Meet The Team - Zenith's digital dreams

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 9 January 2024
L to R: Vikki Pearce, Joshua Lee and Laura Boatman.

Zenith had a big year in 2023: appointed to manage Superloop's media strategy, planning, buying and research across all channels; became brand agency partners of Temple & Webster along with Dentsu and Thrive; and was named by Modibodi to manage its performance media, strategy, planning and buying across global markets.

It isn't just pitch wins where the Publicis-owned agency has seen success though - since 2021, Zenith has seen a more than 30% YoY growth in digital spend each year.

With such growth, the digital leads - comprised of Joshua Lee, national head of digital and data; Vikki Pearce, Brisbane head of digital; and Laura Boatman, Sydney head of digital - have been focused on diversifying the skillset and expertise of the team as it expands with new hires. 

Boatman said that both performance channels – which is sitting around 42% growth in overall performance – and paid search have been key drivers for the growth in digital.   

“In the last 12 months we've grown to 62% in search alone – it's a really exciting time because there's a lot of innovation and disruption in that space, so it's certainly something that we're doing some exciting work with clients on,” she says. 

Lee said that when he first started at the agency five years ago, his ambition, at least for the Melbourne office, was to re-establish its digital credentials. 

“At the time, Zenith wasn't really regarded as a digitally led agency; we were known as we had big clients like Vic Gov and NAB and so we did everything very integrated but it was never seen as like ‘they’re great at performance or they've got more deeper capabilities’,” he tells AdNews. 

“It certainly has evolved over time by hiring the right talent and being able to win a different portfolio of clients that are more geared towards sophisticated campaigns and acquisitions.” 

“With performance as a starting point, we have become a lot more sophisticated and deepened our knowledge with the biddable platform and ecosystem and making sure that we're helping clients to drive measurable outcomes by orchestrating different technology and data signals together. 

“It’s less about going in-platform and executing and optimising as much as that's very important; it's also about seeing more broadly how to leverage that performance ecosystem as efficiently and effectively as possible.”  

Lee said Zenith have been hard at work at reestablishing its SEO footprint and over the last year, the team has grown from just one capability lead to what will be four or five into this year, on top of Jack Telford joining the team in October 2023 in the newly-created role of SEO group business director. 

“We know that clients still have that tension of maybe they're not getting the right level of service, but it's obviously a lot easier and more effective when you can combine your paid scope with an SEO scope to drive total efficiencies,” he says. 

“For eCommerce, it’s pretty much the same story as well - we've been building up our capability in-house so that we can play in that retail media space and our portfolio skews very much to FMCG, but now we're winning a lot of DTC clients and helping them navigate the likes of marketplaces and how to actually leverage data signals in those environments to live more effectively on an off-site.” 

The team said that moving forward, Zenith is keeping an eye on the fast-growing channel of retail media, while also preparing clients for signal depreciation and the end of cookies and exploring the role of AI in the workplace. 

Boatman said that the first thing Zenith have been doing is audits to see how clients are going to be impacted by cookie deprecation and have then been building out individual digital maturity roadmaps, striving to get all clients to an advanced level of maturity.  

“We've been looking at all the different channels that they spend in and created specific roadmaps for each channel to try and make sure that they are prepared for what's coming next year,” she says.  

“We're working with them really closely to make sure that we are maximising their first party data, so we're looking at what they currently have, helping them with their tech infrastructure and audience segmentation and then building out plans to activate that data in media.” 

Pearce, who’s part of the Next Gen Board (NGB) for Zenithtasked with creating and implementing practical initiatives to build the agency’s culture, client offering and proposition - said one of the key projects that the NGB is working on is the role of AI and the future of work and things. 

“We've got dedicated working groups that are trying to solve for some of those classic agency challenges of ‘what's the balance between process, administrative work and the balance on the other side of the creativity and the innovation and driving those maturity roadmaps, which is kind of all the meaty, exciting stuff that everyone loves to get their hands dirty with,” she tells AdNews.  

“Specifically from a digital standpoint, AI and machine learning is not new news - it's been part of how we operate and how our campaigns have run and the technology that we're engaging with every day, so I think it's around really identifying what is machine learning and AI to clients and their campaigns and the value that it can bring to them to make that more effective and drive efficiencies.” 

Lee, who is based in Melbourne, admits that while it is sometimes hard geographically having three heads of digital spread across three different markets, especially with pitches, the team tries to behave as one unit, which means sharing knowledge and resources across each market. 

“We've had the fortunate history of actually working together before, so we understand how we work together as individuals and as a team and we know each other's strengths,” he says. 

