Workplace Leaders
Media Monks
UK & Ireland Managing Director

Joanna Cotton

In the ever-evolving landscape of digital agencies, Media Monks stands out for its innovation and growth. With a staggering 9,000 "monks" spread across 30 countries and 60 offices globally, Media Monks is not your typical media agency. In an exclusive interview with Joanna Cotton, the Managing Director (MD) of the UK and Ireland for Media Monks, we gain valuable insights into the agency's dynamic journey, its unique approach to blending diverse specialisms, and Joanna's personal reflections on leadership in the creative industry.

Joanna's Journey

Max: Let's start with a brief introduction to yourself and Media Monks.

Thank you for having me. I'm Jo Cotton, MD of the UK and Ireland for Media Monks. We're an entrepreneurial agency experiencing unprecedented growth, boasting around 9,000 ‘monks’ globally. Our focus extends from media to data, platforms, and experience, delivering a full end-to-end digital agency offering. It's not just about future-proofing; it's about bringing the future to our clients today.

Max: Your journey into advertising and media reflects a strategic approach. What inspired you to enter this field, and how has your journey shaped your leadership style?

My journey began at university, torn between traditional business and the opportunities presented by creativity. Advertising represented the sweet spot, combining creativity and business. Over the past 15 years, I've strategically navigated through different areas of marketing, recognising the importance of understanding the entire marketing ecosystem. My leadership style has evolved to be strategic, emphasising the need to be well-rounded to meet the demands of an ever-changing industry.

Max: Can you elaborate on Media Monks' unique position in the market and what drew you to this innovative environment?

Media Monks is not your conventional media agency; we're an end-to-end digital agency offering a comprehensive suite of solutions. The allure for me was the opportunity to blend various solutions seamlessly — from media and data to platforms and experience. We are pioneers in bringing the future to our clients today, focusing on driving immediate growth rather than future-proofing. Our growth, from zero to 9,000 in five years, speaks volumes about our approach and the incredible team we've built.

Max: How do you navigate the challenge of uniting different cultures within Media Monks?

Our growth strategy has transitioned from mergers and acquisitions to now focusing on organic growth within our existing portfolio. The previous strategic moves led to a diverse collection of cultures brought together rapidly under one umbrella. To address this challenge, I've set out a clear vision and mission, creating a North Star that all our monks can align with, so that regardless of their background or the agency they came from, everyone is clear about our collective goals. It's about fostering togetherness and unity, crucial when dealing with diverse cultures.

Max: Engaging people in cultural initiatives can be challenging, especially in client-facing roles. How do you mitigate this challenge?

Clear priorities are key. In a fast-paced agency like ours, everyone is busy. By clearly defining our agency's priorities and core focus areas for specific accounts, we ensure that people aren't distracted by non-essential tasks. It's about providing clarity on what needs to be achieved today, and aligning it with broader goals. Additionally, rallying behind a shared vision creates a sense of purpose that transcends individual roles.

Max: Shifting gears a bit, let's talk about leadership traits. What, in your opinion, are the key traits that top leaders in the industry possess?

Leadership styles vary, but understanding the people you work with is paramount. I focus on being people-centric, constantly gathering insights through employee surveys. Listening and understanding the diverse perspectives within our global teams are crucial traits. Setting a clear vision, avoiding micromanagement, and effective communication are equally important. A great leader needs to balance the macro and micro, zooming in to understand details while zooming out to grasp the broader context.

Max: Media Monks has been recognised for its focus on diversity and inclusion. Can you shed light on the initiatives you've implemented in this regard?

We have several initiatives focused on inclusion and equality. The Well Being Monks initiative in London addresses mental health and welfare — it originated during lockdown and has since scaled globally. Our recruitment processes prioritise diversity, not only in terms of background but also diverse thinking. Achieving a well-rounded blend of people from all backgrounds is crucial to being representative of the greater whole.

My perspective encompasses a fourfold lens: fostering engaged and happy teams leading to exceptional work, ultimately delighting clients and so propelling sustainable growth. It's a simple yet effective structure. When people feel empowered, supported, and have the freedom to express themselves, they thrive. This, in turn, results in the best work, keeping clients satisfied and contributing to our organic growth.

Max: Wrapping up, what's the best piece of advice you've received throughout your career?

One piece that stands out is "trust yourself." While collaboration is crucial, there's a balance between relying on others and having the confidence to trust your instincts. Trusting my gut has been a valuable lesson; it's about finding that balance between being consultative and knowing when to follow your beliefs.

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