“Take the time to really listen to each other”

Martina Lacey, Head of New Business and Marketing, iCrossing UK, on the new era of flexible working and the myth of digital transformation.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director


“We all had an end date in mind, but the truth is we are still very much in it.” Marina Lacey is articulating the challenge of ‘post-pandemic’ working life that many in the industry are grappling with. Namely the fact that the pandemic is continuing to have a lasting impact.

It is an ecosystem in which she believes listening is crucial. Sharing how global digital marketing agency iCrossing responded to the crisis; her insight is one which reflects the importance of humanity. She explains: “The important thing was to take the time to really listen to each other and also try to pick up on what you are not hearing.”  

Pointing to the fact that there are always people who will be more vocal in any corporate setting - virtual or in-person - the key is to make space for those who perhaps don’t have the confidence or opportunities to speak. It is apt that Lacey is speaking as part of the Women in Marketing interview series, which iCrossing are supporting.

In retrospect it is all too easy to forget; to minimise the panic and uncertainty which accompanied the first lockdown. At a time of such intense uncertainty the key for icrossing was to provide employees with assurance and reliability where they could. “In the second week there was a strong message that we will get through this, that we won’t be making pay cuts, furloughing or making redundancies and that really helped people not having the added pressure of wondering if they would have a job at the end of this crisis.”

Flexible Futures

The agency also stepped up to the opportunity of extreme flexibility; with core time blocked out for no meetings between 12.30 and 2pm. Agency-wide games of ‘would you rather’ helped bring colleagues together for a 30 minute chat and a virtual cup of tea. An initiative that proved popular which the agency bought back in September.

The seamless nature of digital working has also helped to bring the company closer together. Lacey points to the fact that all agency meetings now integrate company offices across Brighton, London and Cardiff more regularly. Holding onto the best of flexibility is now top of the agenda. 

Lacey explains that iCrossing already had an extensive flexible working programme in place called ‘Flex10’ which empowered employees to work from any location. She explains: “Now we are really focused on what we use the office for and coming in for team meetings.”

She is also acutely aware that a one size fits all approach to flexible working will get you nowhere; pointing to the fact that perhaps people with younger children and older people often prefer to work from home, whereas younger people want more interaction. 

“Being flexible is more complicated than we all first thought,” she explains, pointing to the fact that after months at home, many people find the noise of an office too much to concentrate within. 

The digital transformation opportunity

The clarity of thinking around what works for an individual when it comes to flexible working is equally matched with a clarity of purpose for the agency. As a digital agency, iCrossing was in a solid market position to capitalise on the wholesale shift to e-commerce in the wake of the pandemic. 

Yet notably, as the agency comes through an extensive repositioning project Lacey points to the fact that successful agency brands aren’t simply chasing every opportunity.

She explains: “One of the things I am most proud of having gone through an agency positioning is the fact that we came out with the confidence to say that we are not for everyone.”

She continues: “Turning down opportunities because we are so focused on the things we are aligned to gives us confidence as a business.”

Digital Transformation can mean whatever you want it to mean, it is such a big lofty term but the reality is it means very different things to each business.

Martina Lacey, Head of New Business and Marketing, iCrossing UK

Beyond the quick fix

Of course the truth is that digital transformation has been at the top of the marketing agenda long prior to the pandemic. Yet like many marketing buzzwords before it; the amplification of the term hasn’t translated to meaningful action amongst many businesses.

For Lacey, while it is clearly the right time to be in the business of digital marketing, at the same time if you want to make meaningful changes to a client’s business you need to think beyond the quick fix.

She explains: “Digital Transformation can mean whatever you want it to mean, it is such a big lofty term but the reality is it means very different things to each business.”

She points to the example of a client who sells high-end cars; customers might look at the cars on their website but in order to buy they have to go into a dealership. Digital transformation for that brand involves working out how to sell those vehicles directly from its website. 

The case for simplification

For Lacey the role of agencies in an increasingly complex digital ecosystem is clear; simplification. 

“The simplification process is where agencies come into their own,” she explains. “There is so much going on in your own business that you can’t stay on top of everything.”