“When a problem comes up, whether it's pitch related, an existing client or operational, we know who to turn to. It's just that resilience and resourcefulness that we find in each other that allows us to actually grow a lot faster and solve problems a lot faster.  

“It's been quite successful and I don't believe we've ever had any hiccups with regards to ‘this model isn’t working, it's too difficult having three different heads of digital across different markets’, - it almost is so much better actually having that coverage, but then having that alignment along the way. 

Boatman said what the trio has together as a leadership team is “really different”.  

“We have a relationship that's very much built on trust, honesty, vulnerability and one of the mottos that we have internally for us is around heart-centered leadership,” she tells AdNews. 

“We're very open minded, we make sure we listen to each other, we withhold judgment, we're very adaptable, and we're good at acting from that place of empathy. That leads into our Zenith behaviors of be bold, be kind, be better together - we definitely live and breed them as a digital leadership team.”  

Looking ahead to what this year holds, Boatman said sustainability will be a key theme for her, moreso because she also sits on the Publicis Group Sustainability Committee, something she’s “really passionate about”.  

“The first phase is all about awareness, and then making sure that people are aware of the impact of media on the environment, which some people are still quite shocked about,” she said.  

“Once we've raised awareness of that, the second step is all about measurement. So we are making sure that we're tracking the impact on the environment of all of our media and making sure that we have a knowledge of that impact.  

“The third stage is all around the solution - actually looking at carbon offset solutions, green media products and putting a bit of a plan in place for our clients.”   

For Pearce, who is one of the co-chairs of the IAB Video Council, 2024 will see work being done to identify and explore some of the key trends in video that are coming out, such as shoppable video, the rise of short formats and what’s fit for platform. 

“I feel like that is not really new news, but it's something that's going to be continuing to be a much bigger topic into next year, because that transition from just being able to repurpose standard assets into social media platforms in particular is really a challenge, and particularly from a YouTube point of view with their Shorts format becoming much more integrated into their offering,” she says.  

“The other area is connected TV, which is going to continue to be a huge driver next year, so we're actually working on the IAB handbook for the connected TV update.” 

Lee said it's been a very intense last few years of pitching, but it has paid off with Zenith finishing 2023 ranked at number three within RECMA in terms of both new business and vitality score. COMvergence's new business barometer for H1 2023 saw Zenith come out on top for media agencies in Australia.

“There's still a lot of pitch work that's happening and continuing that momentum will only help us continue to grow and deepen our capabilities and products that clients are looking for, both existing and new,” he told AdNews.  

“Two to three years ago we were at a period where we didn't have the explosive growth where we had to create another layer of structure into having group digital directors and group performance directors.  

“Now this has just become the norm because we need to scale structure, but also be efficient and give the opportunity for more leadership amongst the digital team underneath us. We'll be looking very closely as to how we can continue to broaden out that unification across all markets beyond just the three of us into the cohorts below.” 

On that point of growth, Boatman said that since she started in Zenith Sydney two and a half years ago, the team has doubled in size.  

“We've seen huge growth in this market and we've actually just created a brand new group performance and product director in this market as well,” she says. 

“From what I've seen, our clients love how we have hybrid teams, which can be quite unique in media agencies, but our teams are across everything, which means they're really deeply embedded and ingrained in the client's business and they can holistically look at all channels together, such as planning and optimisation, but then also having those specialists that do sit on the side and plug in. 

“We’re finding it's working really well because we are getting the best of both worlds - the holistic people that are on the ground in front of the client day to day and then also the specialists when it comes to programmatic, social, search etc that plug in and really elevate when it comes to innovation and education and process, so that's something we've thought about really carefully and we think it's pretty successful at the minute.” 

Similarly, Pearce said that Brisbane, which has typically been Zenith’s smallest market, has tripled in size in terms of digital talent over the last two years.  

“It's just bringing in those new perspectives and the different experience that can then come together and work cohesively as a multidisciplinary team.” 

Steff Plunkett

Steff Plunkett, Group Digital Director, Brisbane

What attracted you to Zenith?

What drew me to Zenith was the breadth of my initial role with the agency. Having been very specialised in programmatic for a significant amount of time, Zenith had opportunities and offered support for me to foster my growth in all areas of digital media. Another key part of what attracted me to the team was the structure of offline and online teams merged together. This helps foster cohesive planning strategies, ensuring that campaigns are not only well-executed but also harmonised across various channels for maximum impact.

What are you focused on for 2024?

