2020 Emerging Leaders revealed

Paige Murphy
By Paige Murphy | 28 September 2020

In a year filled with so much change, there has never been a more important time to celebrate and showcase the industry’s next wave of leaders. Here we announce who made this year’s coveted top 20 Emerging Leaders list.

Despite 2020’s trials and tribulations, this year’s Emerging Leaders demonstrated clear signs of leadership in their nominations. Their involvement within the broader industry and passion to uplift not only themselves, but their peers, was impressive.

To make the cut for this year’s Emerging Leaders list, we asked bosses or direct reports to share the nominees’ key achievements so far, the skills they possess that show they are an Emerging Leader, and to share a challenge they were faced with and how they overcame it. We also asked them to detail how the nominee is involved within the industry beyond their daily role at work and why they deserved to be nominated as an Emerging Leader.

AdNews and our phenomenal panel of judges were blown away by the high calibre of entries showcasing the industry’s depth of talent and a promising future with these people leading the way.

The Emerging Leader will receive an executive coaching program of eight coaching sessions from The Transition Coach, with an opportunity to work on their professional goals and leadership development.

The overall winner of the Top 20 will be announced at a special event early next year.

And the winners are…

Rebecca Drummond, Strategy Director, Wavemaker, Sydney
Rebecca has made it her mission to drive purpose and change beyond her “nine-to-five”. To improve mental health and wellbeing at work, Rebecca proactively launched a GroupM wellness initiative that prompted 600+ staff to make it a KPI. She also launched Wavemaker Passion Projects with the aim of nurturing young Wavemaker talent. The initiative gives $200 annually to each employee to fuel a passion beyond work. During the past summer’s horrific bushfires, she also co-founded Smoggys, a brand of brightly patterned face masks, to fund raise for the Rural Fire Service. It raised $19,127. The judges said: “Rebecca demonstrated she is able to uplift those around her, whether it be through a cause-led passion to do good in the community or to educate others in the industry.”

Sam Pierson, National Client Director, Studio, Initiative
In 2018, Mediabrands restructured and Sam became solely responsible for a demanding patch of creative clients with skeleton resources. During this time the largest creative account was at risk for pitch. Sam not only retained the account but secured a retainer worth 300 per cent of its original value. This enabled Sam to expand the team and provided the foundation for Initiative Studio’s creative pillar. Two years on, Sam has secured 12 new clients, achieved a client retention rate of 90 per cent and the creative pillar now represents 60 per cent of Initiative Studio’s revenue. He is Initiative’s youngest ever national client director. The judges said: “Not only is Sam clearly good at his job — being handpicked for leadership advancements early on — but his advocacy for the LGTBQI+ community shows clear signs of a leader who contributes on an ‘X factor’.”

Nick Thomas, Head of Investment (Marketplace), Mediacom
Nick’s nomination says he demonstrates maturity, determination, business acumen and a visionary approach to situations well beyond his years. Not only has he improved staff retention rates and happiness scores among his team, he helped lead the campaign for marriage equality on behalf of the Australian Marriage Equality Group which resulted in 61.6 per cent of voters voting “yes” and a change in legislation. Nick did all of this while managing his large client remit. The judges said: “Nick has a strong, impressive list of achievements. The work he does daily, alongside his advocacy for diversity and inclusion show Nick is a true leader.”

Rachael Townsley, Head of Marketing, APAC, Quantcast
Rachael is described as a “natural leader” who “fearlessly pioneers marketing programs to educate the wider advertising industry”. She also has passion for mentoring and empowering women which saw her launch Quantcast Women’s Network within Australia. This initiative was launched to inspire the women of Quantcast and provide opportunities for the team to hear from, and network with, the industry’s leading female talent. The judges said: “Rachael is a well-rounded leader who has demonstrated her ability to achieve business results while also supporting and influencing other women in the industry.”

Scott Laird, National Director — People and Culture, Initiative
Scott has helped Initiative’s People and Culture metrics become the new global benchmark. Since Scott joined Initiative, the agency’s employee net promoter score has grown from -10 in July 2017 to +73 in July 2020. During COVID-19, he also rewrote the handbook for internships by pivoting to the challenges presented by the pandemic and being the only agency to offer an internship remotely to give students across multiple markets and rural communities the chance to earn their course credits. He also volunteers his time each Tuesday night as a Lifeline crisis supporter. The judges said: “Pushing the boundaries in his people and culture role, Scott has helped shape an impressive agency culture.”

