As the most senior black executive -- male or female -- in the U.K. ad world, Ms. Blackett also helps drive the industry forward.
She considers MediaCom's diverse mix of talent to be one of its strongest selling points. During the five years she was CEO, the agency's staff evolved from 11% to 20% people of color -- black, Asian and other ethnicities -- and women make up 31% of the top two tiers of management. "It's no coincidence," she said.
She was also behind an innovative apprenticeship program the agency started in 2013 for 18-to-24-year-olds to attract a more diverse workforce.
Ms. Blackett is tenacious. In 2015 she led MediaCom's successful pitch for one of the U.K.'s biggest media accounts, the $135 million Tesco business, which she had been chasing for 15 years. The WPP media agency won 39 accounts last year, totaling $416 million in new billings. Despite her promotion to chairwoman, she is still closely linked with big MediaCom clients like Tesco, Coca-Cola and Sky. "My role has changed from running the P&L, but I find it difficult not to get involved," she laughed.
A major part of her new role as chairwoman is to look around, both within and outside of WPP, and find ways to collaborate with specialist agencies. She is looking for the kind of partnerships that won MediaCom three Lions at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity last year, including a Silver for its "Share a Coke" TV campaign, a collaboration with four different tech companies that created a personalized TV ad for each Channel 4 viewer.
Her industry role also keeps growing. In February she was named president of NABS, a leading U.K. non-profit group for advertising and media, and she was awarded an OBE in the annual Queen's Honours list a year ago, for services to the media industry.
Ms. Blackett went straight into media after majoring in geography at university, and has never looked back. "Progress is important to me," she said. "I'm not good at standing still."
Photo courtesy of MediaCom UK
Interactive Design by Chen Wu
Sky Media, the ad sales arm of the U.K.'s biggest satellite broadcaster, saw its share of all TV ad revenue increase by 1.7% to 24.1% last year. "It's a tough environment," she said. "There is a lot of competition and there are a lot of opportunities. You have to be very proactive and fast moving -– I like that."
One of her initiatives, Budweiser's "Dream Goal" campaign, scored nine million social shares by inviting British amateur soccer players to submit videos of their own greatest goals. Sky Sports' top presenters analyzed the best goals on air, and the winner starred in a Budweiser TV ad campaign developed by Budweiser agency Anomaly. The second annual Budweiser's "Dream Goal" effort is in full swing now, with the best goal to be chosen on May 15; the winner will star in a Budweiser spot again and get a $70,000 grant for the soccer club of their choice.
Her team was also behind a "win the ad break" initiative with MediaCom that brought together Universal Pictures, Tesco, Ryanair, Sony Electronics and Bose, with each marketer giving away big prizes live during a single ad break.
Ms. Bristow was lured to Sky by the rare opportunity to not only jump the fence to a media owner at such a senior level, but also by the chance to drive change. She is the only female director at Sky Media, where she is a role model for other women coming through the ranks.
"At certain levels we have 50-50 shortlisting [for jobs]. We have to drive the belief that we are behind this and we want to change," she said. For regular performance forums, Ms. Bristow makes sure that there are always the same number of women and men presenting. "We have to have a balance. You take those simple things and they become the cultural norm," she added.
Photo courtesy of Sky Media
Ms. Culatti and Unit9 are also leading the way in technological innovation, pioneering and defining the hottest trends like virtual reality, including setting up a dedicated VR unit in late 2014. VR work included an experience in Berlin for Wrigley's-owned 5Gum that immersed people in a world where all five senses were stimulated.
Her company won awards last year including an Emmy (for Just a Reflektor, an interactive music video for Arcade Fire), and ranked for the first time in the Production Company A-List ranking by Ad Age's Creativity.
She now has ambitious plans to expand in the U.S., including a Los Angeles office opened in September 2015 to help ramp up Unit9's film and content side.
In the wider industry, Ms. Culatti has helped to pioneer the first set of industry guidelines for interactive advertising design development, and a standard interactive production contract. Both defined best practices in the industry that should, she says, ultimately save time and money.
Ms. Culatti is from Italy (in college, she studied semiotics under the late Italian author Umberto Eco) and first worked for Unit9 as an interactive producer when she moved to London 10 years ago. Except for a brief stint agency-side at Work Club, she has "grown up with the company" as she puts it, attributing her upward trajectory to qualities such as "trust, eagerness and loyalty."
That culminated in her promotion to managing director; in an inspiring vote of confidence for women (of whom there are still few in digital production) she was first offered the role while she was on maternity leave.
