Let's chat to Kieron McCann from Cognifide, a WPP marketing technology consultancy.

What's it like to tackle client strategy and work in the fast-paced agency world?

(On a related note, entries for the Top 100 Digital Agencies 2018 are now open)

Econsultancy: Please describe your job: What do you do?

Kieron McCann: Director of Marketing and Strategy - I wear a number of hats. I head up our marketing team, who do a great job of driving our social, PR and event activities, as well as managing our digital and campaign activities. I work with our leadership team to evolve and refine our core proposition and message, which is where the intersection with strategy happens.

I also help to develop messaging and propositions for our product and service offerings and ensure they align with our core proposition. Finally, I also spend time on client-facing work, helping clients to crystallise their digital strategy objectives and implementation of success measurement frameworks.

E: Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?

KM: I sit on our exco and report to our CEO. Cognifide is a very flat organisation, so there is very little focus on hierarchy. I view all of my colleagues as peers, no matter what they do.

E: What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?

KM: Years ago I watched a programme on evolution and was struck by the different fates of the Grizzly Bear and the Panda. They share a common ancestor, but the Grizzly was a generalist and the Panda an extreme specialist. Grizzlies have been far more successful as a species. I resolved to be a Grizzly and not a Panda and so have always kept a broad set of generalist skills. I think this helps to be able to understand the relationships between the rapidly changing forces that impact our business and industry. I like making sense out of ambiguity, breaking problems into chunks and fitting them into frameworks to bring order to our thinking.

Hiring the right people, and letting them do what they are good at is essential, as is maintaining good relationships with colleagues, after all, we are all working together as a team. I love technology and am a secret (or maybe not so secret) geek. Finally, don't be afraid to challenge and disrupt - not only does it produce unexpected outcomes, it can be a lot of fun.

E: Tell us about a typical working day… 

KM: It's hard to say any day is 'typical', and to be honest I like it that way. One day I might be at a client workshop or be head down in a client presentation, headphones on. The next will be working with colleagues on building a model for client strategy engagements, or a product portfolio framework, writing an article for a PR opportunity, proofing some release notes or working on updates to our website. At the moment GDPR compliance is consuming quite a bit of my time.

kieron mccann

E: What do you love about your job? What sucks?

KM: I love the people I work with. Cognifide is a really fun company to work in and I have really, really talented colleagues. I love walking into the office and feeling the buzz - quite often there will be a group of people gathered around a whiteboard cracking a customer problem. There's always a bit of laughter. It's really energising to work with people who know their stuff and also have a good sense of humour. 

I also have to remind myself that I am very fortunate to work with some of the world's biggest brands - it's amazing to be working with them on developing their digital strategy and infrastructure and to share their success. It really makes you feel valued for what you are doing.

I have to say that sucky days are very, very rare. Occasionally there will be something unexpected that comes up and everyone needs to get together and crack a problem. It can be stressful, but I'm lucky to have a really great team and we usually work it out. 

E: What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success? 

KM: Ha! This is a great question. I help our clients to work this out and so know how difficult it can be. The truth is that there is no magic KPI that works for everyone. Ultimately revenue and profitability is how everyone is measured, but this is not useful to drive decision making and measurement as it's so laggy.

At Cognifide customer satisfaction is top of our agenda. We are committed to helping clients solve their real business issues.  I know everyone always says that, but when we commit to doing something, we honour that commitment, even if it hurts us. That's an ethos that's deeply ingrained in the company by our CEO.

We don't have a large number of clients and we don't operate at the low cost end of the market, so it's essential that our clients recognise the value we bring. This year we were awarded a Vocalis Award for client satisfaction by the Digital Clarity Group, but there's always room for improvement.

We regularly measure customer satisfaction, on time delivery, renewal and length of customer relationship. Although we are an engineering firm at heart, increasingly we recognise that clients want help with strategy, planning, operating model design and adoption to fully realise their digital investments. This significantly boosts the likelihood of customer success and satisfaction, so we keep an eye on the mix of services to ensure we have a good blend of professional services, engineering and service management.

From a marketing and communications perspective we are looking at a broad set of metrics across social and web and using them to shape decision making. 

E: What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?

KM: The tools I use aren't particularly sophisticated, standard office tools that most people would use. We are heavy users of the G-suite for standard comms and document sharing, Dropbox and Slack for collaboration. Spotify is a key productivity tool :). We use Sprout Social for social media reporting and analytics, which has helped us to optimise our social media performance

E: How did you land in this role, and where might you go from here?

KM: In a way this role has come full circle for me. I used to work for a small web app developer during the dot com years, then I moved into Telecommunications for about 15 years where I had a great grounding in product management, product marketing, business planning and strategy. I was introduced to Cognifide via a former colleague who worked there, which is the best way to come into a company. I met the founders of the company, shot my mouth off about what I think needed doing and they hired me. It took about a week and was one of the best decisions I've made. I hope they feel that way too!

I don't have plans to go anywhere at the moment, Cognifide is in its last year of being acquired by WPP, and there is a huge amount of opportunity for us to help shape the future direction of WPP as it evolves beyond its roots in pure advertising and media towards much more of a tech focus. Culture is massively important to me. I think I'd struggle to find another firm that is happy to have me turn up to work alternating between Hawaiian shirts and death metal t-shirts. After Cognifide I might move to New Zealand and make cheese or something.

E: Who is combining tech and strategy well at the moment?

KM: Other than Cognifide? :) I think the companies that are doing this best are smaller. I think large tech vendors are starting to notice that small to medium sized firms like Cognifide are shaping the strategy of very large firms. I think it's no coincidence that Microsoft has recently taken on a role as a strategic partner of BIMA, which has a membership made up of very active, innovative smaller digital firms. The pace of change in digital is phenomenal and it's these smaller thought leaders that have the ability to specialise, the agility to adapt, and the willingness to collaborate.

E: Do you have advice for anybody who wants to work in your field?

KM: Play to your strengths, don't be afraid to admit you don't know something and collaborate with people who know more than you. There is absolutely no way you can know everything. Don't lose sight of the big picture and don't be afraid to say what you think, even if you believe it may not be what people want to hear.

But most of all, remember that work should be fun. If you're not enjoying yourself, you can’t do your best work, keep a sense of humour at all times.

Ben Davis

Published 21 June, 2018 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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