Christie Ding, Co-Founder/Client Solutions Director, Brand Catalyser
An innovative leader, Christie is an entrepreneur who has co-founded three companies and connects with clients all over the world. She started Brand Catalyser in 2017 to help Australian businesses connect with the Chinese market and opened offices in four locations in Australia and China. She has been able to assist international students to gain work experience, and also teaches advertising at RMIT University. The judges said: “Christie is an incredible entrepreneur who has demonstrated innovation within the market to connect local brands with the Chinese market.”

Chi Lo, Director of Accounts, AU/NZ, The Trade Desk
Chi’s career has taken him from being a door-to-door salesperson to working in tech companies and startups around the world. Described as a “compassionate leader” and “great champion for work-life balance”, Chi dedicates much of his time to mentoring junior staff at The Trade Desk, regularly participates in social investment activities and is an avid promoter of further education within the adtech industry. The judges said: “Chi is a standout leader who has shown tremendous adaptability, led true business impact, and is dedicated to his community, giving back to his peers through industry events, training and education.”

Mitchell Long, Head of Strategy, PHD Sydney
Mitchell began his career with PHD as an intern. Eight years on he’s now the youngest ever head of strategy in the history of PHD’s global network. Since stepping up into the role, he has transitioned from a “brilliant individual contributor, to an agency leader who inspires respect from within his team and across the agency”. Mitchell has represented the agency on the MFA’s NGEN committee and co-chaired the Sydney Chapter of Omnicom’s Open Pride. He also had Google requesting him as the Australian lead in their global strategy team for the launch of several of its products. The judges said: “Mitchell is definitely one to watch. His nomination shows he is both resilient and dedicated to his role. He has the ability to influence the business internally and is successful with clients.”

Alec Barr Head of Experience and Service Design, CHE Proximity
Alec has the ability to take extremely complex models and reframe them in a way that his diverse set of stakeholders can digest and understand. His ability to read the room and navigate high-pressure situations has been described as “second to none”. During stressful times through the COVID-19 pandemic, Alec has managed to protect his team’s mental health without letting the work slide. He also runs several courses for both AdSchool Advanced Planning and Miami AdSchool on all things experience design and behavioural economics. The judges said: “Alec is an intelligent individual who is on the brink of something big. Between his work and teaching, Alec is showing all the signs for an up and coming leader.”

Stephanie Famolaro, Senior Director, Business Development ANZ, The Trade Desk
In her 10 years of industry experience, Stephanie has always been at the forefront of technology and is a female pioneer in her field. Moving to The Trade Desk in 2017, she became the organisation’s champion for API technology and is a vocal advocate for including women in STEM. She is also an active mentor, supporting others across the company to understand the importance of API to The Trade Desk’s business. This year, she has been responsible for upskilling 500+ Trade Desk sales, account management and trader teams. The judges said: “Stephanie has a great list of achievements. We were impressed with the work she is doing with women in STEM.”

Isaac Stefaniw, Data Analytics Lead, Adgile Media
The fourth member of a startup, Isaac has had to wear many hats in his role. From supporting and contributing to the development of real-time reporting dashboards for Adgile Media’s TV effectiveness product Foresight to leading a team of analysts through a challenging global product launch, Isaac has made invaluable contributions. He takes the initiative demonstrating great future leadership potential through his ability to lead himself. The judges said: “Leading among peers can sometimes be harder than entering the business in an authoritative role, but not for Isaac. He has commanded the respect of those around him and shown adaptability working within a startup environment.”

Amy Weston, Creative Director, CHE Proximity
Described as a new kind of leader that businesses today needs, Amy is not only a brilliant creative but also paving the way for fellow female creatives. It wasn’t until she was promoted by CHE Proximity last year that she realised she had never had a female mentor. Now she holds herself accountable for other female creatives to be the role model she never had and works with emerging talent to build up their skill sets in an inclusive environment. The judges said: “Amy has got the cred as a creative and is a genuine emerging leader in the industry. She is paving the way for future female creatives in order to provide a more gender inclusive environment.”

Emily Cook, Media Lead, Wavemaker
A team champion, Emily’s nomination says she is a “tenacious spirit” with “infectious energy”. Emily leads two of the agency’s biggest clients including the $45 million Vodafone account. With the backdrop of COVID-19, Emily showed clear and decisive direction, clarity and support for her team amid a restructure of Vodafone’s agency teams, onboarding new starters and implementing new technology systems. She has done all of this while also being the Media Federation Five Plus (MFA5+) Sydney Committee chair and director of people and culture at the Media Federation of Australia. The judges said: “Working as both a client lead on big accounts and being appointed by her peers to take on roles with industry bodies shows Emily has all the qualities and respect to be a leader.”