Photo courtesy of Unit9
The acquisition drive continues to take up much of Ms. De Groose's time. "The future belongs to the fast," she said. "You can't pause. There's a whole sense of pace, and you have to keep investing in new capabilities as the industry evolves."
After running a media agency, following six years as a beer marketer at Whitbread Beer Co. earlier in her career, Ms. De Groose has had to adapt her management style since taking on the new role of group CEO. "You can run one business a certain way, but running a group I had to rethink what leadership means. My role is as coach, supporter and facilitator -- I surround myself with brilliant people and empower them."
Like all country CEOs at Dentsu Aegis Network, Ms. De Groose is set diversity targets, but she doesn't stop there. "Women probably feel more passionate about change because we feel the imbalance more, but that's not to say that men are not concerned to do something about it; we are fixing it together."
This year all senior leaders and HR, including the recruitment team, will go through what the company calls "unconscious bias education," custom built for Dentsu Aegis Network. And single-gender shortlists for senior jobs are generally not allowed.
Photo courtesy of Dentsu Aegis Network UK
Last year, they devised a clever scheme to sell freshly squeezed orange juice under a "brand name" that changed depending on the hour and minute it was squeezed in-store. So the juice could be called "8:32," maybe, or "12:48" -- a playful way to draw attention to its freshness.
Before that came "Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables," selling misshapen -– but still tasty -– produce at a discount. The much-lauded campaign prevented unsightly produce from getting needlessly thrown out; funny copywriting and arresting photographs of ugly eggplants and apples gave it oomph. That concept is still spreading internationally.
"It became a kind of a movement, and each time our competitors launched something similar, we just applauded and supported them," said Paris-based Ms. de Maupeou, who is preparing another Intermarché campaign for April.
"Inglorious" built creative momentum for Marcel, formed in 2010 when small creative shop Marcel merged with larger digital agency Publicis Net.
"We had a lot of failures at first, ideas that we thought would be digital that were not digital at all," said Ms. de Maupeou. Once things clicked, "this agency became my second life, my second youth."
Ms. de Maupeou has been named an Ad Age Woman to Watch Europe for her creative leadership and ideas that mark the zeitgeist. She's also a member of Publicis Communications' new creative board, a crack team that can come together on behalf of clients from various agency brands. Marcel Paris is part of a growing agency network that also includes Marcel Sydney, New York, Shanghai and São Paulo.
Arthur Sadoun, CEO of Publicis Communications, says Ms. de Maupeou's rare skill is that "she comes from the traditional world of advertising, but she has this incredible ability to adapt to the new social world and use technology in service of the very big ideas she's had for two decades."
Just in December, her team scored a win that showed their mastery of the social landscape. On behalf of environmental group Noe, they had Koko the gorilla send a message about environmental protection, in sign language, to leaders at a climate conference in Paris. Result: 78 million views.
Photo courtesy of Marcel Worldwide
In 2015 she launched Boden's "New British" positioning, taking the brand -– famously loved by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and his family -– and giving it a more contemporary twist. A limited edition "Icons" range was launched to boost Boden's fashion credentials and underline the change in attitude.
More change is planned with the launch of brick-and-mortar stores next year -– a big step for a 25-year-old business that started as a catalog selling men's shirts, and became famous for its colorful prints and Mini Boden kidswear.
The popular Boden brand sells in more than 50 markets, but Ms. Herriman said, "I still don't think we're global enough. We've had tremendous growth in the U.S. [13% increase in new customers in the first half of 2015], but it's starting to plateau. We need to drive awareness and the key is retail, because a store is the richest brand experience you can have."
The first store will open in London in 2017. "We'd be mad to do it in the U.S. without trialing it in the U.K.," she said. "We need to execute, learn, and get the concept right before we ramp it up."
An overhaul of the Boden.com website is Ms. Herriman's current project. "The time has come to differentiate," she said. "It takes a lot of energy and resource. The market is increasingly competitive and we need to move on, to keep on running."
Ms. Herriman joined Boden in 2013 from the agency world, where she was CEO at Isobar in the U.K., and before that ran London creative agency WCRS, where she pitched for – and won – the Boden account.
Photo courtesy of Boden
The plan was to change both the name and the culture of a 200-person agency.
"It was quite difficult," Ms. Heumann acknowledged.
But it worked. Thjnk added more women and flexible working hours, and thirty senior staffers became shareholders, with a 15% stake in the agency.
"There is more freedom, more democracy, and it's less masculine," she said.
