Group M hires Dentsu COO to lead digital activation and evolution

Sam Hughes: will play an important role in leading Group M's digital offering
Sam Hughes: will play an important role in leading Group M's digital offering

Sam Hughes will lead more than 1,000 digital specialists who form Group M Services.

Group M has appointed Dentsu UK chief operating officer Sam Hughes to a new role to lead digital media activation across the group.

She joins as managing partner for Group M Services in the UK and will report to Group M UK's chief products and services officer, Niel Bornman, and chief transformation and integration officer Lisa Humphreys.

Hughes will be responsible for leading digital media activation and driving excellence across search, social and programmatic/display within the five Group M agencies as part of the recently formed Group M Services.

She will lead a team of around a dozen central Group M staff and more than 1,000 specialists in digital media activation who work  across Group M  agencies – including MediaCom, Mindshare, Wavemaker, Essence and m/SIX.

This includes setting innovation, best practices and standards across areas such as brand safety, viewability and ad fraud, as well as working with digital platforms and partners such as Google Services, to set standards and best practices in search, programmatic and display advertising.

Hughes brings more than 20 years of experience in media and advertising at Dentsu, iProspect, Amplifi, Vizeum and Mediacom. 

In her previous role, she led operations and transformation for Dentsu UK’s media brands.

Bornman, who also previously worked at Dentsu, told Campaign Hughes’ “experience speaks for itself”.

“​​Sam has been there and done that. She's grown up not only in digital, but also traditional agencies, including Vizeum and iProspect. She's seen firsthand the questions that clients ask, and the challenges we face in giving people really great careers,” he said.

Aside from her change management experience in large organisations, Bornman said she is “frankly, just a really nice human being that is intrinsically motivated to make a difference... and contribute to the greater good of what we are trying to do as an industry”. 

The evolution of digital

Group M Services is essentially a support network for all of its talent working in digital activation.

A major challenge for Hughes in her new role will be to manage resources in an industry that is struggling with high churn rates – with industry estimates hovering around the 35% mark.

“The big challenge for our market recently and probably for another two years is resources,” Bornman said. “How do we give our people great careers, help them develop and provide opportunities for them to work on the best clients in the market?

“The second thing is that people want to go cross-channel, outside of being in a silo, to get a broader experience. The third thing that we are all grappling with are all of the changes happening around our data and technology, including with cookies... Sam will be at the forefront of designing and landing that for our people and our clients.”

Hughes joins at an interesting juncture in the way traditional media groups are delivering services. This includes the automation and off-shoring of repetitive tasks to make digital activation more efficient and allow staff to work in more meaningful roles.

Bornman said Group M is constantly looking at how to improve efficiencies across programmatic, search and social activation, and Hughes will be at the forefront of this evolution.

“The reality is any futureproof model in how you deliver digital services has to look at the percentage of what resource you can have in lower-cost markets because they do not need to be in front of the clients. And absolutely, there's a percentage of what will become automated, streamlined and process-optimised,” he said.

“And there's a percentage of work you need to do that's about human ingenuity, strategic thinking, creative problem solving, client facing in real time – the people-based work that remains in the market.

“We’re looking at this stuff globally and locally... but we keep growing every year and we need to make sure we are giving people interesting careers and they are not stuck doing what machines should be doing or we could do in a low-cost market.”

Hughes, who will join in the spring of 2022, added: “I'm really excited to be taking up the Group M Services role and rejoining Group M, where I started my media career.

“I am looking forward to working closely with all the agencies to continue the next stage of their digital transformation journey and getting stuck into driving excellence across digital activation.”

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