Digitas UK Leadership

Digitas UK: Innovating With Tech And Creativity For Positive Impact

The agency's CEO Jennifer Berry is joined by CCO Carren O’Keefe and COO Matt Lodder in outlining their ambition for the business

By Stephen Lepitak

Our industry needs leaders and change makers to not just steer a survival course for the industry, and secure its future, but for the world around us too. A mission that Digitas UK takes very seriously as it marks the next chapter for the Publicis Groupe-owned agency. A mission to harness the power of connection to drive positive impact every day is the North Star that the agency is moving towards - and says it can get there through the “infinite amount of potential” its UK chief executive Jennifer Berry believes it has within its ranks.

Berry has been strengthening the agency’s offer over the last 18-months with the ambition to build a “unicorn” status in the UK. That has included the introduction of her leadership team comprising of chief creative officer Carren O’Keefe and chief operating officer Matt Lodder. As they sit together in one of the agency's meeting rooms housed in the Chancery Lane offices, there is a tangible enthusiasm from the trio about the opportunity, as well as from working together.

Berry describes the hiring of the two as “the final pieces” as her vision for the business takes shape.

Believing in the potential

Her belief in the untapped potential of Digitas UK comes from what she sees as “the complexity of the landscape" in which it operates as the business aims to meet client needs while offering its depth of skills.

The business currently employs around 450 people in the UK as well as working alongside a team of 200 based in India who are still seen as a core part of the team. Together they focus on delivering media, tech, data and creative services that can help clients reach new audiences, develop loyalty, innovate and create memorable consumer experiences.

Berry underlines that all of that potential comes through its talent base and the unique culture she has been endeavouring to build during her time at the helm.

“Because of that diversity of thought and the expertise that we bring in, it means that we do have quite an eclectic bunch. And we're all passionate. We're all solvers by nature. We want to get in there and tinker with technology and data and creative, and make awesome stuff,” she added.

Helping Digitas UK to reach its potential is O’Keefe who joined from AnalogFolk in February last year where she was its executive creative director for eight years. That included three years based out of its Amsterdam location.

And in January, Matt Lodder, the former R/GA executive who left the IPG business in 2020 to launch his consultancy, returned to the world of agencies to take charge of business operations at Digitas UK.

2023 was the year she set about building the foundations for the agency under her guidance, including the setting of its North Star which meant the need to realign the business and the team to deliver on its promise of being that strategic leader.

"This idea that 'digital agencies' have been in this box for a long time and that we don't get big ideas, and we don't get human insights - that's just an outdated way of thinking." Carren O’Keefe, chief creative officer, Digitas UK

“It's about understanding how we can create impact for our clients, but then also how we can connect dots that they can’t and then seamlessly execute across the ecosystem and across consumer experiences,” Berry outlines.

O’Keefe says that she signed up to the cause because of the language of creativity, technology and culture she was hearing and the idea of bringing them together to make an impact to drive commercial success for brands.

“This idea that 'digital agencies' have been in this box for a long time and that we don't get big ideas, and we don't get human insights - that's just an outdated way of thinking. So that's what we've been focusing on,” continues O’Keefe.

She uses technology businesses as an example of how their singular definitions of what any modern company does have changed, with TikTok competing with Netflix and Google despite all three being very different platforms. That is how the Digitas team sees the current agency landscape evolving, and it is a mindset being introduced internally to bring its teams to work closer together to deliver on that unicorn ambition.

Lodder adds that it was this “fresh thinking” around product design and working methodologies that sold him on joining up, describing the agency as being “hyper collaborative” in its approach and at acting at speed.

“What brands and the world needs right now is that ability to operate with the best of all of those worlds,” he states, adding that complexity and expectations for marketers are at an all-time high while, at the same time, customer loyalty has reached a low point. That is what this new Digitas team aims to support its clients to overcome, especially as the advent of AI has perhaps complicated matters further.

The team is in unison in talking up the potential for Gen AI, with Lodder explaining the excitement that emerging technology can have with agency teams as they look over one another's shoulders to see who is doing what with it to push the boundaries of what is achievable. Berry adds that they are considering the necessary skill sets that need to be brought in to bolster its AI too, although its a tech that the agency has already been working with for least five years.

Another part of the team's work will include breaking down silos while supporting brands' continued transformation journeys that have become widespread in recent years.

This is a leadership team built to have deep connections across various disciplines to help clients navigate an increasingly complex world.

Relaunching EE

One major example of such a challenge for Digitas was its work as part of an integrated team that also involved sister Publicis Groupe agencies to help relaunch EE’s brand in the autumn of 2023.

This was the telecoms company’s biggest relaunch in a decade as it evolved to become a broader subscription service. That included the introduction of four different business propositions: work; home; game; and learn.

“We have built a new brand that plays a bigger, more relevant and more personal role in our customers' lives; a brand that, despite using the same colours and logo, will show up very differently, doing far more than simply the mobile and broadband we’re currently known for," explained Christian Thrane, MD of marketing at EE, upon launch.

The agency’s work as part of that launch involved communications across customer communications and the development of a new tool for the brand, a project that O’Keefe describes as “complex” as they worked to deliver creative consistency and emotional consumer connections.

LearnSmart is a micro-learning tool to help children be smarter, safer, and kinder online while learning about the changing technological environment, has evolved to include dangers such as cyberbullying, deep fake technology and the impact AI will bring.

One interesting element of the platform is how it considers the role social media and TikTok could play as an educational aid where teachers can teach students almost within a virtual classroom.

It also saw the backing of the home nation's Football Associations, as well as The Royal Association for Deaf People, to promote the platform as a place to learn British Sign Language too.

O'Keefe adds that the thinking behind building the tool was to give parents the peace of mind that their children are ready for a smartphone where they will then encounter all of the potential digital dangers out there, building trust with EE as a result.

"'That particular piece of work hit the spectrum of the complex ecosystem; it's inherently emotional, both the kids and parents have very different emotions, but then giving them what they needed at different touch points to be able to pay that off," O'Keefe continues.

Emerging Regional Opportunities

Internally, the agency is becoming more focused on nurturing collaboration, while undertaking multidisciplinary initiatives in real-time and with a high degree of craft, which Lodder admits is “hard” to achieve. But he feels that such challenges unite teams through a mindset that aims to overcome whatever challenge they are set through the sense of what is possible.

“Anything is possible because there's a psychological safety through collaboration like that and there's a psychological safety in knowing that you're not going to be the only person who is right - that everyone's somewhat right,” he explains.

Meanwhile, it’s still a case of 'wait and see' as Digitas introduces Sam Hawkey as its first EMEA chief executive, joining from AMV BBDO. Berry recognizes the potential for growing the group across the regions, explaining that almost two thirds of the agency’s business crosses EMEA.

"It's going to be a really interesting time as we look at those regional opportunities. We’re energised by Digitas' role within the broader Publicis Groupe network and how we can accelerate and scale our digital capabilities into the market. I see the UK playing a pivotal role in this,” states Berry.


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