Five questions with GroupM's Jenny Kirby
Managing partner Jenny Kirby discusses GroupM's ambitions in creativity and tech, and what she thinks will pose the biggest challenge to agencies this year
How has 2021 been for you so far and what most excites you about the year ahead?
So far 2021 has been a whirlwind. Having the kids at home again while working full time is interesting to say the least, but I find myself excited about the way our industry is changing as a result of the pandemic, and the way innovation is being adopted more rapidly than ever before.
It feels like we are being given the power to adapt to evolving technology and human behaviour in ways that would have been impossible if we hadn't been forced out of our familiar ways of working. We will really benefit from this new openness to change in 2021, and will be able to use it to drive progress.
Personally I am so looking forward to going to the theatre and having a haircut. Professionally I'm excited to see how automation technologies are adopted across media and what that means for creative thinking around the connections between media channels.
What does GroupM’s goal to become a more creative media organisation mean to you?
With the industry's strong focus on technology and automation it is easy to forget that media only works in the context of a creative idea. People only respond positively to ads if the creative resonates with them for one reason or another.
Creative has always been an integral part of media, and I welcome the drive towards bringing them closer together. In reality they can't be viewed separately. Good creative powers effective media performance and so is an intrinsic part of the system.
We can now analyse how individual elements of a creative execution play out with different audiences at a level that’s never been possible before, allowing creative optimisation to drive business outcomes.
GroupM has also said that it aims to become more “technologically-driven” – but what does this mean in practice? Is there a risk of becoming distracted by technology for technology’s sake?
I have definitely seen examples of technology for technology’s sake throughout my years in the industry. And I have both seen and been part of adopting technology that is developed in isolation from a specific need.
But at this point I think we can see there are so many opportunities to get smarter in how we do things through the development and adoption of technology that solves real business needs, enables us to scale more effectively, and frees up our people to think more creatively.
GroupM’s goal to become increasingly technology driven means that in the future it will operate more like a software company than a traditional media agency. There is a drive to create a common operating system across GroupM, with universal tools for everything from programmatic to planning deployed globally and continually updated.
There will be a strong focus on automation and AI, including robust technology connections with major media providers, and traditional agency practices such as insertion orders will largely be replaced by programmatic and algorithmic optimisation.
We believe that with an elegant partnership between technology and our people's skills, we can deliver fantastic outcomes for our clients.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for media agencies this year?
The biggest challenge is likely to be adapting quickly to change, which is happening at a rapid pace in our clients' industries and businesses, as well as within our own organisations.
People are compelled to learn new skills, amass knowledge and gain expertise in new areas in response to this rapid transformation. It's not easy but it's definitely exciting.
One great example is digital advertising. Amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, brands are increasingly viewing digital channels as the best way to reach and resonate with audiences, measure advertising effectiveness and achieve outcomes, meaning digital now accounts for more than half of global ad spend.
Agencies and advertisers are having to adapt to this ongoing shift and deliver suitable solutions to match the demand for digital.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be and why?
I would make it more diverse and inclusive. There is a lot of good work being done to improve diversity in advertising but further progress is needed to ensure everyone in our industry can see themselves represented at all levels.
With gender diversity, for instance, the balance at junior level is positive, but there are still relatively few women rising through the ranks to gain leadership positions. Progress in areas such as flexible working, networking opportunities, and female-focussed leadership training could all help to address this imbalance.
Effective advertising relies on audiences identifying with brand messaging, and this is unlikely to happen if those audiences aren’t well represented within the industry. A more diverse and inclusive industry will naturally lead to more relevant and engaging ad campaigns.