Radical MD: ‘We make advertising for a world with a skip button’

8 Nov 2017

Aisling Blake, managing director at Radical. Image: Unique Media

Radical’s Aisling Blake discusses the challenges facing the advertising industry and the need for diversity across every sector.

Aisling Blake is the managing director of Radical.

Radical is an advertising content agency that brings creative content, media and technology together to join the dots for its clients.

The agency recently took home two gongs at the global Content Marketing Awards 2017: Best Content Marketing Programme in Technology, for the development of a campaign for Tech/Life Ireland; and the Highest Conversion Response from a Content Programme, for an initiative it developed with AIB and MyBusinessToolkit.

At Radical, Blake oversees a team of 30 people that come from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds, including journalism, social media, creative, search, engineering and production.

‘There is opportunity to break new ground, but progress rests with those brave enough to lead the way’

Describe your role and what you do.

As managing director, I am there to support and guide the team as they deliver effective ideas that know no bounds for our clients. With my wider management team, we have created the vision and ambition for our agency that recognises people’s behaviours. Our clients receive the planning and rigour of a media agency, combined with creativity and innovation.

We’re a group of insight-driven, creatively led problem-solvers, who join the dots to develop ideas and platforms that go beyond the expected. This means bringing together cross-functional teams of specialists.

We make advertising for a world with a skip button. We are based in the Silicon Docks in Dublin but create advertising that is seen across Europe and beyond.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life? 

My working life is intertwined with my personal life (that’s how I like it), so prioritising working life becomes quite a fluid exercise. Generally, I have enough foresight on upcoming projects and meetings to be able to plan in advance and prioritise work for that period. If I know that a school play or other event is coming up in my personal life, I can organise my working diary to make sure I don’t miss out on that either. I believe the only way to balance and prioritise working life when needed is to have that flexibility.

As part of Core Media, Radical and the wider group have facilitated that flexibility by enabling remote working for a number of years now. This has been invaluable for me when trying to plan and prioritise, ensuring that I can commit fully to both my working and personal life. Supported by this infrastructure, I also have a great team around me who I trust completely and who have the same standards and ethos as I do.

What are the biggest challenges facing your business and how are you tackling them?

Attracting and retaining talent has become a challenge over the past number of years. To develop our business, we must bring a diverse range of talent into our teams, from data scientists through to art directors. This diversity is key to our growth and our offering. We may not have heritage in some of these areas, so the type of person who joins our business is inspired by our ambition, and wants to be part of creating a model that is built for a new era of consumer behaviour and interaction with advertising. It becomes easy to attract these people when they can see the award-winning communications we create, as well as the thought leadership we showcase as a group.

With a range of multinationals sitting on our doorstep, who have recently become aware of the value of the people currently in our industry, retaining the talent we have is an ongoing area of focus. Spearheaded by our HR team, we have created a market-leading culture that puts high performance, learning, development, diversity and respect at our core, as well as an enviable working environment. We have been recognised by the Great Place to Work Institute as a top workplace in Ireland for a number of years, so we are facing this attraction and retention challenge head-on.

What are the key industry opportunities you’re capitalising on?

One of the reasons why I love working in the communications industry is the ongoing requirement to be curious and learn.

In Radical, we have to understand use cases and applications for new technologies and platforms, so that we can leverage them for our clients. This provides new opportunities for our clients’ brands to connect and engage with their current and potential customers. We are only scratching the surface of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, closed messaging apps and much more, which are all new areas that the communications industry can capitalise on to help grow brands in a meaningful way. There is opportunity to break new ground, but progress rests with those brave enough to lead the way, providing utility and enhanced experiences.

What set you on the road to where you are in the technology industry?

