Tom Laranjo

meet the new ceo

Tom Laranjo: always authentic

We meet up with the freshly minted CEO of Total Media

By Ian Darby

There's no shortage of experience at independent agency Total Media. The business turned 40 in April and the founder, chairman Mike Sell, alongside long-standing colleague, group CEO Guy Sellers, remain firmly part of the picture.

However, ahead of the big birthday celebrations, Total Media announced that Tom Laranjo, previously managing director, was promoted to CEO of Total Media London.

Laranjo is hardly a newcomer. He's been with Total Media for more than 15 years, 10 as managing director, having arrived at the business through its acquisition of independent rival Upward Brown Media back in 2004.

The promotion seems just reward for the impact Laranjo has made in recent times - overseeing the launch of its behavioural consultancy Behave, in 2019, and helping the agency to achieve B Corp certification last year. He's also been instrumental in Total Media's new-business success with wins including Paysafe, De’Longhi and BritBox, and, most recently, Abel & Cole.

Total Media's people, then, are already well aware of his leadership style, which is based, Laranjo says, on the twin principles of "authenticity" and "the team". He emphasises his collegiate approach with the assertion that he'd never want to work in a business "that celebrates individuals" or "in a vacuum."

Laranjo also cites Bill Scott, managing director at Accenture Song, as someone in advertising and media he's been impressed, and influenced, by. And there are some similarities. Laranjo has a listening quality, he's not all over people with strong opinions and assertions but seems capable of taking a step back and considering the state of play before taking action.

When not leading the Total Media team, Laranjo says he finds it easy to switch off and enjoy an active outdoors life of cycling, running and kayaking with his family. He feeds his passion for rugby with regular visits to watch Harlequins, often with his daughter. Laranjo adds that he's "fascinated about the world around me, and I read very widely" but admits to not dwelling specifically on the subject of media and advertising.

Behavioural focus

This broader approach seems appropriate given that Total Media's focus on behavioural science is its key differentiator in terms of accelerating growth. While Laranjo took a degree in anthropology, and worked in research before media agencies, he's keen to downplay his role in the success of both the Behave consultancy (now responsible for 10 per cent of the group's gross revenue) and applying behavioural science to all its client activity. The real drivers, he says, are specialists such as Dr Alexandra Dobra-Kiel, the head of research and insight at Behave, and Will Hanmer-Lloyd, the head of Behave and strategy.

The behavioural speciality is especially compelling for brands right now due to the world in which they find themselves, and the need to make sense of people's motivations within this. Laranjo says: "Everyone is struggling a bit to adjust to changes in digital behaviours, a hyper-inflationary world, post-Covid, post-Brexit, fragmentation, really challenging geo-political scenes, increased multi-regional behaviour rather than global behaviour. There's so much to worry about, and change, that we're offering a much-needed capability to order, understand, and influence."

And the behavioural emphasis has worked already for clients including TikTok, in changing perceptions and boosting usage among new audiences, and supporting automotive brand MG in boosting sales and pre-sales of electric cars.

On a basic level, perhaps given his research background, Laranjo is frustrated that so much of the media industry's activity is still based on consumer intention surveys that drive media plans but take no account of people's actions in the real world.

Laranjo adds: "The fact that we've been able to grow so much around a genuine point of difference, that drives everything that we do - what we invest in, who we acquire, the services we offer, the work we want to do, and agency we want to be - with such a strong focus on people and culture is outstanding."

A progressive future

But Laranjo accepts that there's still room for progress on the people front. A strong focus on diversity and inclusion is a key part of his approach as he moves Total Media forward. After all, how can you claim to understand the behaviour and motivations of millions of consumers on behalf of clients if the make-up of your team isn't representative?

Total Media has already taken positive steps forward on this. It brings the agency together for regular reporting on diversity targets and openly explains when these aren't hit or surpassed. While 40 per cent of the business's senior team are women, Laranjo says that it's working actively to ensure that this reaches at least 50 per cent.

The agency's non-white representation among its team of 120 is slightly above IPA guidelines at 26 per cent. But, Laranjo concedes, there's now a chance to move the dial further on this given that there's even greater ethnic diversity in the capital.

That said, Total Media seems well placed to take its place in a more progressive-looking media landscape. Not least after securing B Corp status in 2021, which commits the business to a whole range of ethical, environmental and governance standards, and has a direct impact in terms of delivering higher standard of employee engagement. "It reminded us of just how far you have to go if you want to truly be a good business, and it's about authenticity, not badges, really identifying how you can make a positive impact," says Laranjo.

As to the future, chairman Mike Sell says that there are no immediate plans to cash out on Total Media's independence, a move that's welcomed by Laranjo because it provides the London agency with freedoms that rivals may not enjoy.

Laranjo says: "I'm always conscious of the latitude and support that we get from our owners. So many businesses are motivated at their core by quarterly shareholder reports, looking only at one or two metrics that matter, that don't reveal much of a business’s true story or potential. Our ownership structure gives the business licence to think in the longer-term, and to make it better and bolder."


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