Penny Shell found it hard to say 'no' to Zenith

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 21 May 2024
Penny Shell.

Penny Shell's decision to join Zenith Australia as its chief strategy and product officer was in large part due to the agency's  focus on product innovation and a real culture of creativity.

Shell told AdNews that it was hard to say no to Zenith with assets including the Imagine Panel, a predictive, real-time single source consumer panel of more than 5,000 Australians, and the development of commerce approaches locally, as well as Publicis Groupe’s global capabilities, the strategic possibilities and the ability to build solutions from scratch.

"After leaving my last agency role, I was fortunate to spend time with so many generous industry leaders and hear about what was happening in media outside of the group I’d been with for the last five years," she said.

"There are some incredible approaches, capabilities, cultures and people in our industry, and I felt it was important to make sure my next move was the right one.

"I have known and worked with [Zenith Australia CEO] Jason Tonelli previously and he’s always been extremely entrepreneurial, which fuels a real culture of creativity and a ‘can do’ spirit that’s felt agency wide.

"The people and culture at Zenith are incredibly special, and I don’t take our camaraderie for granted."

Having joined the media agency after six years at Starcom and five years at OMD in senior strategy, product and planning roles, Shell said that she can draw on key learnings from her previous experience, such as connecting people and structures to build solutions together, rather than be limited to the legacy 'baton change' approach.

"I’ve learned that often the best work doesn’t come from the brief, so we must ensure we have a way of working with our clients and media partners that is equally as proactive as it is reactive," she said.

"I’ve learned that product training and improvement is best done in regular micro-sessions under 30 minutes than in full-day immersion sessions a few times a year!

"Ultimately, I’ve learned that trust and transparency are the most valuable assets for any team and agency, both in how we work together and how we work with our partners."

Prior to officially joining the team, Shell spent the last four months working as an independent consultant on strategy, product, brand and media with Zenith as the agency evolved its ROI3 strategy approach (Investment, Imagination and Insight), refined its ambition and set new strategic priorities.

"I can’t wait to meet as many of our clients as possible to understand their businesses and potential opportunities for growth, as well as collaborate with our teams and media partners to help build solutions," she told AdNews.

"Embedding Zenith’s new solutions agency wide will be a big focus for me – activating our Imagine Panel and integrating retail media and commerce within broader asset and media planning alongside continuing to prove ROI effectiveness through asset creation.

"I also look forward to engaging with the wider Publicis Groupe to understand how we can further build a connected offering that extends Zenith’s media advantage."

The chief strategy and product officer is a newly created role for Zenith Australia and one that Shell said ties into the agency's established product specialties of Strategy & Planning, Research, Digital, Commerce and CX.

"The ambition for my role is to connect these capabilities in new ways to customise media and solutions for client growth," she said.

"We are building new Zenith approaches to AI application, retail, commerce and audience solutions, so creating new artefacts and approaches that can be applied to all client teams will be a continual focus for me and our team."

Looking more broadly at the advertising market in Australia, Shell said that she thinks there’s an abundance of cautiousness in the Australian market at the moment, which is holding the industry back.

"Though the impact of inflation and conflict is felt globally, it appears that in markets like the US and UK brands accelerate marketing to address the need for consumer confidence, whilst we become quieter and more risk averse," she said.

"I’d like to see brands return to statement advertising. It feels like we’re hiding behind performance and micro-targeting when there is the opportunity, indeed the need, to stand for something more and impact culture."

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