Finding a love of Google AdWords and pay-per-click advertising early on in my career, and making an informed decision to move into that specific area, set my career on course to where it is now. That move into the world of digital provided endless opportunities for ongoing learning and meant that what I could offer to clients and colleagues alike was an expertise that was at the forefront of marketing communications, and continues to be an area of growth, expansion and opportunity.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I can’t look back on my career to date and say, ‘That was my biggest mistake.’ There are many times where I said, did or advised on certain courses of action, which, if doing it again, I would do differently. But that is how, I believe, experience is built, and it helps me anticipate consequences and questions in the future. I’d love the answer to this question to be some big career-changing mistake that is forever marked on my conscience but, unfortunately, and at the risk of giving a mundane answer, I’ve learned many things as a result of many missteps, but all with positive outcomes that have simply enhanced how I approach situations now.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I believe getting the best out of any team requires taking the time to understand what motivates them. In the marketing communications industry, we have experts and tools to get under the skin of the consumers we want to buy our products and services, and we need to put that same rigour into understanding the needs and motivations of the teams around us, so they can reach their potential while delivering what we need as a business.

A simple step I rely on is to meet my team one-on-one for an informal catch-up and coffee, to get to know them as people, rather than employees. I’m open and honest in these conversations, and that transparency helps both of us to form a mutual understanding. If we’re both on the same page with the same goal in mind, then it’s easier to work together to achieve that goal and get the best from everyone. This also hinges on constant communication with the teams, which can be a challenge in a busy working environment, but we must have focus if we’re to succeed as a cohesive team delivering integrated thinking and ideas.

‘By highlighting the number of tech-based roles that are currently available in Ireland, I think we can radically improve the talent pool’

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to effect change?

I think diversity is a societal and commercial challenge not just focused on gender or in the STEM sector. Diversity of ethnicity, race, age, sexual orientation and culture also needs to be addressed. There are so many factors that fuel a lack of diversity, such as unconscious bias, accessibility, lack of education. Innovation and creativity are only possible through bringing diverse sets of people together to collaborate, bringing different perspectives and backgrounds together that result in an idea or solution that is effective, meaningful and adds value. Ironically, it will take a diverse set of people to effect change, so we should be looking to all sectors, industry bodies, educational institutes, government and many more to address this important challenge in our society today, at every life stage.

At Radical, we regularly use insights to identify problems and spend time on audience and trend analysis, drawn from real-time social, search and media data. Combining this data with a strategic plan allows us to tackle problems without straightforward solutions and identify the information people need in order to be attracted to the STEM sector. In fact, we do something similar in attracting top international tech talent to Ireland for our client Tech/Life Ireland.

By also highlighting the number of tech-based roles that are currently available in Ireland, I think we can radically improve the talent pool and interest within the sector among both men and women.

Who is your business hero and why?

The world needs visionaries and business people wrapped into one, and the only person who ticks both those boxes for me is Elon Musk. Love him or hate him, he doesn’t create companies for the sake of creating companies, but to get things done. His goal is to make the world a better place, finding solutions to the problems that humanity currently faces and will face in the future. I look forward to seeing his latest tweet with an update on his rocket launch or Hyperloop development. It’s inspirational stuff!

What books have you read that you would recommend?

How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp is essential reading, working in the communications industry. It provides evidence-based applications for marketers, rather than theoretical approaches. At an Irish level, Marketing Multiplied by Chris Johns, Jim Power and Alan Cox also brings together clear proof as to the effectiveness of marketing communications in building growth and profit.

I also follow Scott Galloway on Twitter, who is a constant source of inspiration, information and entertainment when it comes to the marketing industry – in particular, his views on the Four: Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook.

Reading for pure enjoyment has definitely taken a back seat at the moment. I set myself a goal to read one book a month this year, and I’ve only managed three – none of which I’d feel comfortable recommending! I would, however, recommend listening to a variety of TED Talks on topics that broaden perspective and opinion and stimulate ideas, covering topics such as The Power of Introverts or What Makes a Good Life?

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week? 

I could not get through the week without Slack. We use it in Radical to collaborate and communicate whether we’re in the office, working remotely or on the road. It’s a very intuitive platform that helps me prioritise need-to-know information at a glance, rather than having to sort through emails to get to the good bits.

The infrastructure that our IT team have provided that allows us to work remotely, as I’ve mentioned already, is invaluable.

And I use an app called Cosi to manage my personal tasks and calendar, which is key to making the working week as productive as possible.

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