There are 353 staffers, up from 301 last year and 260 in 2014. Revenue grew to $40 million last year, from $30 million in 2014.
Last year Ms. Heumann worked on setting up two joint ventures. Pitching as Leo's Thjnk Tank, Thjnk partnered with Leo Burnett to wrest the McDonald's account in Germany away from DDB Worldwide's Heye & Partner after almost 40 years. Thjnk also started Upljft, working with technology company Facelift, to focus on social media.
"We're a very collaborative agency," she said.
Thjnk is also doing memorable work for clients like Audi, Ikea and Germany's second biggest bank Commerzbank. Thjnk's take on promoting Audi dealers' service contracts was to create a horde of zombie-like mechanics who enviously chased an Audi down the highway en route to an Audi garage.
There are few very senior women in the German ad industry, and Ms. Heumann stands out. In December 2015, she was named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in the German economy by monthly business journal Manager Magazin. She serves on boards, and helps start new groups as a co-founder of everything from the German Fashion Design Council to Germany's association of brands and communications strategists.
Photo courtesy of Thjnk
"We listened to women, and looked deeper," said Tanya Joseph, a PR and public affairs expert who is in charge of the campaign. The takeaway: women feared being judged, by themselves or others, whether for their appearance, or fitness level, or not being good enough.
Sport England's answer was an exuberant 90-second film by FCB Inferno celebrating real women of all ages and sizes enthusiastically running, swimming, dancing, boxing, cycling and more. Instead of the sculpted female athletes often seen performing flawlessly in ads, the words ""I jiggle therefore I am" appear next to an amply-proportioned jogger, and "Damn right I look hot" next to a sweat-drenched woman at spin class.
Since "This Girl Can" broke in January 2015, the film has been viewed 37 million times just on the campaign's YouTube and Facebook channels, 540,000 women joined its social media community, and 660,000 tweets have used #ThisGirlCan. At the 2015 Cannes Lions festival, it won both the Health Grand Prix for Good and a Glass Lion, a new Cannes gender-equality award. A survey of 1,000 U.K. women in early 2016 projected that about 2.8 million women who recognize the campaign have been more active as a result.
"We've learned a lot about our audience," Ms. Joseph said. "Attitudes haven't changed that much, but the campaign is helping women manage their anxiety and fear of judgement. [They say] 'I have the ad playing in my head, or I'm saying it as a mantra'."
After selling out of the first "This Girl Can" T-shirts in 36 hours, Sport England launched a range of "This Girl Can" activewear with Marks & Spencer in January, and plans new ads for September.
"The challenge is how can we follow it up," Ms. Joseph said. "It'll still be "This Girl Can," with the sassy attitude and same tone of voice, but it has to be different enough so it's still disruptive."
Photo courtesy of Sport England
Ms. Klein was the youngest member of a team that led a management buyout of WCRS from Havas in 2004. Yet she ended up running the agency, helped build up the Engine Group and leads the drive for global expansion that resulted in the Lake Capital deal.
The plan now is for Engine to expand further in the U.S. -- sponsorship agency Synergy and customer marketing specialists PAA have already launched there -- while also bringing Lake's American businesses, like content production firm Trailer Park, to the U.K, and growing its Asian business.
While she does see a gap in the market for a mid-sized holding company -- Engine had 2014 revenue of $400 million, and is No. 26 in the Ad Age Datacenter's ranking of Top 50 Global Ad Companies -- Ms. Klein says her ambitions for Engine are just as much about competing on approach. "Anyone can buy 10 agencies and put them in a building –- it's not about scale but about cultural difference."
Her own way of working is about "getting the right team of specialists around the table." That means cherry-picking talent from Engine agencies to collaborate on campaigns like "Missing Type," a National Health Service blood donor recruitment campaign on which WCRS worked with public affairs agency MHP. Institutions and brands were asked to drop the letters "A", "O" and "B" from their names and tweet photos. It kicked off with London's famous "Downing Street" sign in London losing its "O" to highlight the need for donors, and a Coca-Cola logo with only "C's" and an "L."
Her approach is working: 60% of Engine's revenue is from clients using more than one discipline, and large integrated clients such as banking group Santander each have their own managing director.
Photo courtesy of Engine
She's midway through her two-year stint as executive advisor to Project Everyone, an ambitious effort led by "Love Actually" director and Comic Relief founder Richard Curtis to publicize the United Nation's Global Goals for ending extreme poverty, injustice and climate change.
