MediaCom UK CEO Kate Rowlinson: ‘we want to be the most inclusive agency’
The Media Leader interview
Kate Rowlinson, Mediacom UK CEO, talks to Mediatel News about inclusivity, listening to quieter voices and digital practice.
Kate Rowlinson, Mediacom UK CEO, had originally considered a career as a TV producer after graduating in English from the University of Leeds.
However, her “pretty exhausting” work experience as a runner for CBBC Show Bodger and Badger rather put her off the idea, so she decided to move to London to work in media planning.
She says this was “a very active choice” rather than falling into media as many did.
“I knew someone who was moving down to London to become an account planner in a creative agency, which sounded really interesting, but I was more interested in media planning side, as I always really interested to think about how you convey a message to an audience, understanding how people make decisions and how you best communicate that through the relevant channel,” she explains.
She was also fascinated by how and what your media choices say something about you as a person.
She is speaking to Mediatel News ahead of the upcoming Mediatel Media Leaders Awards, for which she is one of four nominees for the prestigious Grand Prix prize.
Rowlinson started out at a small agency called Austin West Media which gave her a chance to immediately get involved with clients before moving a few years later to The Media Business, which later became MediaCom.
She then moved into strategy roles at PHD and Carat, before returning to MediaCom 10 years after.
“It was like coming home”, she says, although it was for an international job which she had never done before and when she left only 150 people worked at the company.
MediaCom now has six worldwide hubs in New York, Miami, Mexico City, Dusseldorf, London and Singapore with 1200 employees across its five UK offices.
After several international roles with MediaCom, Rowlinson became CEO of the UK agency in September 2019.
The pandemic in some ways made Rowlinson’s role as a leader “easier” she says, as it meant she was able to communicate with all her staff across five offices all at once over video call rather than organise away days.
However, there were also “significant challenges” of being separated from her team after only a few months into the job and feeling isolated.
‘We want to be the most inclusive agency’
Rowlinson champions inclusivity and Mediacom’s “incredibly strong” and “hugely supportive” company-wide culture of People First, Better Results.
She comments: “We want to build an organisation where everybody feels they can bring their full selves to work every day, irrespective of background, where you come from, where you went to school, what your sexuality is.”
This is linked to the challenge the media industry is facing trying to attract diverse talent into its businesses, which AA President Alessandra Bellini said she would address with a dedicated Talent Taskforce initiative last month, an agenda that Rowlinson says she fully supports.
Rowlinson herself has launched several initiatives at Mediacom UK to work towards a more inclusive workplace, including training on allyship and micro-aggressions as well as how to run more inclusive meetings.
The training sessions were two hours each and mandated for all Mediacom UK employees at a town hall meeting.
“I don’t think it’s really possible to build inclusive cultures unless you acknowledge some of the negative stuff that happens and get that out in the open and then we can start to try and tackle it together,” she says.
The training examined the difference in “calling something out” in the moment, or “calling something in” after the fact.
In encouraging people not to be bystanders to microaggressions and be allies to each other, Rowlinson acknowledges even for the most experienced and brave people in an organisation, it can be very difficult to “call out” challenging behaviour at the time as it is “really uncomfortable”, so “calling something in” can be easier.
However, she is clear that one training session cannot completely solve a problem and she does not take mandating training “lightly” as there’s so much training to do that it’s “not realistic”.
She adds: “It’s not like we’ve leaned into [learning about] micro-aggressions and launched our allyship programme, and the job’s done at all. It really is a journey and you have to keep refreshing and reminding people that we have to be allies to each other.”
‘I want to hear all the voices, particularly the quiet ones’
When describing her particular leadership style, Rowlinson says: “I am straight-talking, I’m Northern, I’m pretty upfront but I’m inclusive so hopefully people know where they stand with me.”
She specifies that an inclusive style of leadership is “really important” to ensure you do not miss out on “a killer opinion” which can often come from “the least-expected places”.
Rowlinson explains: “I really want to be open, honest, straight-talking and inclusive in my in my approach so people feel comfortable expressing themselves. I think for a lot of people, whether we like it or not, they don’t always feel able to speak up and give their opinion and I want to hear everybody’s opinion.”
It is important “to go out of your way” to hear quieter voices on the periphery and she notes something MediaCom believes in and celebrates is “diversity of thought”.
Growth of digital and ‘responsible media’
It’s not just inclusivity that Rowlinson is passionate about, but also digital. When she came in as MediaCom UK CEO she says she wanted the company to be “as famous for digital” as it is for building brands, scale and buying.
To achieve this goal, it has launched three dedicated practices; one for Google, one for social and one for e-commerce which are beginning to see “significant momentum”.
These are dedicated teams of more than 350 experts on those ecosystems ready to help clients.
Sustainable media plans are also a key focus for her and Mediacom UK launched the carbon calculator used by the IPA and the wider industry.
To tie in with this, they have launched a sustainability planning network as well as an inclusive planning network across the agency.
See the full shortlist for Mediatel’s Media Leader Awards 2022, with the winners to be announced on 23 February.
Media Leaders: Mediatel News’ weekly bulletin with thought leadership and analysis by the industry’s best writers and analysts.
Sign up for free to ensure you stay up to date every Wednesday.