Our latest Leadership Spotlight features Tom Barker!
Tom’s extensive experience in the digital sector began as a graduate; and has seen him work with well-known brands across the world; as well as agencies across various industries. Some of the brands and agencies include Mindshare, MediaCom, Aegis Group plc, and most recently he worked at Entain; where he was the Marketing Director.
In our Q&A with Tom, he discusses his career journey to date, why “your faith in them will be repaid by their faith in you”, how he has overcome challenges in his career, his success restructuring the team at Entain and why he is eager to see CTV get good at audience targeting, plus much more!
Read the Q&A below.
Why did you join the Digital Leaders Club?
It's good to be connected. It's good to have a rich source of industry advice from people who have previously lived your challenge. This is where the secret sauce is.
What's your career journey been like to date?
It's had its ups and downs! After a brief stint in old-school print sales straight from Uni (a learning experience, to be sure), I joined Mindshare's inaugural Digital grad scheme, where I spent the next seven years moving up through the various ranks. Mindshare was my home. I loved it there. I loved the work, the clients, the people, the agency... we had so much fun. But it was also my industry education, and sometimes lessons can be tough. I went from a young arrogant kid in advertising to semi-polished media professional through a mixture of wonderful experiences and harsh learning opportunities.
I left 'home' when a former manager came calling with a wonderful opportunity to progress my career by moving from local to multi-market management, and so it was that I packed off to competitor agency Carat (now Dentsu) to run Digital across Europe for General Motors.
It was another remarkable learning stride. I had to adapt to a new company culture and operate at a more senior level, reporting to elevated clients and finding ways to communicate my ideas across markets - the negotiation (and travel) is real! After a few years and a successful global consolidation pitch, I moved into a global Digital leadership role at Mediacom, the leading agency in the media business. I moved to head up worldwide Digital for the VW Group of brands, but over the course of nearly ten years in this brilliant agency I worked across a wide range of client categories and projects, including co-concepting the global innovation and ecommerce departments, leading the Alexa and google Voice solutions and becoming a general Digital gun for hire!
Eventually, though, I yearned for an entirely new challenge altogether and was approached to move brand side and take on my Marketing Director role at Entain. My only regret is that I didn't do it sooner. I have loved every minute, bringing all my years of media, especially Digital, Advertising, comms, creative, commercials, and people management together to create and run a wonderful team of brilliant people and marketers to deliver great success to the business. Sadly, it all came to an end in Q4 '23 as Entain made a sweeping raft of cost-cutting redundancies, so I'm presently looking for the next step on my career journey.
What do you love about working in digital?
It's where I grew up. It's what I learned. It's second nature. I just couldn't imagine doing anything else. It was a 2% medium when I started. How things have changed!
What are the common challenges you see in digital leadership?
The care, time, and attention given to fostering the talent you have in your team. I hear so many horror stories. Good people are hard to find, so whatever you do, make sure you cherish the ones you have. Nothing is more important. Focus on your people. Help them develop. Give them things to aspire to. Help them on their way. Your faith in them will be repaid by their faith in you.
Have you had any interesting moments in your career so far?
The days before all the anti-bribery laws came in were interesting, to say the least. The Yahoo! and Microsoft Christmas parties were things of legend. Yahoo! took me jet-skiing around Miami for a week once upon a time, and New Scientist to San Francisco, for a few days of wine tasting in the valleys. There were so many absurd trips and shenanigans in the noughties. Even the clients were up to it. Ford once took me to drive the Nürburgring for a few days and Chevrolet to the Swiss Alps to have a go with a few of their cars. It all dried up eventually, but that's probably a good thing. I just don't have the energy to go at that pace anymore!
Have you had any challenges in your career to date; and how did you overcome them?
Many. Like most of us, I like being successful. I pride myself on it. So, when something goes awry, it can weigh heavily on me. I've learned to accept when it happens and avoid being defensive. I've learned to accept advice from people I trust and openly look to and ask for solutions from good people. I have learned to allow unfair criticism to wash over me, whereas once it would eat me up inside, and focus on fair criticism or advice that can help me improve as a person and a people leader. I have learned to look for solutions, not excuses, and be collaborative on challenges, accepting as many points of view from great colleagues as I can. Overcoming challenges becomes a natural part of growing if you learn how to accept them.
Tell us about your best success story
In my recent role at Entain, the team before I joined was somewhat of a mess. Disjointed, hardly communicative across divisions, split apart by distrust, lack of respect, and hybrid vs remote contracts, with many people working together never having even met beyond a Teams screen. I focused on listening to people and understanding their problems, skills, and needs.
I began a program of re-organising and re-structuring the team, changing a handful of roles, writing everyone (50+ people) new JDs and PDPs, empowering a group of 'Head of' and 'Senior Managers', balancing out the gender pay gap, promoting people that were worth it, reinvigorating the roles of people that were ill-inspired and focused on getting people together, to collaborate, to work face to face when beneficial, to learn and care for one
another. And what would you know?
There followed consecutive months of record commercial performance, born out of happy, inspired, motivated people working together. My HR lead told me that the best compliment she could give me was that the weekly complaints to her department stopped when I joined, and I'm very proud of that.
What’s it been like transitioning to a hybrid setup over the past few years?
Personally, it's been fine. Since 2010 I've worked multi-market, so I've been used to communicating with teams remotely, working at home, in taxis, hotel rooms, and on airplanes. When I have gone into a London office my colleagues have invariably been on their travels, so going an entire day sat at my desk yet being completely alone was not unusual! I'm happy with hybrid, and most of my teams have been. I'm even happy with remote contracts that require some team engagement. So long as people have the option to stay at home in comfort, hide away in their sloggies and get some good desk work done, save on London commutes and lunches yet still come in occasionally timed with their colleagues to hang out, collaborate on bits and pieces and attend a monthly team social, I'm happy. Sensible commuting is good. Pointless commuting just upsets people and I think that's fair.
What's the coolest/most interesting trend you're excited about?
Anything that proves itself over a decent period. I've jumped on and been bitten by enough trends to hold my breath. I would be most keen to see CTV get good at audience targeting, measurement and programmatic delivery, and to see the burgeoning methods of attention and emotional impact measurement mature.
How would your colleagues describe you?
That depends on which ones you ask!!! According to my LinkedIn reviews, nicely. Thankfully.
What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?
Tidying up after my children.
What's your plan for the future?
I don't really know where my career is taking me. If anything, moving to Entain proved to me that there's more to the industry than I'd imagined. So long as I get to build and/or run a great team and keep my family happy, then I'm cool just to see where it goes.
Connect with Tom on LinkedIn