Ms. Mackenzie had already made her mark at some of the U.K.'s top companies, most recently re-branding the 300-year-old Norwich Union insurance company to Aviva. She also set up a global marketing and communications function, and pushed a more customer-centric approach to marketing.
When Project Everyone co-founder Gail Gallie suggested her for the role, she already had the blessing of Aviva CEO Mark Wilson to pursue an interest in public service. Aviva is a founding partner of Project Everyone.
Ms. Mackenzie is responsible for oversight and measurement of the project rather than the creative side, and says she brings to Project Everyone "experience in how to talk to corporates." The campaign has already reached three billion people, just under halfway to its ultimate goal of the world's seven billion population. Media has included a global cinema spot art directed by BBH's John Hegarty, and a billion text messages sent by the mobile industry. This year will also see the creation of a "Global Goals day" in September.
Working with Mr. Curtis has been inspirational: "He sees everything in an incredibly filmic way."
Before her secondment ends in December, Ms. Mackenzie aims to get a longer-term operating model in place for Project Everyone – and she'll continue afterwards in a non-executive role.
"I don't think society really understands business and the impact that it can have in doing good in the world," she said. "Big corporates can have a huge influence with the strategic decisions they make and that's something I really would like to explore."
Photo courtesy of Aviva
Since starting in January 2015, London-based Ms. Malm-Hallqvist has proven her talent for getting people to collaborate through a series of global wins. A team from the Barbarian Group in New York, plus Cheil Dubai and London, won Etihad Airways. Cheil Italy, India and Germany got together to win Abbott Pharmaceuticals. And Iris London –- with help from its Indonesia, Singapore and Sydney offices –- teamed up with Cheil South Africa to win CZ Cussons' global personal care business.
Ms. Malm-Hallqvist, a former model, started her career building (and then selling) two fashion businesses. She found she liked the marketing side, so with her typical chutzpah she set up an ad agency, Propaganda, with a friend. She sold Propaganda to McCann nine months later and spent almost 15 years at the agency, punctuated by an "amazing" year at Mother, before becoming its global chief growth officer in 2011.
The move to Cheil was inspired by the opportunity to become part of what she describes as "the only network from the East built on the tech revolution." She is so immersed in Cheil that she even thinks she's Korean sometimes – which is a bit of a stretch for a six-foot Swedish high-jumper.
Her enthusiasm is unwavering for 2016. She said, "We've done our repositioning, we've made sure that wherever they are, our people have the weapons and the best support they can from the network. Now we have to get everyone out hunting. If you don't hunt, you can't eat."
Photo credit: Youngho Kang
For BNP's mobile offering, called Hello bank, the agency created a platform to crowdfund musicians. People can link it up to their music streaming services like Spotify or SoundCloud; by listening to songs, they generate virtual currency that the bank converts into real money to fund musical projects.
We Are Social Paris launched six years ago under the guidance of founder and managing director Sandrine Plasseraud. BNP was an early client. As We Are Social has grown, its relationship with the bank has expanded and deepened, leading to successful experiments that go way beyond the typical Facebook activation, such as the music crowdfunding platform.
"With something like this you ask, 'Is the client going to get it?' and we are lucky enough that the client trusted us," said Ms. Plasseraud.
She continues to build the agency's business in France, last year signing up new clients including Google, AXA, AccorHotels, L'Oréal Paris, Nestlé's Buitoni brand and Air France. It did its first TV commercial, starring John McEnroe, to help drive a social campaign for BNP Paribas, a longtime sponsor of professional tennis.
The agency's headcount recently hit 100, up from 65 a year earlier. Ms. Plasseraud says her proudest achievement is building her team. While many employers in France obsess over what universities job candidates graduated from, Ms. Plasseraud does not.
"I don't even know which school my team has been to, I don't care -- it's about finding people who are passionate and curious," she said.
Photo courtesy of We Are Social Paris
Her own passion for Mini is manifest, and in the three years since she took on the role the results speak for themselves: this year the U.K. regained its status (at one point held by the U.S.) as the world's biggest market for BMW Group-owned Mini in terms of sales volume.
Ms. Roberts has succeeded in growing inquiries about the brand via non-traditional channels, including pop-up shops in shopping malls. She also works hard to make the dealership experience special. For example, now when the customer arrives to pick up a Mini, they go into a darkened room, then see it spinning around on a turnstile as the lights come on. "I see Mini more as a lifestyle brand than a car brand," she said.
