Young Guns: Vision Critical senior research manager, Maria Handberg

By AdNews | 8 February 2017
Maria Handberg

Our Young Guns profile takes a weekly look at some of the buzzing young talent across the advertising, ad tech, marketing and media sector in Australia. It aims to shed light on the varying roles, people and companies across the buzzing industry. Last week we spoke to OMD media executive for Qantas, Christian Bendelack.

This week, we head to Sydney to meet Vision Critical Sydney senior research manager, Maria Handberg.

How long have you been in the industry?

Three and half years.

Duration in current role/time at the company:

Three months in my current role and three and a half years at Vision Critical.

What were you doing before this job and how did you get this gig?

Before this job: Completing Vision Critical’s graduate program at the Chicago office.

How I got this job: Vision Critical’s vice president, international research, Bala Rajan, was in the Chicago office running a training seminar and I was fascinated with his thinking and thought process (but scared out of my mind to talk to him). On his last day we both got in the elevator at the same time and I knew this was my only chance, so I pitched myself and left work that day with his business card. Six months later I was leaving Chicago and heading to Sydney to work in his team.

Define your job in one word:


What were your real and cliché expectations of working in the industry?

What I really thought? That research kills creatives and creativity.

How does the reality match up? 


I mean, not knowing enough can make that true, but I have seen how much value research can add to both agency and client creatives… and I’ve learned there is always a creative way to do something.

How would you describe what the company does and what does your role involve?

We are a part technology / part research consultancy business. We build bespoke customer intelligence platforms which enable brands to listen and engage with their customers. On the customer intelligence platforms, called communities, we help brands listen, analyse and tell the consumer stories behind the data.

Best thing about the industry you work in:

Migrating the erstwhile traditional approaches online - there’s so much to explore. The Research Industry Council of Australia (RICA) really enables this and pushes young researchers to get as much exposure to the different types of research and industry experts as they possibly can.

Any major hard learnings in the job so far?

Technology is eating everything. The pace of things are the slowest they will ever be.

If you had to switch over to another department, which would it be and why?

If it had to be in my company, I’d move into marketing.

Otherwise I’d go into agency-side planning or an insights role on the client-side, as long as I can still listen, curate stories and provide invaluable insights, I’m happy.

What's exciting you about the industry right now?

It’s breaking all the rules. Traditional theories and methodologies, while important and still relevant, are no longer the crutch of every research project - online research is changing things up. 

What concerns you about the industry and its future?

Big data - every data point is a person; companies and employees forget that. It’s not just about collecting more data, but knowing which data is more telling.

Who's your right hand person/who guides you day to day?

Joanna Mohr - my work wife for life. She works in a different department than me (account management), and is always providing fresh, new ways or ideas to tackle challenges. She helps me to remember that it’s important to come out of the rabbit hole that is research and get a fresh perspective.

And your almighty mentor that you hope to dethrone?

Bala Rajan - the king of qualitative research! He challenges me every day to think differently, more creatively and with purpose. He has had the biggest impact on my growth as a researcher, and I am very grateful to have such a great leader as my superior.

Dethrone is a strong word though, can’t I just take the seat next to him? 

Career-wise, where do you see yourself in 2020 and how do you plan on getting there?

I was recently awarded 2016 Young Researcher of the Year by RICA, an accomplishment like this was on my ‘goal-list’ prior to turning 30. As it ended up happening this year (I’ll be 30 in a few years), it looks like I’m headed back to the drawing board to create another goal for 2020! Stay tuned. 

What is the elephant in the room? The thing that no one is talking about – but they should be.

Automation - jobs being replaced by robots. 

Where do you turn for inspiration?

Leaders (of all kind) and then books, lots and lots of books.

Tell us one thing people at work don’t know about you?

I am a self-confessed expert guacamole maker - if I could compete in guacamole making, I would. 

Favourite advert is:

The Oreo Cookie ad published via Twitter which went viral at the 2013 Superbowl blackout – talk about capitalising on the moment. This tweet is said to have had a bigger impact than their actual Super Bowl ad which apparently cost millions to create.

“Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.”


What’s your personal motto?

Work hard, be nice. 

I got into marketing because:

To answer the WHY behind anything and everything. 

Companies produce the products, but consumers make the decisions. Your consumers need to love you before you or your brand succeeds. I get to tell these brand stories, and find out how to help develop or grow that love.

If I wasn't doing this for a living, I'd be:

Trying to kill it in agency-side planning or in insights client-side for a brand I love – somewhere I can continue to listen to consumers and be their voice for the brands they love, use and…don’t use. 

If you know a Young Gun, contact

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