"Stop selling impressions" - With Group CEO Mary Keane-Dawson | #GettingToKnow

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Group CEO Mary Keane-Dawson works with social media platforms on a daily basis, establishing business relationships with clients who are interested in excelling in the scene. And with TAKUMI being an influencer marketing agency, you would be right to assume that she knows what she's speaking about.

Mary believes in the power of connecting with your audience. She believes impressions are outdated for the current world, and that the only real way to make your business fly is to establish a close relationship with your most engaged followers. Stop using likes, follows and views as metrics to gauge the success of your business; the brands of the future will be closer to consumers than ever.

Of course Mary's invaluable insights don't stop there, and her story can be incredibly inspiring to anyone in the marketing scene. Today we are Getting to Know Mary Keane-Dawson, Group CEO at influencer marketing agency TAKUMI.


Tell us a bit about your role! Is there a “typical” day?

Is there ever such a thing as ‘typical’ day in our industry? Since I became Group CEO at TAKUMI in February last year, we’ve expanded our overseas operation, branched out to different social media platforms, created award-winning campaigns and – just last month – acquired a media buying agency to boost our client offering.

This was all done during the most disruptive time for businesses in living memory. So no, in short, there isn’t a typical day – on Monday, I could be speaking to our client teams about a new multi-channel campaign we’re launching, and on Tuesday, I could be talking to our internal teams about the return to the office.

What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?

Getting over the stigma around reinvention! One of my key mantras in business is that you have to be curious to succeed. In my career, I’ve moved from marketing to programmatic media and now to influencers. You have to diversify sometimes to grow – but this can, at times, unnerve people.

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

I’ve worn many different hats during my career. My first job was a Saturday girl in a hairdresser and then I worked in a newsagents. After university I went to work selling semi-display at The Observer Magazine – the irony of going from stuffing the Sunday papers into a paper boy’s bag to actually working for the oldest newspaper in the world, wasn’t lost on me. I felt very privileged.

I eventually transitioned into the marketing sector and established myself as a digital agency entrepreneur and business growth expert, with C-suite roles in WPP, Steak Media, Reform, Collective London and Ogilvy and Mather, before joining TAKUMI in February 2020. 

What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?

My biggest career-related win has been to continuously champion and win client business that enhances the consumer and brand dynamic through smart creative thinking and brilliant technology. I’ve worked with Ford, Nestle, IBM, Mazda, British Airways, Amex and many other global brands over my thirty-year career that do exactly this.

My biggest loss was getting the timing wrong on transparency in programmatic. We launched an agency to tackle this, TRUTH, in 2017, but advertisers and media agencies just weren’t ready for it. I’m very happy to say that today they really are!

What’s your secret to remaining inspired and motivated?

Always leave the door open to new opportunities. Every day is a source of new inspiration and motivation for me, not least of which is the motivation that I’m still relevant after all these years!


Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

There are many fascinating social media folk and I love them all, but Alain de Botton is doing it for me during these difficult times.

How has COVID-19 affected you? 

I never dreamed I’d start my new role just before a pandemic. I’d only been the Group CEO for around five weeks when the first lockdown was announced last March, and virtually all of my plans for TAKUMI suddenly had to change overnight. 

I have to give credit to the team at TAKUMI: their flexibility and the ease at which they transitioned to working from home was amazing. However, the marketing industry, as has been well-documented, suffered from COVID-19.

In the initial stages of the pandemic, brands rapidly scaled back their marketing activity. Sixty-two percent of marketers changed their marketing strategies and imagery of human interactions declined by 24.7% in social ads.

Fortunately, the influencer marketing sector was relatively shielded from the impacts of COVID-19, with creators becoming incredibly inventive to produce content from the confines of their home – a hugely attractive prospect for brands during lockdown when filming traditional video content and conducting photoshoots were a challenge. Now things are returning to normal, we are seeing brand spend tick up, with our recent whitepaper, which surveyed over 3,500 marketers, consumers and influencers, finding that nearly three-quarters of marketers plan to up their spend on influencer marketing in the next 12-months.

If you could go back to your teenage years, would you have done things differently? Do you have any regrets?

Absolutely not! All my New Romantic x Two Tone Ska x Psychobilly x Dirt Box fashion and clubbing phases gave me so much joy and experiences that laid the foundations to allow me to realise that reinvention in an incredibly complex world is my super power.

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

If I wasn’t in the world of digital advertising and technology, I’m pretty sure I’d be running an art gallery or boutique hotel – who knows maybe that will be the next reinvention of Mary Keane-Dawson.

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

For brands to put consumers back at the centre of the piece – they must connect with the audience and stop stelling impressions – they are meaningless.


What is your one piece of advice to aspiring creative professionals?

Have faith in your creative ideas! I’ve worked in the marketing sector for over 30 years, and some of the most creative people I’ve seen are influencers. 

Creators must remember they have amassed their following because of the quality of their content and, as a result, when brands come knocking for paid partnerships, creators must stick to their guns and suggest content their followers will like. 

Too often brands come to influencers with a fully formed creative idea and don’t consider there is no one better placed to advise what social media users like than creators. This was why we set up TAKUMI X – a new creative division which puts influencers at the heart of the creative process for a social media campaign.

Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

I always recommend One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez to anyone I meet. It’s my favourite book and truly one of the supreme achievements in literature. 

Other than that, I think everyone should listen to David Bowie’s The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars at least once in their life. The out-of-the-box thinking Bowie showed in that album is truly out of this world – if you pardon the pun – and is incredibly inspirational for anyone working in a creative sector.


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