Last week’s annual Media360 conference in London was an eye-opener, but in a different way from usual.
What struck me, after two days of debate about brands and media, was how much more female the top of the advertising and communications business is than 10 years ago.
The event was expertly chaired by Tracy de Groose, CEO of media shop Carat, the agency behind the award-winning viral internet campaign for Bodyform; a funny pastiche on men’s attitudes to women’s periods. And Tracy is not alone. Half of the UK’s top 10 media agencies are now run by women.
This is an incredible turnaround for the commercial media world, which has traditionally been run by laddish males.
The conference also saw powerful presentations by female brand marketers. Elizabeth Fagan, Boots marketing director, explained how she has helped transform the high-street chain from a pharmacist into a retailer that “helps you feel good”.
Jennelle Tilling, VP marketing at KFC, eloquently told the story of how the brand’s laser-like focus on messaging had led to 27 consecutive quarters of sales growth. All this on the back of high-flying adwoman Nicola Mendelsohn taking the top UK job at Facebook.
This is a seismic shift, which is also reflected in the rise of the WACL (Women in Advertising and Communications London) organisation, whose events have become the must-attend gigs in adland (Ed Miliband is addressing this month’s dinner).
Why are women taking over from the macho Mad Men?
De Groose believes it is because the marketing/media world has fundamentally changed in nature. Whereas 10 years ago commercial media was still characterised by big money deals and confrontational pitches, it is collaboration and integration of great ideas that now cuts the mustard with successful brands.
But it’s not all good news. Despite an industry with a workforce that is more than half female, few – with notable exceptions such as Cilla Snowball, pictured, at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO or Annette King at OgilvyOne – reach the very top roles in creative advertising and digital agencies. With the current work of WACL, this could well be addressed by the end of the decade.