Demystifying the Challenges of Building a Whole-brain Team

Catherine Pronzato 1

It was September 2020, the UK was bracing itself for the unknown winter of the pandemic, my colleagues had become used to the perils of working from home and I was returning from maternity leave.

Forgetting the usual worries that might plague a returning mum (all of which have been well documented) my greatest concern which overshadowed much of this was the first challenge I was presented with returning to my role as Managing Partner and Business Group Head at MediaCom.

The challenge of Seeing the Bigger Picture by ‘Building a whole-brain team that will be famous for digital and data…within 6 months’.

Oh goodness. There it was again. That word. Digital. And the new emperors’ clothes of 2020 ‘Whole-brained’.

What did this actually mean for people who worked outside of the obvious digital and data scopes in my business group?

What did that mean for the AV specialists for example, given our clients in the Business Group were still spending circa £90m a year in AV? Was I meant to encourage them to flee and retrain as PPC specialists?

What did that mean for the publishing, audio and OOH leads, was their future obsolete?

What did that mean for the Comms Planners who spend their days reading and mining for insights from which to build their strategic platforms? Should they rely on digital algorithms to tell them what to do and say next?


The challenge that was set for me wasn’t, it transpires, wholly different to what a business leader in media has always been required to do: deliver innovative and transformative work for our clients whilst futureproofing, developing and motivating our people.

What has changed is the wealth of information, data and opportunities available to us to help inform and shape that work and those people.

The sheer breadth and depth, from which we now need to mine. Being whole-brained is about putting data at the heart of the organisation and using it to inspire creative solutions. Again, nothing new here; that has always been the case.

Except now that data source is not just TGI for planners – now we access Google Analytics for (as an example) purchase and behavioural data, to inform those strategic platforms – real-time data that can have an even more transformative effect on our communications.

Now our AV work isn’t just using BARB but fusing BARB data with online panel data to understand the incrementality of VOD viewing or using 1st party data to understand TV viewing behaviour of people who are due to renew their policy each month, like we did for Direct Line.

Our OOH and audio specialists no longer work in silos with static demographic data. Instead, they bring together the power of broadcast media channels with the precision of programmatic buying, allowing us to deliver multimedia campaigns into the specific post code sectors that matter to a client’s brief, by adopting an area first approach which is invaluable for driving footfall in specific limited store locations, like we have for DFS and the launch of their exclusive brand ‘Halo Luxe’.

And our publishing teams, rather than relying on static surveys, are connecting print brands to 1st party data via Liveramp, allowing us to target client CRM segments.

With this in mind, it became clear to me quite quickly that it was precisely the specialists I was initially most worried about (who had ironically been dealing with data since the dawn of media planning) that were perfectly placed to use the left and right side of their brain. Perfectly placed to See the Bigger Picture. They are already using digital and data in transformative ways but we haven’t shouted enough about it – we haven’t drawn it into the spotlight – why is that?

A senior ‘digital’ leader in the industry recently said to me ‘Catherine, you’re a generalist – you should think about taking a digital role next to futureproof yourself’. This troubled me… ‘What qualifies as a digital role today?’ I asked them. I didn’t really get a reply. It seems to me that digital isn’t reserved for the few, and to suggest that it is, is not only short sighted but detrimental to Seeing the Bigger Picture. We all have the capability to be whole-brained; to deliver creative solutions by using digital and data to get to the peak of our crafts – whatever that craft may be.

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