David Brown
May 24, 2024

Why Tessa Ohlendorf left agency life for artificial intelligence

The former managing director of MediaMonks started Fabric Folks to help agencies adapt to the new AI era.

Why Tessa Ohlendorf left agency life for artificial intelligence

Tessa Ohlendorf is, to say the least, excited about artificial intelligence. While most of us are still impressed by the answers ChatGPT can provide to “What are….” prompts, the longtime agency executive and media tech expert is using it to manage and enhance her everyday life, and relationships with friends and family.

She also used artificial intelligence extensively to conceive, develop and launch her new business Fabric Folk, a consultancy to help advertising and marketing businesses adjust for the AI era through tech education and training.

Much of the ad industry discussion to this point has been about the potential of AI for ad and experience creation, but not for Ohlendorf and Fabric Folks. Instead, their focus is on the ways advertising and media businesses can start using AI now to improve business operations and embrace new solutions as they go forward—becoming AI literate today to maximise its potential tomorrow. 

“There are a lot of very creative companies using AI to create ads. We don't we don't do that. What we're focusing on right now is what kind of improvements can you make with your HR team, your finance team, your accounts team, your sales team,” she said. “In some ways, this is the non-sexy part of AI that can really help organizations improve their EBITA, which every agency I know is in need of. What everybody's going for is top line growth.”

After more than five years as managing director for MediaMonks in Canada, Ohlendorf decided late last year that it was time to leave the company that Sir Martin Sorrell is trying to build his next agency empire around. Ohlendorf had been leading Mighty Hive when it was acquired by Sorrell in 2018, and she had been top executive for the company in Canada ever since.

“It was an incredible ride… but you know all good things come to an end,” she said of her decision to leave.

Ohlendorf could see how quickly the landscape was (and is) changing with the emergence of AI, and as a “tech person” at heart, she was intrigued by the opportunities. On top of that, after launching and running businesses for much larger companies, not just MightyHive and MediaMonks, but also Cadreon, where she was managing director for six years, and Society for IPG before that, Ohlendorf wanted to move from intrapreneur—building businesses for other people—to entrepreneur.

“As a personal challenge, I really wanted to try to go out on my own and start something else. My ambition is to grow another really great place to work, but this time running it on my own.”

After her starting her career in the ad industry focusing on search, media, programmatic, and analytics, including several years in New York, Ohlendorf’s most work at MightyHive and MediaMonks was more focused on consulting.

“My job is to make sure we drive the most profitable business possible and grow it, so the work that I want to do through Fabric Folk is a continuation of that,” she said.

“The real cool part of AI is when we get to reinvent how we have been doing things in a completely new way.”

While Ohlendorf has become highly proficient in AI, she is also working with mix of data scientists, product developers and business managers to provide strategies for agencies and brands to quickly transition to the AI era.

Because Fabric Folk is so operational and back-office focused, it could work with businesses in other industries, but Ohlendorf’s experience in advertising, media and marketing made it a natural starting point. “I know it so well,” she said. “I've been working in agencies for most of my career, and I think I can bring a lot of value to helping an agency transform.”

And at a time when the ad industry is facing strong headwinds and cost pressures, there is a special incentive to become early adopters of AI and develop expertise on how it will change business, rather than just ad creation, she said. With more businesses—and marketers and brands—curious about how they can use AI, advertising and media should be the ones to help them.

“If an agency did this [AI] transformation and did it well, they would be recognized as a leader, and looked to for bringing new value, which is really important for agencies right now,” she said.

“The AI transformation seems perfectly positioned to really invigorate energize and benefit agencies… I feel like this could be the first bit of not good, but great news that an agency has right now.”

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