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Leaders

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Andrea Lennon on why we should value togetherness while apart

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Hearing Critical Mass EVP and managing director Andrea Lennon speak about her team, you would figure it is the most looked after bunch of creatives in the world. And you wouldn't be too far from the truth.

Among a number of other awards this year, Critical Mass has won Best Place to Work, while Andrea herself was crowned one of our Top 100 Influencers of 2020. The lady below has spent the last year trying to foster togetherness and teamwork more than ever, making the team feel safe, warm and loved while apart due to social distancing.

We're not surprised. After all, someone who loves food this much couldn't ever be a bad person.

Today we are Getting to Know a determined and affectionate creative leader, someone who would have taken down silos in the industry a long time ago in favour of one simple principle that too many seem to ignore: that we can all do better creativity while united.

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Tell us about your current role!

I am EVP and Managing Director for Critical Mass, a digital marketing and experience design agency.  I oversee our EU and Asia client portfolios and offices. On any given day I might wear a number of different hats, but I would break my role into two general areas – ensuring we are doing great work, and being a great place to work. That means I’m working hands-on with clients and internal teams to deliver innovative and effective creative, technology, and data solutions while overseeing agency operations with a focus on talent and culture. 

How did you get to your current position? What was the biggest challenge?

I started working in startups during the first internet bubble—initially on the client-side, and eventually, the agency side in account management. I wouldn't say I had a lot of focus at that time; I just fell into it and had a knack for building relationships and delivering high-quality work.

I took a break in my career about 10 years in to get my culinary degree and spent a few years working as a chef. It was back-breaking work but not all that far off from my advertising gig! It's about strong relationships, building a great team, having a vision, and delivering at the highest caliber. Following that experience, I returned to advertising with focus – no longer just a job, it became about building a career. From that point on, every decision I've made and every day that I show up is in the spirit of advancing: advancing myself, my team, my clients' businesses, and my agency's purpose. And I've never lost sight of the entrepreneurial spirit from those early start-up days and running my own business. I've found a lot of like-minded kindred spirits at Critical Mass.

What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

I studied psychology at university and have always been interested in behavioural science. It’s relevant in so many aspects of my career, from understanding organisational structures, customer cognition, and cultural insight to building highly functioning teams and leading with empathy. Given the customer-centricity we emphasise at Critical Mass, it’s an area of perpetual learning. 

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If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I would revisit the culinary part of my background and study food history. 

What’s your secret to keeping the team inspired and motivated?

I don’t think I can take all the credit for keeping the team on their toes, but I would say we have great long-term clients who are true partners and really push the envelope when it comes to innovative customer experience briefs. We also keep our standards very high and always remember to celebrate the work and the team along the way. 

How has COVID-19 affected you as a leader?

I used to spend about 50% of my time on the road, working alongside global clients (often in or near the dozen offices Critical Mass has around the world). So, it’s been an adjustment to go 100% remote. Of course, nothing beats an in-person stand up, seeing a client face to face or blowing off steam over a few pints—so we've augmented our communications to help foster a feeling of togetherness.

I pen a daily email out to the agency with a rundown on people, work, and culture; we convene weekly via video for an All Hands meeting; we run virtual quizzes and cocktail events and do a deeper dive monthly in Town Hall meetings. Our Global Executive team also complements these initiatives with Global Company Meetings and random Spirit Weeks to unite the entire agency. And the HR team is on overdrive, launching mental health and work/life balance support services so no one anywhere should feel alone or isolated.  We're also successfully running remote collaborative workshops with clients leveraging some of these tools as well. It's not perfect, but I'm proud of how seamlessly the team and the agency have made this shift.

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What is your one advice to aspiring creatives looking to be successful?

Be proactive about the solutions you are delivering, the industries you’re working within, and the relationships you are building around you. Things don’t happen when you take a backseat.

How do you recharge away from the office?

I try to shift my intensity to something completely unrelated. With travel on hold, I’ve doubled down on cooking. I can spend hours in my cookbooks, planning a menu and then days shopping and executing–all to be enjoyed with (fewer than 6 socially distanced) friends.

What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?

I think the headline is about breaking silos—between broadcast and digital; between creative and media; amongst technology, marketing and customer experience teams regardless of the touchpoint. It’s about one thing for the customer at the end of the day—a great experience. The more united we are in delivering great experiences, the more consistency we can create for brands across every customer touchpoint, and the more compelling and effective the work will be.

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