She also sits on BMW's global marketing panel for Mini, along with executives from five other markets, and plays a part in influencing creative ideas and campaigns. Her next projects include working on the rollout of the Mini Convertible. In the U.K., her agency is Iris.
Ms. Roberts has been at BMW Group since graduating from college (her family was involved with the car industry and she describes herself as a " bit of a petrolhead") and served in sales and product management roles before a job running corporate communications for BMW and Mini's sponsorship of the 2012 Olympics ignited her passion for Mini. Insiders say she's highly regarded at BMW's headquarters in Munich.
As for being a woman in a male-dominated sector, although she's often been "the sole female in an office of 20 guys," she said, "It's an environment in which I thrive."
Photo courtesy of Mini
The company's e-commerce sales grew nearly 40% last year to about $1.5 billion. That's 5% of sales – big enough to be L'Oreal's fifth biggest country -- and led by China, where e-commerce accounts for 20% of sales.
Ms. Rochet credits "real strategic focus from top management" and working closely with key online retailers – ranging from Sephora.com to Walmart.com to Souq.com in the Middle East -- "to help build the category with us."
She's also been helping build L'Oreal's "precision advertising" program, including programmatic trading for digital. She's contracted for the technology that will drive the program globally and is working on plans to set it up in the first six countries – the U.S., France, Germany, U.K., China and Canada. She's also making plans for the next 10, including Brazil, Russia and Mexico. Trading, she said, will be done by L'Oreal's media agencies.
And she's helping L'Oreal focus on new marketing models, such as working through digital influencers and delivering audiences for brands through a growing number of content hubs, including Makeup.com, Fab-Beauty.com and, soon to launch in the U.S., Skincare.com.
Around all this, Ms. Rochet has organized digital proficiency training, which last year reached 5,000 employees. In short, she's helping L'Oreal navigate a digital transformation to keep pace without losing focus on the core business.
"You really have to have a vision of what will really impact the operating model," Ms. Rochet said. "That gives you a limited number of priorities."
But it also means being flexible. "When things are happening like Snapchat becoming the third guy in town in terms of video consumption, you need to adapt to integrate a new touchpoint. But then don't get distracted by all the noise and toys in digital."
Photo courtesy of L'Oreal
Plus she came from a digital background, rather than traditional brand advertising, and was based not in a global ad capital like London or New York, but in Madrid.
Ms. Specht prevailed, and now leads a global Zurich Insurance team drawn from Interpublic agencies all over the world that she built to handle advertising, digital, strategy, media and even internal discussions like how the insurance giant should talk to millennials.
"Clients want flexibility, and the best talent according to different needs in every geography and skill set," she said.
Her digital background has paid off, and she has guided the business as Zurich Insurance has gone from spending 15% of its budget on digital three years ago to nearly 50% now. And that budget is two-and-a-half times bigger than the original account.
The company's global communication platform "For those who truly love" explores how people protect what they love most, from a man who has been married 72 years to the humorous "Golf Love Tests" in which well-known golfers sponsored by Zurich Insurance take lie detector tests to prove they truly love golf. One of the questions is "Have you insured your swing?"
Ms. Specht now leads at a global, regional and local level. In her European role, she focuses on new business and leading important regional pitches, with three significant wins in the last 12 months, including a global assignment for Nestle's Nespresso. And she's still CEO of 120-person MRM/McCann Spain, which she has built into one of the top five digital agencies in Spain, posting 15% growth in 2015 despite the country's sluggish economy.
To accomplish all that, she traveled 174 days in 2015. "The secret in all my three jobs is amazing teams," she said. "I empower them big time."
Photo courtesy of MRM//McCann
Ms. Stacey and Digital Cinema Media's 70-person team grew ad revenue by 27% in 2015, and it's up 31% so far this year. DCM has 80% of the U.K.'s $170 million cinema advertising market, about 2% of the total media market.
Selling cinema advertising might seem like a losing battle as marketers divert more of their budgets to digital, but advertising is about persuasion, said Ms. Stacey, who is pretty persuasive herself. She compares cinema ads, watched by an undistracted audience in a dark room who aren't doing anything else, to online ads that are all about promotion, like a Gap ad that chases you all over the internet for two months after you buy a Gap T-shirt. In fact, she said research last year found that 90% of the ads are the same commercials that ran on TV, but 85% of respondents believed the cinema ads were better and longer.
"The digital world gave us more ways to reach consumers, but it's harder to get their attention," she said.
