Syzygy describes itself as ‘the human experience company’. The agency, part of WPP, employs 600 people across 8 global locations.
The agency’s beliefs include that ‘every contact with a brand is an experience’ and ‘technology and data are crucial, but they serve a higher aim.’
A modern agency, to be sure. But what does the average day of CEO Ita Murphy look like? We caught up with her to find out.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
My role has best been described as a ‘change agent’. I set the direction for the company, meaning most days I am focused on making sure everyone in the business feels empowered to drive change at pace, for our clients and for ourselves. It means equipping my talented team with the tools and resources needed to delight our clients, day in and day out, and removing obstacles to their progress.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
I’m the CEO of the UK Office, reporting into the Group CEO Lars Lehne. I’m the only female leader at my level (currently); which sounds weird – but I have great colleagues on the senior team and we are of course very balanced throughout the business. It is something we are on a mission to redress, we host events for global women’s network SheSays, and this summer I spoke at our event with DevelopHer, a not-for-profit organisation that looks to elevate women in tech, digital and entrepreneurship.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
Active listening and smart questioning – thereby giving people the opportunity to do their own thinking and come up with smarter solutions than I could for them. Vulnerability: no-one knows everything. Showing people you don’t have all the answers enables others to also be comfortable with not knowing. It shows you to be open to learning.
Tell us about a typical working day…
It usually starts with ideas popping into my head when I do my morning yoga (which I quickly jot down before getting back to my ‘downward dog’). A weekly management meeting first thing on Monday morning ensures the Management team is focussed and aligned on the most important issues of the week.
Thereafter my day is a combination of reviewing our strategy and work, budget meetings, 1-2-1s with my senior team and attending networking events. I’m particularly excited to have recently joined the Strategic Advisory Board of The Girls’ Network, an organisation which mentors disadvantaged teenage girls. Commitments allowing, I relax by attending my weekly singing and art classes.
What do you love about your job?
I love seeing the transformation within the company and the team. We are on a journey together and its amazingly gratifying to see it start to pay off as we begin to win more and more business. I also love it when our clients tell us they are delighted with our smart thinking – and that they want to give us even more business – there’s nothing like it!
I am energised by the fact that no two days are the same. There will always be challenges, many of which can seem insurmountable in the moment, but I take the view that there’s always a solution – you just need to keep calm and find it.
Being in boring pointless meetings which have no tangible outcomes and which don’t drive the business forward (thankfully these are extremely rare!).
What kind of goals do you have?
We are one of the hidden jewels in WPP’s crown, and I want everyone to know that we are a brilliant, nimble digital media and tech company that has a data-driven approach to all decision making.
On a more personal note, I want to unleash the potential I see in the people I work with. It’s wonderful watching each one of them thrive and do some of the best work of their careers. Being part of such a high-performing team is sheer joy; the energy it creates is second to none.
What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Growing our clients’ revenue, winning new business, attracting and retaining highly demanded talent. For me personally it also comes from seeing the team progressing individually and delighting our clients.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
My ‘to do’ list; which is updated several times each day. Writing things down seems like the oldest trick in the book, but it turns multiple client conversations into actionable priorities, old-school style.
How did you end up at Syzygy, and where might you go from here?
After around 25 years working in some of the largest media agencies leading numerous blue-chip accounts, I felt like I needed a change, and so I spent the last six years coaching and consulting. Whilst the experience was invaluable, I missed being part of a thriving team and yearned to return to an agency. Luckily for me, timings worked out and SYZYGY needed a leader to drive the business forward.
I get a real buzz from turning around companies and winning new business – long may it continue. Life’s too short to coast!
What are some of your favourite examples of digital innovation from brands?
I love tech that is deceptively simple but has a transformative impact on peoples’ lives, a recent example of which came from GSK in Mexico. Working with WPP – their agency partner – GSK built a predictive modelling tool which forecasts the likelihood of flu hitting different locations within a hyper-localised area. Using this tool, GSK then dynamically served ads based on a person’s locality and propensity to be affected. Equipped with this new information, potential sufferers were able to protect themselves against the devastating impact of flu, a virus which kills up to 650,000 people globally each year. Now that is innovation at its best.
What would your advice be to marketers making the transition from client-side to agency – or vice versa?
The biggest shift is becoming the person who has to actually deliver the work. Of course, you can’t brief it out to an agency – which may seem like stating the obvious, but in my experience can often come as a shock to many making the transition. You have to absorb another business’ priorities and ways of thinking.
Managing client work successfully requires putting yourself in their shoes and listening to what they are not saying, sometimes flagging what they don’t know they need. Often this is the actual brief. If you can do this while maintaining an open and honest relationship through the good times and the bad, you won’t go far wrong.
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