She continues: “From a client point of view you can't be an expert in everything and when agencies get on top of change to challenge what will and won’t get results, that is when they add value.”

Pointing to a 10% test budget, she believes that every campaign should have an element of testing and experimentation to it. “You won’t know the power of trying something new until you do it,” she explains. 

This ethos of testing, pushing and challenging is an approach Lacey developed as a journalist and conference producer. Experiences that have opened her eyes to the challenges that still hold the industry back. 

The industry is amazing at branding up the diversity and inclusion initiatives they do and packaging up their strategies, but the second you get under the surface there is nothing there. There is meaningful change that is yet to be done.

Martina Lacey, Head of New Business & Marketing, iCrossing UK

From Amplification to Action

Lacey is passionate about diversity and inclusion and recalls how as a journalist and conference producer it was harder to get women to appear on panels or contribute to articles. An experience which has made her relentless and focused in raising up new voices across the agency; approaching each opportunity through the lens of ‘don’t say no to this.’

In an ecosystem in which the myriad of headlines on the ‘great resignation’ have turned out to be a truthful reflection of unprecedented churn rather than empty rhetoric, Lacey is clear there is work to do on diversity and inclusion. 

“The industry is amazing at branding up the diversity and inclusion initiatives they do and

packaging up their strategies, but the second you get under the surface there is 

nothing there. There is meaningful change that is yet to be done.”

It is a change that is becoming business critical in the face of such high levels of churn and the struggle agencies across the industry are facing to recruit. 

“People have got to work differently over the past year and they are increasingly clear

on what they are willing to put up with,” explains Lacey. She believes that now is the time for leaders to challenge what their agency’s truly stand for; underlying the truth that it is easier to say you are ‘people first’ than to ensure each person in your agency truly feels that way.

As Lacey’s inclusive approach underlines; whether client or co-worker taking the time to listen is both a creative and competitive advantage. 

Creativebrief: Tell us what the most challenging moment of your career has been and how you got through it?
Interviewee: My most challenging career moment came when I moved to the agency side in a more senior new business role. You already have that anxiety about stepping into a bigger role. It was the first big pitch I had worked on and the head of department was really speaking down to me. I really internalised it and I really sunk into myself. At the same time, I was having some career coaching and when my review came up it had this brilliant question; ‘what is the one thing you wish you had handled differently?’ I worked with my coach and wrote about how I wish I had spoken to him [the head of department] about how he had made me feel. He didn’t read it until we were in the room together and as he read it he put his fist on his chest and looked at me and said ‘I am so sorry. I get very tunnel vision on a pitch and I don’t always think about how I treat people.’ It completely transformed our relationship. He is now one of my best advocates. This has really given me the confidence to challenge and when someone has spoken to me in a way I don’t appreciate I don’t internalise it.
Creativebrief: Tell us about the biggest high point of your career?
Interviewee: At iCrossing everyone has 5 charity days a year to make a difference. We worked with a Youth homeslessness charity not just to give them money, but support them with content and SEO and the difference that has made [to that charity] has been a privilege to be a part of.
Creativebrief: Tell us about the importance of sponsoring Women in Marketing and being part of the WIM community?
Interviewee: Often when it comes to diversity and inclusion things come in cycles. There was a big push around women in the workplace a couple of years ago but things aren’t solved yet, we don’t have equality yet. It is only now that people are getting used to terms such as ‘microaggressions’ and it is really important to continue to elevate and celebrate marginalised groups.
Creativebrief: What would be your advice to women starting out their career in marketing today?
Interviewee: Don’t be afraid to get in touch with people. Twitter is a weird place but it connects us all. Don’t be afraid to reach out and say ‘let’s get a coffee’, you will be genuinely surprised at how willing people are to have a chat. New business people aren't always the best when it comes to talking to each other, because we are always competing with each other. But know if you have a challenge you are definitely not alone, you don't have to do a public post about it but you can always reach out to someone for a chat.

The deadline for this year’s Women in Marketing Awards has been extended to the 15th October; apply here.

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