Lara Brownlow, Head of Agency and Channel Sales, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, ANZ, LinkedIn
Lara was tasked with building LinkedIn’s agency team from the ground up. As the first country globally to have this resource, Lara developed and shaped how this function would support agency clients and drive sales. She has travelled globally, training and implementing programs she has built and scaled. Lara is also an advocate for women in technology, leading a number of initiatives at LinkedIn, and previously at Facebook. The judges said: “Lara’s commitment to her work and the broader industry has been consistent and shows how passionate she is about supporting others.”

Josh Slighting, Head of Data & Digital Audience, Network 10
One of Josh’s biggest achievements to date is creating and now executing ViacomCBS’s Network 10’s data strategy and transformation to increase advertising revenues and develop a deeper understanding of 10’s audience. This resulted in a 400 per cent increase on the revenue target, and within 12 months of launching, 60 per cent of total digital sales revenue is now enabled through data. Through the process he hired a new team who all play essential roles. Outside of work, he is a regular panellist at industry events and sits on the IAB Data Council. The judges said: “Josh has proven himself as a strong leader who is able to achieve tangible results and actively participate in industry discussions to enhance the use of data.”

Luke Burr, Head of Sales — Victoria, Verizon Media
Overseeing a team of five in Melbourne, Luke has fostered a culture of mutual respect, trust and communication. As a board member for UnLtd, he organised the inaugural UnLtd Cup in Melbourne, a soccer tournament in partnership with The Mirabel Foundation which raised more than $40,000 for charity. He also regularly runs internal upskilling sessions as part of Sales University and Builders30 initiatives, internal programs that are designed to upskill the sales team at Verizon Media. The judges said: “Luke already has a wonderful CV and is headed on a good trajectory as he continues to drive results and foster a great culture among his team and the broader industry in Melbourne.”

Danielle St George, General Manager, Media, Hyland
After a sudden medical emergency, Danielle found herself at home for more than a month, immobile after surgery during a time when she was in the process of recruiting for a short-staffed team. Unable to solve the challenge of more work than staff, Danielle sought to support her team in an unconventional way. Teaching herself how to code, she used the opportunity to develop a proprietary tool that has saved over 1000 hours of admin for others through automating data processing, visualisation and presentation. The judges said: “Danielle overcame a substantial challenge in difficult circumstances. As a result, she has saved her team time and boosted the amount of work the agency can achieve, which is an impressive feat for any leader.”

Kate Prowse, Group Account Director, The Taboo Group
Kate is the youngest member of the leadership team, as well as a director of SheSays Melbourne, and always brings valuable contributions to the table. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Taboo’s active clients went from 13 to three almost overnight. The agency’s revenue plummeted and layoffs were imminent. Using her trusted relationships, Kate was able to help a number of clients to pivot — and quickly. She oversaw two huge campaigns for Telstra and Coopers within the first two months of lockdown, both huge successes with follow-ups scheduled. The judges said: “Faced with a very raw challenge, Kate showed exceptional leadership skills and amazing care for her team and clients to achieve the best results for all parties.”

Kirby McDonald, Client Director — Government, Wavemaker, Adelaide
Kirby’s nomination says she is “a future star of our industry, particularly as a young female with the capability to be an agency CEO in under 10 years”. One of Wavemaker’s youngest client directors at age 27, Kirby has been leading a team of more than 10 people on one of the South Australian government accounts since 2017. In addition to her daily role at the agency, Kirby has also held a secretary role at the Adelaide Media Club for a number of years. The judges said: “Kirby is a young gun who is mature beyond her years. She has achieved phenomenal results in the government accounts she has led including for recent campaigns to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in SA.”

Hayley Smith, Head of Campaign Management, Verizon Media
Hayley consistently has one of the highest engagement scores and management effectiveness scores in the entire company globally, at 82% and 100% respectively. An ongoing challenge to Hayley’s role is the expectation to do more with less. During a period of consolidation for the business, Hayley was tasked with launching and supervising a team based in India to manage process-driven tasks. By communicating daily, clearly defining goals and pre-empting problems, Hayley guided her team to success. They now manage 1500 tasks per month allowing local teams to focus on client service and driving revenue. The judges said: “Managing a team of more than 20 and an extraordinary number of tasks, Hayley is a stellar leader. We also liked that she is described by her colleagues as a ‘mentor to many’.”

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