Mediaweek Agency 50: Zenith CEO Jason Tonelli on his open and collaborative leadership approach

Mediaweek agency 50 - Jason Tonelli

“It is an honour to be included amongst not only peers but people that I respect as industry leaders”

Mediaweek held its inaugural Power Lunch in October, celebrating the successes of the media industry and the people who make it.

Taking #19 on the Agency 50 was Jason Tonelli, CEO of Zenith. He spoke to Mediaweek about his leadership approach, the important industry issues on his mind and his outlook for the ROI agency’s year ahead.

Mediaweek: Congratulations on making #19 spot on our Mediaweek Agency 50 list. What was your reaction to your placement?

JT: Thank you, I appreciate being named on such a great list. It is an honour to be included amongst not only peers but people that I respect as industry leaders.
Being part of a list like this reminds us all that we have a responsibility to ensure we continue to drive key initiatives that will ensure the long term sustainability of the advertising ecosystem – from how we are driving ESG, how we continue to address diversity and inclusiveness across the board, how we continue to make the health and wellbeing of our people a priority; and how we create environments for our teams to do the best work of their careers.
MW: How does your position on the list reflect the achievements made by Zenith? 

JT: Zenith is a terrific agency with fantastic people and a very strong product offering. It also has clients who are brave and do excellent work, with a key focus on delivering ROI across all touch points.
As the CEO, I believe our teams and our people, in conjunction with our products across investment, research, strategy and digital are our strength – and I am looking forward to driving this further in the new year.

MW: How would you describe your leadership style and work with your team?

JT: I am an open, collaborative and “heart on my sleeve” type of leader. What you see is what you get, and I love to spend time with people – be that our clients, our teams or our partners.
We have a great opportunity as leaders in our industry to drive important issues and agendas that allow our teams to produce the best work of their careers. My focus is on ensuring that at Zenith, we have this platform to support our people.
MW: What are three industry issues on your mind, and in your opinion, how can they be solved or achieved?
JT: I wish it were only three, however if I have to prioritise, I would say mental health and wellbeing is of enduring importance – including how we reconsider the workforce and working styles of the future, and how we deliver data-led creativity in media.
When we look at the wellbeing of the teams, this comes down to how we set the behaviours we want (and also do not want) in the business – and what we hold each other accountable to. Industry behaviours such as race to the bottom pricing, and holding of open roles are examples of things that lead to negative outcomes such as burnout, high team turnover and losing people from the industry altogether. My ambition with the team is to ensure that our people not only have the tools, but also have the time to focus on the things that matter – both in our business, as well as in their everyday lives.
This leads into the workforce of the future. The past few years have brought significant change to the industry – from flexible working arrangements, discussions of 4-day work weeks, to the challenge of connected cultures in a hybrid work world. We are developing a stream of work with the agency and our clients, to look at what works in a service-based industry which moves with pace, and drives business outcomes through creativity. It isn’t easy, but the solution is something I am confident in finding and implementing.
This leads to the final point, which is data-led creativity.  In a world where we had an abundance of data, and that pool is somewhat shrinking in line with new policies, we have started to focus on what’s next.  For us, we are looking at how data fuels creativity in media. We are looking to understand Australians, their dreams, hopes and desires – including how we can help our clients build a relationship with their future customers, as well as nurture their existing customer-base.
MW: What is your outlook for Zenith in 2023?
JT: It is early days, and I am just kicking off my listening and learning sessions with the team, clients and partners – but our core proposition as the ROI agency remains true.
In a very complex media landscape where fragmentation of audiences has never been higher, digital and traditional media are one in the same, and the consumer is looking for brands that align to their value set – we are really thinking through how we continue to deliver ROI for our clients.
We want to do this by leveraging our unique approach to insights and investment to drive and capture the imagination of Aussies for our clients.
Mediaweek: What are your hopes for the industry in 2023?
JT: My hope is that we as an industry can align on some key areas of focus, and that we see these areas as opportunities for the industry to do better, rather than as competitive advantage. Transparency is the only way forward, and we need to unite and not fight on these issues.
Our people should come first and we need to continue to train, upskill and nurture the future of our industry together. We need to call out the behaviours that do not belong in our industry and stand up for what we say.
2023 is a big year for advertising, particularly as we (hopefully) see the end of the Covid era and we embark on this new world, with a focus on our people, sustainable practices and doing what is right.

Top image: Jason Tonelli

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