‘My job is to say yes’

Jennifer Berry, CEO of Digitas UK, on listening to the next generation of talent, collaboration and calling people in

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


“A great idea can come from anywhere.” Jennifer Berry, CEO of Digitas UK, is sharing her belief that creativity is a team sport.

If human nature naturally defaults to the self-protection of why any given idea won’t work, for Berry making space for the next generation of talent demands an appetite for risk-taking. “My job is to say yes,” she adds.

Carving out the space and time for innovation isn’t always easy in an industry-wide business model which sells time rather than ideas. A fact which means Berry is mindful of ensuring that the agency does not create processes and structures which stifle innovation and creativity. She explains: “It is important to actively make the space for those moments of innovation and embed them in the process.”

A great idea can come from anywhere.

Jennifer Berry, CEO, Digitas

New creative horizons

Digitas appointed Carren O’Keefe as its new Chief Creative Officer in February this year. O’Keefe had spent the past eight years at AnalogFolk. Notably in 2015 when she established AnalogFolks’ Portland base in 2015 with Nike as the flagship client, she was the only female founding partner in Portland.

“I wanted to get fresh thinking into the mix so I did a global search,” she notes. A step-change for an industry which has perhaps been guilty of hiring for personal relationships as opposed to true potential.

“I just never believed it would be effective for creativity to sit alone. The key is collaborating with media, data and tech. Creativity is wonderful but it is all about delivering against powerful insights,” she adds.

This means that Berry’s belief that ‘creativity is about everyone’ is more than just PR puffery. She explains: “You can get incredible insights about your consumers from data. It’s all about using the lens of impaction and innovation. That is the vision of our work.”

This approach is also reflected in how Berry approaches talent. “In terms of talent we really have a Swiss army knife approach,” she explains, adding: “We look for people who are resourceful, inspirational and willing to try new things, with a healthy dose of empathy and creativity.”

An approach which underlines that innovation is driven by people. 

Collaboration drives creativity

This focus on innovation is driven by a consistent focus on collaboration across the business. The agency has a partnership with Next Tech Girls, the award-winning social enterprise, tackling the skills and gender gaps in the tech industry.

Next Tech Girls partners with companies and educational institutions to host tech-focused events and work experience placements for teenage girls, with a focus on those from lower socio-economic or ethnic minority backgrounds.

“Moving from talk to action means we can take legitimate steps towards change,” she explains, noting how important it is to develop new programmes to open the door to new talent.

It’s a refreshing take at a time when some industry leaders are guilty of stereotyping young talent. She continues: “They have hustle, they are eloquent and smart. They are creators really doing stuff and questioning the establishment.”

If we keep doing business in the same way then we won’t break the model.

Jennifer Berry, CEO, Digitas

Being comfortable with challenge

The reality remains that advertising is an informal industry, one in which pathways in, career progression and pay can all lack transparency.

“We have a major access opportunity,” says Berry, pointing to the fact that there are still young people who don’t understand what a career in advertising can offer them.

“If we keep doing business in the same way then we won’t break the model. I’m excited by that challenge. I have always operated in uncertainty and there is a seismic shift afoot,” she adds.

Last year the agency didn’t mandate people coming into the office, but Berry said there was already a critical mass of people in 3 days a week. “We bring collaborative tech to the table, but there is that energy in being together,” she explains.

“The good news at Digitas is that we have had two decades of being a digital agency. We went through the dark days of the pandemic and had to innovate in a hybrid way,” she adds.

The energy and the agony of the creative work is what keeps Berry motivated. “We sit on infinite potential based on the talent we have,” she adds.

The cultural advantage

These ‘moments of innovation’ keep Berry energised about the work. Notably, these aren’t just the award-winning creative moments, but the everyday drumbeat of the agency. She shares that when the agency’s creative tech lead Samuel left on parental leave, he built a digital twin that the agency could ask any questions to.

While some agencies might be hamstrung by a belief that AI is coming for their jobs, this open approach to innovation underlines Digitas’ culture of genuine experimentation. Close partnerships with tech companies mean that the agency is well placed to tap into culture and understand marketplaces and audiences' changing behaviour.

