.”

This was a hot topic throughout the conference; in a panel session on the economics of ad blocking, Dominic Good, Global Sales Director of the FT, raised a significant question as to whether the marketing and advertising industry has its’ “house in order”.

He described the "necessary value exchange" in which content providers can only insist on consumers accepting online advertising if they offer an "appropriate user experience". If we accept the claim of Matthew Dearden, President of Clear Channel Europe, that ad blocking is "a sign that the value equation between consumers – people - publishers and adverstisers has broken down", do we understand why and, more importantly, what can we do about it?

A session examining the role of women in the media and advertising industry featured some refreshing and perhaps unexpected answers to this issue. Cat Lewis, CEO of Nine Lives Media reminded us that the best ideas don’t typically arrive from “sitting at your desk looking around at your colleagues”. She argued that employees who work part time, balancing work and home life, being out, about, and present in the world, are likely to be more in touch and come up with ideas that appeal to ‘real people’.

The quality of curiosity, so important to be truly able to understand and develop insights about our customers’ lives, must be continually cultivated. Abi Morgan, Playwright and Screenwriter, explained that in her experience "the more famous the person, the less they ask of life". A notable and talented exception is Steven Spielberg who she described as a "genuine observer".

Speaking in a session hosted by Brand Learning, Kerris Bright the CMO of Virgin Media made a frank admission that the qualities that get leaders to the top may need to be tempered and balanced once in a leadership role. “Trying to balance those behavioural skills that have maybe helped you cut through and stand out on your way up, to then be the leader of a business and to need to really collaborate - that’s a conflict for some people. To really transform businesses requires huge amounts of collaboration at the top”.


Collaboration was another theme for the all-female panel session "Who Rules the World, Girls". Lauren Laverne, Cofounder, The Pool and Broadcaster, BBC 6Music explained that "collaboration rather than competition has been one of the most rewarding aspects’ of founding The Pool" (her online platform for interesting and inspiring content for busy women). Not only can collaboration be enjoyable it can also mean the difference between success and failure. Back to Abi Morgan: "when writers say ‘I’m the only person who can write this story’… I think ‘you’re going to fail’". Instead, success comes from "being brutally open to change."

Successfully translating curiosity, collaborative working and a desire to fix the ‘value equation’ for consumers takes an extra ingredient. Alex James, Cheese Maker & Bass Player BLUR, expressed the mettle needed in "committing to something you really care about" because it "sort of exposes you to ridicule." He said "passion makes you vulnerable, but that vulnerability is the trademark of doing something new, something worthwhile." This was echoed by Hayley Spurling, Group Client & Brand VP of Brand Learning who illustrated the hallmarks of leaders that drive growth, with the courage and commitment to make a stand for their vision and publicly commit to it.

Originally published in the Huffington Post online.

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