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Five minutes with Danny Donovan, UK CEO, Mediahub

02 Oct 2020  |  Michaela Jefferson 
Five minutes with Danny Donovan, UK CEO, Mediahub

Danny Donovan tells Mediatel News about his first year in the driving seat at Mediahub UK, making the most of a bad situation, and why sometimes the best thing a brand can do is to stop advertising

Danny - you joined Mediahub, MullenLowe Group’s media agency, as UK CEO almost a year ago now. How has the agency changed during this time?

Yeah, 11 months ago today, six and a half of which have been mainly spent in my shed, which has created a leadership challenge I hadn’t encountered before. So apart from the obvious adaptation to a new way of working, which generally has gone smoothly, thanks of course to our people, we have changed in a number of ways. Our main focus has been to support our people and our clients, but we have also continued our quest to grow and to build a new breed of media agency.

We have made a number of key strategic hires. These include Yasemin Worrall, joining from dentsu. Yasemin is a hugely experienced global business partner. Richard Beecroft also joined as our media creativity director. Creativity is a powerful economic multiplier, and drives business value for our clients, so it is at the heart of everything we do. Importantly it’s about creativity across our entire business, including analytics, biddable channels, addressable, as well as the more obvious high-profile media placement and creation of new canvases, everything. Rich had similar roles at MediaCom, so once he’d come back from travelling around South America last year he was an obvious candidate, and not just because he has a fantastic beard.

We also continue to grow, both as a business and, I hope, in terms of profile and voice in the industry. Our work has been recognised in the main industry awards such as Campaign, Thinkbox and the Drum. Plus, we have taken on a number of new exciting clients in EMEA, including Twitch and Pinterest, further bolstering our strength in digital economy brands, which we know will continue to be of increased importance to consumers in the future.

We are also very focussed on the human aspects of our business. Our people, our clients and of course their customers. Understanding the human connections we need to create on these three levels will be critical in the next few years.

With UK marketing budgets slashed to their lowest levels for 20 years, how do you see an adspend recovery taking shape? Are you already seeing signs of renewed spend or will it take longer?

Changes in ad spend and the recovery are hugely dependent on the category of brand, how they are “sold” and also the media channel. Obviously if the category remains largely closed down, such as travel, then any potential recovery will be slower than those that have re-opened, or even increased due to changes in consumer behaviour.

Some businesses, especially digital economy brands, saw their business increase. Many brands completely stopped any form of brand advertising but continued, or in some cases increased, lower funnel activity.

The key is to be adaptable, and have insight and analytics which can move quickly and interpret the new landscape. For instance, our Next Best Decisioning system, built for our client Western Union, analyses and predicts diminishing returns across 6 channels in 90 markets in real time, including factoring key external variables around the pandemic, to highlight the optimal investment strategy.

In a recent article you wrote for Mediatel News, you argued that the ongoing period of disruption caused by Covid-19 presents “an amazing opportunity” for agencies to change and improve. How do you plan to use this opportunity at Mediahub UK?

Just to be clear, this situation is a human tragedy on an epic scale which has affected everyone. So I don’t think so much that it’s the ongoing period of disruption that’s the opportunity, it’s more the fact that our habits, both working and personal have been changed, forcibly and globally, forever. Human adaptability, enabled by extraordinary technology, has shown us that a new way of working is possible and in some cases better.

Continued restrictions are obviously hampering any large-scale return to the office or physical meetings generally, but as that changes, it is this which offers an opportunity. Focussing our time together when we do have it on the things that will make the biggest difference, even if that is just ensuring we continue to build a strong culture, and strengthen our connections with our partners.

Effective diversity and inclusion is an ongoing discussion in agencies – while evidence shows that diverse workforces are more effective, the make-up of the industry is still predominantly white, from middle-class backgrounds and, at the most senior levels, male. What are your thoughts on this discussion? Is the industry doing enough to both attract and elevate talent from diverse backgrounds, and if not, what needs to be done?

Everyone can do more, but basically we have to do whatever we can to ensure our company reflects the society we serve and the one we draw talent from. We also have to look everywhere to find that talent.

I am proud that Mediahub UK, the company I work for, are inclusive in many ways; race, sexuality and background being just a few. Our usual phrase for this is ‘Mediahub is for everyone’.

We are approximately 30% BAME, we have a strong representation on the Groups Pride team, and we have an active apprentice scheme. Thinking about our Monday Munch leadership meetings, half of those “around the table” are female. Moreover we are a very international business, with a recent rough tally showing among our 60 or so people 17 nationalities are represented and we speak nearly 30 languages.

And finally, what is your biggest hope for the future of the media and advertising industry?

In the first instance I hope that as many as possible of the talented people who have been displaced by the business affect of COVID find roles.

Thinking beyond that, on a few occasions in my career, when pitching for business, I’ve proposed that the client should stop, or at least significantly reduce spending on advertising. Either because they had hugely overshot the point of diminishing returns and the advertising spend had become profit damaging, or because the nature of the spend and the messaging wasn’t differentiating and worse, had become brand damaging.

The root of this was a belief in focusing on outcomes not inputs. We aren’t just here to add to the clutter, we are here to connect our brands to human audiences and change behaviour in whatever positive way that manifests itself for the brand.

Someone really clever wrote that….‘we don’t count impressions, we create impressions that count’. I like that.

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