Maxus global CEO Lindsay Pattison sets out her manifesto for agency leadership | M&M Global

Maxus global CEO Lindsay Pattison sets out her manifesto for agency leadership

Agency leaders today must be prepared to show ‘approachability and humanity’, Maxus boss Lindsay Pattison tells M&M Global.

Lindsay Pattison, global CEO, Maxus
Lindsay Pattison, global CEO, Maxus

It is the contradiction at the heart of the agency world: as the marketing and media business grows ever more technical and complex, how can leaders create a more fluid, flexible and open working environment.

As the battle for talent intensifies, and young people enter the industry insisting on a working environment more suited to their habits and needs, the demands on agency CEOs are changing. Impersonal target-setting is out; empathy and collaboration is in.

Maxus global chief executive Lindsay Pattison will address this challenge of reinventing agency leadership in a session at this year’s Festival of Media Global in Rome. Speaking to M&M Global, Pattison says she and her contemporaries at other agencies must aspire to be “more human” to create successful businesses.

“Technology and data is dominating what we do in a world that is now fully digitalised, and always-on. But, interestingly, but one of the top problems is a crisis of leadership as well, in terms of faith and confidence in leadership. A more adaptive, empathetic, collaborative, personal style of leadership is needed,” says Pattison.

“As the world becomes more digitalised and more machine-based, we need to be more human than ever before. People remain our strongest asset. We can have the best technology and data, and best inventory and tools, but you need people who are skilled in operating them. And, as a leader, your job is to inspire them to work for you.”

Over a year and a half has passed since Pattison was promoted from her role leading Maxus’ UK office to running the GroupM agency worldwide, making her one of precious few female media agency global CEOs.

In that time, Pattison says she has noticed a growing disconnect between those at the bottom of organisations and those at the top, both in terms of diversity and also in their attitudes to work: “When you look around a board table, it is still generally quite pale, quite male and quite old. And when you think about our colleagues, whether that be agency, media owner or client side, our colleagues are not like that.

“They are Gen Y, and Gen Y have a very different expectation of what their role in a company is, what their contribution should be. The old way of working, in terms of command and control, just doesn’t wash,” she says.

Presence, resilience and curiosity

To help agency bosses to connect at a time of rising complexity, Maxus’ puts individuals through a programme to focus on three key skills: presence, resilience and curiosity.

Leaders should “believe in their own skills” and understand their personal impact upon colleagues, claims Pattison, emphasising the need for “unique, brilliant individuals” rather than churning out executives who all look the same, “wearing a navy suit and carrying a briefcase”.

Resilience is a key quality for those wanting to lead agencies in the face of significant headwinds, both technological and in terms of changing client relationships. Pattison says that the ability to simultaneously pivot while remaining focused on long-term aims is vital in today’s media world.

“You need to balance the IQ needed to run a business with the EQ to manage the talent”

“Business demands are tough, and we have to have strength and staying power. You need a high degree of personal agility, to be able to not take things personally, and to be comfortable with ambiguity and fluidity, which is hard,” she says. “The job is getting harder, and there’s not a lot you can do about it, so you need to learn the techniques [to help you cope].”

Above all, perhaps, is the need for agency bosses to show an interest in all elements of their businesses, and to be curious about the ideas offered by younger colleagues: “They say in our industry that you should be interesting and interested, so curiosity is important. It builds trust and empathy, allows you to see new things and join up the dots.

“With Gen Y, they expect to see you as a person, not just someone setting targets and wearing a suit. You can reveal differences, and you can reveal vulnerabilities at times. You don’t always have to have the answer to every solution, but you should show your approachability and humanity,” he adds.

“You need to balance the IQ needed to run a business with the EQ to manage the talent. In the past we’ve focused more on needing to run the business.”

Under the spotlight

Client-agency relationships are under the spotlight as never before, in the light of last year’s so-called ‘Mediapalooza’ flurry of media account reviews, as well as debates over transparency and the role of agencies in programmatic trading.

Pattison recognises the need evolve Maxus’ proposition to meet clients’ changing needs, and argues agencies can become a trusted advisor on a broader range of business challenges beyond just the planning and buying of media. She also believes agencies must simplify their message to advertisers.

“We need to make sure that the solutions we’re offering for clients are innovative, are market-leading, and they recognise the changing state of the industry. We have to be client-centric and easy to work with, and I think agencies have done a really good job of overcomplicating everything,” she says.

“You go to Dmexco, which is a great event, and there are 300 ad tech companies who all claim that they are unique and do the one thing. The role for an agency is to simplify that complexity in a client-centric way, make recommendations, and be as agnostic on tech stacks as we are on media plans.”


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