Berry explains: “The agency's role is to be ahead for the clients, we have to be culturally relevant.” In practice, this means meeting consumers in the places and spaces that they are. Whether that is to provide a utility service or to surprise and delight.

If in the past disruptive change in the commercial sector has been based on replacing one product or technology with another in a limited market. For agencies, this hasn't always equated to either impactful work or inclusive cultures.

It is notable that Digitas has always eschewed this ‘move fast and break things’ stereotype with a more inclusive and thoughtful approach to innovation.

This has included extensive work for mobile brand EE including taking the brand into new territories such as supporting women in gaming. According to EE, as of June 2023, around 47% of gamers were women; 72% of women gamers had faced toxicity and 59% had chosen to use non-gendered or male identities online to avoid harassment, primarily relating to their gaming skills. “EE had the opportunity to really connect with culture with pace and believability,” explains Berry.

This pace is also evident at Digitas, the ultimate receipt for this speed being the fact that the agency created the official Glastonbury app for EE in just 77 days.

Berry advocates for a ‘test and learn’ approach to innovation. She explains: “I am a big fan of beta testing things and that is so important when it comes to navigating pressure and ensuring you have the right infrastructure in place to succeed.”

The power of micro-cultures

Deep understanding of micro-cultures and using those micro-cultures to drive broader cultural resonance is a growing trend in marketing.

Berry points to the example of Gucci going into gaming as a stand-out example of the power of the niche. She explains: “It was a huge intersection for them and it was very much a considered niche. When you really lean in with deep understanding you have the power as a brand to completely flip the concept of niche.”

Ensuring that the agency’s understanding of technology is rooted in real-world application rather than just headlines is the fuel for understanding these seemingly niche opportunities for growth.

“We think it is important to understand technology at a grassroots level,” she explains. Sharing that the agency uses the text-to-image AI platform Midjourney. “It is all about finding those opportunities to save time so people can really refocus,” she explains.

The agency has long utilised AI tools, having set up a dedicated AI Lab in 2019. It wasn’t just a case of creating another agency AI product and a headline, the agency utilises a variety of tools, which have genuinely impacted the way in which Digitas serves its clients. For example, the lab created a predictability model for a travel brand to use in the volatile post-pandemic travel market. “We consistently look at where we can embed AI in different tasks and roles,” she adds.

This centaur approach to AI, where both the humanity and the power of AI are key, means that the agency is ready for both opportunity and regulatory intervention. Berry describes her approach to AI as one of ‘pragmatic optimism’

“We are seeing more democratisation of information which presents a genuine opportunity to skill people up,” she explains.

You do not have to be in a single swim lane of leadership.

Jennifer Berry, CEO, Digitas

The power of radical curiosity

“Radical curiosity drives me,” explains Berry. She lights up talking about her experience working on the genre-defying ‘He For She’ campaign with the UN. “Working on something I was so passionate about really fired me up and I was so lucky that I then went on to lead the Dove campaign.”

“How great is it to flex,” she explains, adding: “You do not have to be in a single swim lane of leadership, I’ve always grown clients across these different lanes.”

Yet regardless of the lane you swim in ensuring the current isn't pushing against you is vital. “I have always felt such a deep responsibility for our people and their mental health. We are fortunate to be in a space where clients really need our expertise, but we must stretch with empathy and care.”

Her biggest tip for creative leadership is to really listen to and understand the voices of the next generation. 

To really utilise their voices leaders need to get practical. “DEI is not just about ticking boxes it is about being inclusive once you actually attract that diverse talent,” she explains. Describing her leadership style as ‘collaborative’ she adds that she is known for calling people into discussions. In a meeting, Berry is the kind of leader who won’t be swayed by the loudest voices but will notice who isn’t speaking.

She is dedicated to ensuring that process doesn’t get in the way of people, instead, it enables them. “We have the Future Ready board, which is a mix of twelve people from across the agency who come up with culture and innovation ideas,” she adds.

Through her commitment to openness, transparency and connected experiences, Berry proves the power of not staying in your lane. At a time of unprecedented change, challenge and opportunity the importance of clarity and commitment in leadership has never been more vital. Berry has enough of both to successfully swim against the currents of commodification and creative blandness.

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