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Zenith

"Personalization will be old news once it's at the scale we envision"

Campaign talks to Zenith USA's CEO Sean Reardon about the perfect media plan, the power of personalisation and why talent is everything - as the global agency turns 30.

Sean Reardon, CEO at Zenith USA, says he is an ‘eternal optimist’ and explains how important talented people are to driving business growth. He believes his agency is delivering better results for clients than ever – and more precise and personalised experiences for consumers.

Here’s what he said:

My happiest CEO moments occur when I look at the talent we attract and keep. I’m a very human person and I draw from the energy of others. I’m proud of the people we have brought into the agency. Shenan Reed and Kathleen Dundas, to name a couple, are awesome hires. And our ability to keep people sets us apart. We have some of the lowest attrition in the business for a reason. 

A comfort with ambiguity is what I look for. And that’s in talent at all levels – whether it’s a chief officer role or the person charged with monitoring the lights. It’s the best skill you can bring to bear because if there is one constant in business, it’s change. We want people who combine a comfort with ambiguity with subject expertise. This is our winning people formula.

It’s a talent arms race – and I want to win. I’m surrounded by a lot of wonderful people, that make me look better than I am. But there is a lot of movement happening in the industry, with more pitches than ever, which creates a kind of disruption to continuity. We are at an advantage as we have great retention but you’re not just competing with rival agencies any more, you’re competing with ad-tech, Facebook or Google, the startups and the consultancies. So a focus on talent is a primary strategic focus to winning short and long term.

We need to convert industry challenges into opportunity. That’s what the industry does well when it is at its best. Similarly, there is more opportunity for agencies than ever with a proliferation of new media and a fragmentation of old creating unmatched potential for consumer connectivity, but we’ve lost the narrativ. Instead of focussing on things like trust and transparency – people have made these things out to be differentiators in the market, but actually they are minimum stakes to entry. 

Our industry shits on itself too much. The future is bright – there are things we’re doing that are awesome and things we’ve done in the past that we need to correct but we’re making progress. 

A media plan shouldn’t feel like a car manual. There is a lot you could do. But you need to advise clients what they should do. If you try to do everything at the same time, you’re going to outresource yourself, no matter what size you are. Recognize the potential but focussing on what is right for your brand and your customer – is critical.

I might be too honest on occasion. A good agency-CMO relationship starts by knowing that every client is facing unique circumstances. The bi-product of this is we have to take our industry through the lens of our specific client's businesses and that requires: dynamic thinking, nimbleness, flexibility and extra energy. It’s the antithesis of the industry's traditional cookie cutter approach. Our industry has to run through the client’s industry. We’re going to succeed by paying high attention to the challenges they face.

Our ROI is strong and wins both CMOs and CFOs. We’ve been the ROI agency for 17 years and it’s been a gift. It’s a reinforcement to our media buying prowess. But I’m also excited about how we increasingly contribute ROI through commerce, data and creativity.

Personalization will be old news by the time it’s at the scale we envision. And it’s great to be a pioneer in that journey. We’re already using the potential of data and tech to improve precision and personalization. We can reach consumers in good moods, bad moods, if they’re right or left-handed, if they’re in the market for something or not. The opportunity in front of us here is huge. 

Zenith is my Beyonce. I have the Destiny’s Child of agencies as the US CEO at Zenith, MRY and Moxie. The industry is maturing and we’re at the forefront in media, creative, data and tech. I'm empowered – through the combination of these agencies – to change the world.

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