DCM is working more closely with agencies, marketers and theatre owners, and adding more experiential marketing. In February, Channel 4's new show "The Aliens" hijacked DCM's ident that kicks off and ends the ad reel to broadcast a message from the program's Alien League urging aliens to join the fight against oppression by humans. And Disney sponsors kids' clubs with special family prices for screenings on weekend mornings, including interactive elements like sampling and having characters introduce the film.
Photo courtesy of Digital Cinema Media
Kathryn Swarbrick, VP-marketing for Europe at PepsiCo, has global responsibility for the partnership across the Lay's, Pepsi and Gatorade brands. She works with the global brand groups to figure out the role the tournament will play in their strategy and takes leadership of the creative development of everything from digital content to TV ads to pack promotions.
That can mean overseeing a commercial with Barcelona star Lionel Messi or working on a packaging innovation, like a bag of U.K. brand Walkers chips that turns into a bowl to make it easy to serve during a game. The marketing efforts can be massive in scope: The latest promotion is running in 89 markets across snacks and beverages, with an estimated $79 million media investment.
U.K.-based Ms. Swarbrick "juggles geography and time zones and categories and hierarchies as if they are not there," said Cilla Snowball, group chairman and group CEO of AMV BBDO, London. "She's very focused on getting the right team around her, and then everybody working hard to achieve very clear objectives."
Ms. Swarbrick took the role in November 2015 after spending nearly three years as head of marketing for PepsiCo in the UK. In 2014 she was named to the U.K.'s Power Part Time List; until last year, she worked four days a week to spend more time with her two daughters. Now that both are in school, she has returned to a five-day schedule.
"Balancing work ambitions with being a mum is a constant juggling act," she said. "Enjoy it when it's going well, and try not to beat yourself up when you get the balance wrong."
Photo courtesy of PepsiCo
"TV is the next evolution for us," she said. "There's so much growth in the company and it's an amazingly exciting time. We will be in 10 million homes, on a pumped up scale, with new ideas and bigger talent."
Viceland debuted in the U.S. in late February, wooing advertisers with the promise of attracting a young audience not currently watching TV, as well as custom content and less commercial clutter with fewer ad breaks.
Before working on the Viceland launch in the U.K., Ms. Toombs also spearheaded the U.K. launch of Broadly, Vice's digital women's channel, in August 2015. She said, "We are doing interesting work that challenges gender stereotypes. Global growth and our commercial partnerships -- particularly with Unilever -- have been strong."
Working with i-D, Vice's fashion lifestyle channel, Ms. Toombs led content strategy and helped broker a multi-year partnership with Chanel, which was announced in February. "The team at Chanel are really progressive," she said. "We are working with brands to make something of cultural significance and value."
With a background in production and distribution across TV, music videos and digital, Ms. Toombs joined Vice as head of content in 2008. Working with Virtue Worldwide, Vice's in-house creative services agency, she was behind commercial content partnerships with brands including Nike, Intel, Ford and Samsung. In 2014 she took on a wider business role as director of business strategy, focusing on content and audience development across Vice U.K.'s ten digital channels.
Then in September last year she moved up to her current role. "I've always been encouraged to diversify and try new things," she explained. "Because I've been here a long time, I'm a bit of a brand guardian. I think I understand the brand and I try to apply that in every department."
Photo credit: Richard Smith
And in September 2015, News Corp. bought London-based Unruly for $176 million; not bad for a company that -- thanks to the scaleability of its tech -- still employs only 200 people.
It all started when Sarah Wood left her job in academia, where she lectured on revolutionary culture, to set up a site devoted to aggregating the best pictures, jokes and videos from around the web. Ironically, the original 2006 site was called Eat My Hamster, after a famous headline from The Sun, a U.K. tabloid owned by News Corp.
With her two co-founders, Ms. Wood discovered that videos were the most popular format, but that good ones were hard to find. Unruly developed the technology to scan the internet for the most-shared video URLs, and set up the viral video chart. It was an instant hit, and brands called to find out how they could get into the chart. Unruly began to build out a platform to distribute advertising across the open web, and a service to predict the shareability and impact of ads.
"Our whole ethos is about transforming digital advertising for the better," Ms. Wood said. "We help brands create content that people want to share in a way that's social, not antisocial … Ad blocking is a red herring –- the psychological ad blocker inside our head is much more powerful."
Unruly already finds itself at the top table alongside Facebook and YouTube when talking to big global brands, and the News Corp. deal allows Unruly to ramp up even further -– there are plans to increase the number of staffers by 25%. Ms. Wood said, "We didn't sell to sell, we sold to scale."
Photo courtesy of Unruly