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Effectiveness Hall of Fame - Marie Oldham

The IPA Effectiveness Hall of Fame honours Marie Oldham, Chief Strategy Officer of Havas Media, for her contribution to effectiveness as Convenor of Judges at the 2012 IPA Effectiveness Awards.

Marie also subsequently edited the "Advertising Works 21" book.

Q: Describe the high point and low point of your career in the communications industry to date.

In 1996 I decided to leave advertising, having learnt that Leo Burnett's Media Department was to be floated off as Starcom. I was Head of Communications Planning there and I truly believed that the best work comes from integrating account planning, creative thinking and media skills.

I felt that media teams were being relegated to cost centres and would become differentiated only on price. This was true for a number of years and I watched sadly from my new role at BBC Worldwide.

However, as media agencies immersed themselves in the digital consumer and refocussed around understanding human behaviour, we rebuilt our value offer and now form part of multi-agency teams who are integrated around specific client needs.

My high point was helping Havas to win the BBC account. I hugely enjoyed working on a brand that is part of the fabric of the UK, launching iPlayer and working with the instant measurability of TVRs and traffic on

Q: In your work, who has had the biggest influence on your communications thinking and practice – and why?

I was incredibly lucky to land at Leo Burnett when I switched from being a TV buyer to being a planner. Simon Broadbent was downstairs building models to show clients the effect of advertising on sales and I was lucky enough to work with him on Kraft and Mercedes. 

I went to see speeches from John Phillip Jones and tried to persuade Zenith to buy my recency theory. Lynne Robinson was Head of Research and instilled in me a love of searching for genuine insight in data and qualitative learnings.  Brian Jacobs was Media Director and Stephen Woodford ran Account Management. How lucky was I!  

My primary client was McDonalds and for eight years they taught me the importance of rigour, allowed me to understand their business inside out, to understand customer journeys and (unfortunately) the disastrous effect on a brand when trust is eroded (I worked through the McLibel case).

Q: What knowledge or skill do you have today that you wish you had possessed when you started out?

I think my most valuable knowledge comes from the fact that I’ve been around the block (quite) a few times. Weathering a couple of recessions, working with a huge variety of clients and agencies and across categories from airlines to make-up, chocolate and car insurance builds up an understanding of how humans connect with brands that you can’t have on day one in the industry. 

Obviously, this is not a skill we can give our bright young people at the beginning but by recognising and respecting the value of age and experience in our industry (even when we were born before the internet) we can make sure that knowledge is passed on and the bright young things bring the best of both worlds to bear on client problems.

Q: What is the single, most important change you have seen in the industry since you started?  Has it been a change for the better or worse?

Referring back to my feelings in 1996 as I wept at the demise of the in-house media department, I can see with hindsight that this was a change for the better. It allowed media departments to build expertise, to define our purpose and to become truly channel neutral. 

“Media” in 2013 means social, viral, broadcast, direct response, events, content creation and so much more. We are flexible enough to adapt as the consumer changes. We are experts in consumer behaviour and we can add value to clients whether they are working with big creative agencies, building direct customer relationships via social or using a blend of paid/owned/earned channels to reach key audiences. 

The freedom of media agencies to adapt and learn has been a huge benefit and well done to people like Christine Walker and Marc Mendoza who had the vision to make it happen.


Marie Oldham joined MPG (since rebranded as Havas Media) in September 2000 and is its Chief Strategy Officer.

In addition to her work at Havas Media, her career in advertising has included periods at Wilson Hartnell, Brian Cronins and Adsell - all in Dublin - as well as at FCB and Leo Burnett.  She was also a business development director at BBC Worldwide.

Marie has worked on clients including Cadbury, Daily Mail, Rimmel, United Airlines, the BBC, the National Lottery and EDF.

She lists her loves as a "can do” mentality, too much information, developing young industry, talent and dancing.

Last updated 15/10/2013

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