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Talent Dentsu Creative Agencies

Dentsu Creative’s new CCO plans ‘a million little tweaks’ to the network

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By Sam Bradley, Journalist

June 8, 2023 | 8 min read

Caroline Pay, who joins Jess Tamsedge and Theo Izzard-Brown to head up Dentsu Creative UK, explains how they plan to grow a network-wide creative culture.

caroline pay

Caroline Pay, Jess Tamsedge and Theo Izzard-Brown / Dentsu Creative

“I needed to be at a business that was at an interesting time in its life,” says Caroline Pay. In her latest role, as Dentsu Creative UK’s chief creative officer, she’s found one.

Since the network’s glitzy unveiling at last year’s Cannes Lions, figurehead Fred Levron has departed while the UK business has brought in a new chief exec in Jess Tamsedge and a new chief strategist in Theo Izzard-Brown – both poached from McCann London. While its parent company has continued to devote investment primarily towards its data and transformation businesses, the UK creative arm faces plenty of opportunity for growth, sitting in one of the largest and fastest-growing advertising markets in the world.

It’s clear why Dentsu brought in Pay to complete its leading triumvirate. She carries a formidable reputation gained from years at agencies such as Karmarama, Grey and Mother and, following a four-year stint as chief creative officer at meditation app Headspace, understands the other side of the aisle.

Her brief doesn’t just include leading its creative efforts or adding business momentum, but helping Tamsedge and Izzard-Brown to nurture a network-wide culture.

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When she moved to Headspace’s Santa Monica headquarters, Pay found herself immersed in a world of high-minded ambitions and impenetrable jargon.

“It had monks, artists and scientists all in a room together,” she recalls. “It was like the beginning of a joke, It was humbling – like going back to school. I was hearing acronyms from software engineers, scientists, musical composers, clinicians and meditation teachers. I didn’t know what anyone was talking about. I had to learn like, six different industries within my first few months.”

Pay had been looking for an alternative destination after so many years within agencies. She’s proud of the work that she spearheaded during her time at the company, which spanned its merger with Ginger and relaunch as Headspace Health. “We worked hard on simplifying and cementing the brand, to push it beyond an app, beyond meditation. We achieved things they never dreamt we would do with the brand.”

But the isolation of the pandemic made living in California – far away from family and friends back in Britain – much harder. “I moved to California with my son when he was eight, which was semi-bonkers. I was so proud of myself. And we were just at the beginning of that adventure when Covid hit. Moving to California with an eight-year-old was a big decision. His dad would come every month and my parents would come, and all my friends would come. Once that had to completely end overnight, that transformed the entire experience.”

Pay eventually returned to the UK, and began thinking about her next gig. After overseeing the transformation of Headspace from a meditation app into a holistic mental health platform, and a series of freelance consulting gigs, Pay says she was looking for “a role with pressure and challenge” at a company “in the eye of the storm”.

She’s found that challenge at Dentsu Creative. Just over a year ago, it was formed from the merger of Dentsu’s many creative agencies worldwide, as part of the latest phase of the holding company’s grand – and gradual – reorganization. Now, its leaders are working to prove that was the correct move for clients and talent.

‘A million tweaks’

While the agency group probably employs fewer monks than Headspace, it’s not exactly a stranger to insider jargon. A recent conference series run in Edinburgh, Manchester and London was dubbed Seicho, a reference to the Tokyo building where the original Dentsu business was established.

That initiative was part of a wider effort to better knit the company’s UK teams together. Dentsu is more decentralized than its UK competitors, with offices in four cities – a situation which brings advantages, but which makes it harder to promote a single corporate philosophy. It’s something that Pay’s new co-worker Tamsedge, says is a priority for its leaders.

“We recognize the scale of the job, of helping people feel like they’re playing as part of a bigger community,” she says. “We have spent some proper time thinking about how we help people spiritually feel a part of a Dentsu Creative community. And we're not going to rush that.”

Pay says: “I'm not just going to be looking for that one big award winner in the corner of the agency. I'm going to be looking for opportunities where we can raise the level, raise the ambition, raise the craft in every conversation – and also help those teams feel safe and invited to voice when they see something exciting. It's going to be a matter of a million little pushes and tweaks and tickles rather than one big one.”

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Their other big priority will be bringing the renosed Dentsu Creative offer to UK brands. Britain is a key market for Dentsu, but the stuttering economy has caused many clients to pull in the purse strings. Dentsu’s ad spend forecasts were readjusted in May, and predict the UK ad market will grow 3.1% in 2023, down from an earlier estimate of 3.6%.

Tamsedge, whose own brief includes growing Dentsu Creaitve alongside the group’s CXM business, says the breadth of the Dentsu Creative offer can bring it growth. She tells us: “Brands get built in places beyond advertising, not as an afterthought, not as matching luggage, but in places where you can earn trust and you can build meaning and connection.

“Being open to the many different ways you can build brands, doesn’t mean you're immune to budget cuts, but means you can think smarter and play harder with your clients.”

Pay adds: “And having just been a client for four years, I now understand how not to behave as an agency.”

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