Driving change

Annabel Denham
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Annabel Palmer talks to Engine Group’s UK CEO Debbie Klein

UNDER Debbie Klein’s leadership in the mid-2000s, WCRS became a Top 10 Advertising Agency for the first time in its 30-year history. Later, as UK-joint chief executive, Klein doubled revenue at the Engine Group (the UK’s largest independent communications company). Today, she is steering that business through the move from traditional media to digital. She tells City A.M. about the challenges she’s encountered along the way.

How has your industry changed over the course of your career?

I’ve learnt more in the past four years of my career, since becoming UK chief executive at Engine Group, than in the previous 20. The biggest change? Today, anyone with a keyboard and an opinion can be a broadcaster. The rise of digital channels has forced us to re-learn everything we thought we knew. There’s nowhere to hide: it’s scary, but exhilarating.

Our business has shifted from having 20 per cent of its revenue come from digital to 60 per cent. Digital is now embedded in each of Engine Group’s ten constituent agencies. And we can now discover, in real time, whether our communications are successful. It’s immensely valuable: we can test ideas without needing them to be perfect. Inevitably, however, it can be a challenge to manage the volume of data available at our fingertips. Everyone talks about Big Data, but what’s important is being able to tell a story with that, to establish which interactions on a customer journey are really making the impact and connecting and engaging consumers.

Does traditional media still have a place, despite the rise of digital?

Absolutely. Traditional media remains a huge part of our business in terms of getting brand engagement. Take broadcast media, and the collective experience of TV. All evidence shows that digital media amplifies that experience. So today, we have dual – or even three-screen – experiences taking place in the home. I don’t see that going away.

What will be the “next big thing” in your industry?

There are two big areas about to take off. The first is real-time marketing. The other is predictive marketing: we cannot measure behaviour just by looking in the rear-view mirror. Instead, we need to use analytics and Big Data to predict behaviour. It’s already happening, but it’s going to explode.

What challenges does your industry faces in the next 12 months?

Attracting and retaining the best talent. And in particular millenials, who have very different expectations of their careers to previous generations. They want to be promoted up the ranks faster, they want more feedback. But as digital natives, they are also a lot more valuable to us. And without that talent, we have nothing.

What’s the best campaign you’ve worked on?

I’m most proud of my work with BMW – in building the Ultimate Driving Machine premium brand. I’ve worked on that account for 17 years, and have seen it drive business growth.

What’s the one campaign you wish you’d worked on?

Dumb Ways to Die, by Metro Trains in Australia. It was phenomenal how the campaign went global in a matter of days.