In 2024, my primary focus is on continuing to foster the growth of our team. I am dedicated to ensuring their continued education, to enhancing processes holistically and to striving to drive efficiencies wherever possible. One key aspect of this is identifying opportunities for upskilling the entire team, ensuring that each member has the tools and knowledge needed to excel in their roles.

Additionally, as the digital landscape continues to evolve (especially with the final countdown to the demise of the cookie) I am looking forward to engaging with clients during this transformative time, especially across their CDP integrations and projects, as well as working on how to continue to reach and engage with the right audiences at the right time.

What do you love most about your role?

What I love most about my role is the enriching working environment that actively nurtures my growth. Being surrounded by inspiring leaders and an exceptional team creates a dynamic atmosphere that fuels my professional development. The opportunity to learn from and collaborate with amazing leaders has been a great source of inspiration. Their guidance and mentorship have not only expanded my knowledge base but have also instilled in me a sense of leadership that goes beyond the technical aspects of my role.

The camaraderie within the team is another aspect that brings joy to my role. The synergy and collective effort toward shared goals make the work not only productive but also enjoyable. The diverse skills and perspectives within the team contribute to a collaborative culture where everyone is encouraged to bring their best to the table. I’m so grateful that I literally learn and laugh every day with the team.

Another layer of fulfilment in my role is working with clients who appreciate and value innovation. The shared commitment to pushing boundaries and exploring new possibilities creates a rewarding partnership.

Michael Smith

Michael Smith, Digital Account Director, Melbourne

What do you love most about your role?

There is a lot I love about my role. I get to work with a lot of different and talented people day to day, each of whom have their own strengths and views. I really enjoy being able to play a supporting role to so many people within the team and, more broadly, the agency, helping to develop talent and general best practice. The nature of my role allows a continuous opportunity for personal growth, as I encounter new learning experiences each day.

What’s the biggest challenge in your role?

Some of the biggest challenges that come with this role is the complexity, constant changes, and evolution of the digital landscape, especially as the lines of traditional and non-traditional continue to fade. I do find it challenging, and sometimes overwhelming, to keep not only on the pulse of all these changes but also remain knowledgeable. I am lucky to have such a strong network of both digital and non-digital natives who are constantly cross-sharing information and helping each other to navigate this dynamic space.  Some of these challenges are actually the reasons I enjoy the role so much!

What attracted you to Zenith?

What initially attracted me to Zenith was the authentic and friendly nature of everyone, stemming from the unofficial ‘no egos policy’ that was mentioned to me in my first interview. I have been at Zenith for almost 8 years now (a long time in media years!), but that policy still stands true today, even through the growth the agency has had over the years. Everyone is still so welcoming and open to helping each other succeed.


Lucile Dattin

Lucile Dattin, Group Digital Director, Sydney

What are you focused on for 2024?

I recently onboarded a new client, where the focus has been mainly to understand their business priorities and unpack the brand challenges. 2024 will bring a lot of exciting product releases for them, and my priority will be to elevate channel planning and buying through a better consideration of the user journey. Having the consumer at the heart of our thinking will be our starting point to work out our planning tactics across the full funnel. As part of this process, my personal challenge will be to prove the value of upper funnel channels to drive long-term business results.

Alongside these projects, I will continue to focus on maintaining a good work-life balance for my team and myself. Zenith offers great flexibility and places a high emphasis on individual wellbeing, which I greatly value.

What do you love most about your role?

My clients and close team are very smart people, and I’m lucky to work with them on a daily basis. Being surrounded by incredible talent helps to forge strategic conversations that really challenge not only my clients’ media approaches, but also the industry as a whole. Having these advanced conversations and projects around data, attribution, addressability and connecting the all the dots in the consumer journey are the topics that excite me in my role.

Overseeing and mentoring a team is also at the heart of my responsibilities. Witnessing their development and growth in their respective roles fills me with great satisfaction. Nurturing their skills and fostering their progress is an aspect of my job that I genuinely cherish, as it contributes to the overall success of our team and organisation.

What attracted you to Zenith?

I began my career at what was then called Zenith Optimedia in Paris, where I learned intricacies of digital planning and implementation. My experience at Publicis Groupe left me with great memories, and I felt grateful for the incredible talents I met during my three-year tenure there. After a few years in another agency, I made the decision to move to Australia and it was evident I would focus my employment searches around Publicis, especially Zenith. After engaging with talents from the Sydney office, I was drawn to the agency's energy and mindset. I was really glad a suitable opportunity was available for me, and five years later, no regrets! 

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