Women Rising: The&Partnership's CEO & IPA's President Sarah Golding

At The&Partnership, we’re proud to say 46% of our senior management positions are held by women.


How did you first get into the industry? What was it like then versus now?

It was a stroke of sheer good luck that landed me my first job in advertising. I was a Cambridge language graduate and had thought about a career in media, but wasn’t too sure what exactly after an underwhelming summer job at BBC Manchester. So I went back to the drawing board, and went to see the careers advisor in Cambridge. She said to me: “Well, there’s a box over there marked ‘advertising’.” I asked, “What do you do there?” “No idea,” she said. I found a reel and ended up applying for a job at Lowe Howard Spink having been blown away by the ads on there for Weetabix and Stella Artois. It was very different then, both for applicants and for agencies. Today agencies have to compete with many other creative industries, from the big tech players through to the emerging start-ups on silicon roundabout.

What’s more, the number of skillsets an agency needs is broader than ever: social experts, UX designers, data engineers and many more. As employers, agencies today must also strive to make bigger strides forward on some of the most pressing issues for our future vitality – from diversity, gender equality and women in the boardroom, to returnships and flexible working for working mums.

We’re proud to be frontrunners in these spaces at The&Partnership – our SPARK scheme for non-graduates launched in 2016, we have a very strong female presence on the senior team across the global network, especially in London, and we have a distinctly female creative department, as well as a very strong team of working mums working for us across all areas of the business.


Tell us about your roles at The&Partnership and IPA.

Both are big jobs, and jobs I feel very proud to have.

At The&Partnership, I am Partner and Chief Executive of the founding London office, as well as of Alumina, our mobile content production agency,  and AllTogetherNow, our content and social agency. And last year I was honoured to be asked to be President of the IPA our industry’s chartered institution for agencies and practitioners. I launched my Magic & the Machines agenda with the very specific objective of leading the key industry agenda around automation and machine learning and how it will transform the creative industries, the work we make and the jobs we create as the industry evolves. I’m the first to admit I knew very little about automation when I started out – but I chose a subject I found rather intimidating for a very simple reason: I wanted to use myself as a test case for the success of my presidency. Put another way, I intended to learn from the front, not lead from the front, about a subject that is too important for our industry not to embrace. We are not all doomed to be replaced by machines, but neither are we too creative to be left alone.  Instead we need to see the opportunities to grow alongside our new automated colleagues, and embrace the new tools to be even better at what we do. Being armed with the right tools and knowledge is the key to unlocking more economic growth, as well as super-charging our creative work, helping us make even better magic with our new colleagues, the machines.

My agenda spans three key areas:

  • Mastering the Machines, which is all about helping agencies to create better brand experiences using tech and AI;
  • Magic with numbers, which is all about embracing data and evaluation to turbo-charge marketing effectiveness;
  • And finally Monitoring the Machines, which is about taking collective responsibility for cleaning up the messy digital media landscape, and lobbying Silicon Valley’s tech giants on some of the most ethically questionable issues we’re contending with – from micro-targeted political advertising to ad fraud and brand safety

The past sixteen months have been a whirlwind to say the least, and the learnings have been immense. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learnt is that there’s never been a more exciting time to be in advertising than now. The future’s ours for the taking – and it’s a future in which humans and machines will come together to make creativity bigger, bolder and better than ever before


How would you describe the overall culture at The&Partnership? How does it compare to IPA?

Well, we’re quite significantly younger than the IPA – they’ve got 83 years on us – so we’re a little different! But we’re all in the same business, so unsurprisingly we’re working to very similar agendas: from embracing smart data and new technology like artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality to make better work, through to challenging the industry on some of the biggest issues facing us, like diversity and gender equality.

One cultural element that I think unites both organisations is that both are loud and proud of the industry they’re part of. Our sector is one of the UK’s biggest growth industries, generating £6 for the economy for every £1 spent on advertising. I’ve always felt as an industry we need to shout louder and bang the drum harder for the good we do, both on a societal and an economic level.

