Kate MacNevin is an unstoppable force within the McCann network. Joining 13 years ago as general manager and lead on the General Motors Canada account, she quickly rose the ranks to become global chief operating officer at MRM McCann, the customer relationship wing of the IPG network, in 2016, and was most recently promoted to the position of global CEO.
MacNevin is taking part as a speaker and mentor in See it Be it this year, the female mentoring programme which is coming to Spikes Asia for the first time this year.
In an interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific ahead of the festival, she shares her experience as a female leader, what still needs to be done to encourage greater diversity in the industry and the best advice she received during her 25-year career, as well as some tech trends she is excited about in 2020.
You’ve been with McCann for 13 years, what are some of the biggest shifts you’ve seen in the network in that time?
The surge of women leadership in our industry and our network has been the most powerful change since I’ve been at McCann. The policies, practices, decisions that have empowered such strong female leadership across all the markets globally is incredible, we have today a much more balanced, diverse leadership and organisation overall.
Have you encountered any obstaclesor discrimination, being a female leader in the advertising and technology world?
Absolutely, but I think that is not necessarily specific to this industry, it is a function of society, 25+ years ago when I started. What is exciting is today those barriers are being eliminated. Our job as female leaders are to make sure we continue to eliminate those barriers. There is still work to be done.
What still needs to be done in the industry, to encourage more women in leadership?
I don’t know that it is just about female leadership, as an industry we need a broader sense of diversity and inclusion. We put out our blueprint around diversity and inclusion among employees, communities and suppliers 18 months ago, to ensure we are diverse and inclusive in everything we do. As a woman and a leader, it is critical we have a truly diverse and inclusive work environment that allows ideas to be generated and nurtured from anywhere. That is the most powerful thing we can focus on right now.
What attracted you to take part in See it Be it this year? Why is it important for initiatives like this to exist?
I really believe in the power of mentorship, which is why I came this week to See it Be it. I'm very involved in various mentorship programmes, including with an organisation called Women of Tomorrow which is all about providing mentorship to underprivileged high school women and helping them get to college, and we have a very robust mentoring programme at MRM.
I think there is a need for formalised mentorship but I also think that informal mentorship is just as important. I would not be where I am today if not for the mentors that I had in my life. There was no mentorship programmes when I was coming up, but I do believe as individuals it is critical that we take the time and make sure we're bringing that next generation along, whether it's in a formal programme or not.
With many diversity/inclusion/mentoring initiatives being led by global teams, often based in the US/Europe, do you think Asia risks being left behind by this sometimes?
We set the blueprint 2020 at a global level, however, we need every market to decide and define what diversity and inclusion means to them. That is where global organisations fail—there is no one answer, every market is different. I wouldn't say APAC is behind, I see tremendous diversity in our organisations, but we want to be respectful that how we define diversity and inclusion is different.
Is there enough being done to drive diversity in Asia-Pacific?
First of all, we need to recognise something is being done and celebrate that. This being the first year of See it Be it at Spikes, we should pause and celebrate that, and then think about how we amplify it to more markets and more events as we go forward. How do we take this as a platform for the future and build on it—that is what excites me the most. Any time we can come together and celebrate our wins, our experiences, our losses, should be celebrated. It is as valuable to me to hear feedback from mentees and their experiences that continue to help drive my growth, as it is for what I can hopefully give back to mentees as a mentor. The challenge as we leave this week is how do we build on it.
What's the best advice you received, as you climbed the ranks in the industry?
The exact expression was ‘you can do this, you need to do this’. It came from my mentor at a very difficult time, where I was not sure about the next step, whether I had the confidence, the skills, the capabilities, self doubt. It was his confidence in me that propelled me forward. This is a tough business—tough on our families and our lives and our marriages. It was such a powerful statement, it changed my outlook of what I could do. That I needed to do something was such a powerful idea to me and it has changed my career.
How has your role changed since your promotion in December last year?
We've been on a journey at MRM McCann for the last three years when I started as the CEO. When I started we didn't have a very crystallised vision or positioning for the company, and we were lagging behind our competition in terms of growth and capabilities. So we really took a step back and reset around a clear vision of relationships, refocused our capabilities, and galvanised our network around the important things we believe and around this vision and around our capabilities. That has really propelled us forward to double digit growth, with an incredible client roster, Gartner recognition as a leader in the Magic Quadrant.
My promotion in December was just about continuing that journey and making sure that we have the team, the talent and the environments that are nurturing and driving those ideas.
You’ve tested a lot of new technology at the agency. What technologies do you think have genuine applications in CRM and marketing, that you expect to grow?
The two areas we are focused on which will change marketing and CRM are AI and voice. AI will allow us to have individual personalised experiences that will fundamentally change how brands have relationships and communicate with customers. Once we understand privacy and the value exchange that consumers expect in return for their data, AI is going to be revolutionary in delivering personalised experiences. With voice, if you look at the research 30% of interactions next year will be voice-enabled. That means we are going to go very quickly from voice being an application which it is today to how brands communicate with consumers.
Are commercial models within agencies and brands set up to allow for new technologies like voice to take off?
When we are seeing emerging technologies, whether it is voice, VR or a client wants to do an Alexa skill, it is not always an add-on. We have to look at a brand’s total communications strategy, and define what that communication architecture looks like. It is not always adding on money—how do you augment to have the right mix of things. Something has to go, has to be less. That is the most challenging thing, from a commercial perspective.
What are some things you're excited about in 2020?
We have some exciting expansion in Asia Pacific planned that’s going to help us scale our company in this market. We have a couple of expansion plans for our Lab13 product. And the continuation of the journey, we have momentum, we have growth, we have continued development and capabilities.
I'm very excited to see where voice goes next year. It will change marketing and how brands interact. How brands find their voice—no pun intended—in this voice-driven world is going to be super interesting.