Another thing that unites us is our focus on the future. At The&Partnership, we believe the next generation of agencies will be those that excel in making smart use of data, tech and AI to redefine how we connect brands with audiences and unlock even more economic growth. We’re proud of the Big, Bold and Bionic work we make for our clients – and it’s driven some fantastic effectiveness results for us, not to mention a couple of Lions at this year’s Cannes!


How did you first get involved with Unilever and the UN’s Unstereotype Alliance? What is their mission?

I was invited to be a founding member of the Unstereotype Alliance when it launched at last year’s Cannes, two months into my IPA Presidency. It was an honour to be on a list including P&G’s Marc Pritchard and Unilever’s Keith Weed, as well as some of the industry’s most brilliant women, like Carolyn Everson at Facebook, Syl Saller at Diageo, Fiona Carter at AT&T, Alison Lewis at J&J, Lisa McKnight at Mattel, Kathleen Hall at Microsoft and Aline Santos at Unilever. Unstereotype is an incredible coalition aiming to eradicate outdated gender stereotypes in adverts, transforming the way we represent women in our work. With some of the industry’s biggest marketing budgets behind it, the scheme in turn will help transform societal views of women. The ads we watch have as much of an impact on our culture as the films we watch, so this is as important a movement as Hollywood’s Annenberg initiative for diversity and social change.


What are some of the challenges that women face in the industry?

There are so many. Barriers to entry – particularly for creatives, with so many creative departments and creative decisions still dominated by men. The IPA’s most recent diversity census showed only 30% of seats in the UK’s creative departments are filled by women, and women account for only a woeful 11% of creative director roles. This badly needs to change, and every UK agency should be scrutinising its creative department, its hiring policies and its creative decision-making process to help drive progress. Making the brave move to start planning a family and learning how to juggle family with work. Coming back from maternity leave. The relatively new industry move to embrace returnships is encouraging – but so much more needs to be done to make coming back to work more accessible for mums, from improved flexible working policies to helping women with most-likely unfounded worries about the ground they might have lost. And then, last but not least, there’s the struggle to the top. The IPA’s most recent diversity census shows the numbers are slowly shifting in the right direction – with the industry stat for women in C-suite roles creeping up from 30.3% in 2016 to 30.9% in 2017 – but our speed of travel as an industry is nowhere near fast enough.

At The&Partnership, we’re proud to say 46% of our senior management positions are held by women – although I’m gunning for 50% plus! But, in an industry filled with ambitious, hard-working, highly intelligent and highly creative women, these types of figures should be the rule, not the exception.

The IPA has set an industry-wide target of 40% of women in the boardroom by 2020, and we should all be doing everything we can to reach that goal – not least because diversity and gender equality has been proven to improve financial performance.


What professional achievement are you most proud of?

Without a doubt, being elected President of the IPA In November 2016. It was a huge surprise, and a real honour to be asked by the industry I love so much to become the second woman ever to represent it in a 100-year history, and I want to use this opportunity to help lay the foundations for the next 100 years of advertising.


Tell us about a mentor that helped guide you. What made them so special?      

This one’s easy – it would be Dame Carolyn McCall, current CEO of ITV and former CEO of EasyJet. The thing that’s always struck me about Carolyn is how much she’s always very genuinely cared about me and my career, from the early days, and the priceless counsel she’s given me on the challenges I’ve faced, however insignificant they must have seemed. I went to her when I landed the CEO role, and in true Carolyn style, she reminded me of all the most obvious things I should do – none of which I’d done yet. What’s amazing about Carolyn is that, in spite of her seniority, she’s always present, down-to-earth and well-grounded. She’s a brilliant woman – and best of all, she pulls absolutely no punches when it comes to giving criticism and advice.


How do you plan to inspire the next generation of women?

By my actions. By showing them it’s not only possible but actually also hugely enjoyable and fulfilling, not just to be chief executive of an agency in London’s super-charged creative industries, but also to be President of a 100-year-old chartered institute on top of that – all whilst never not putting my daughter first. The school play should and will always win!