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Meet the Trainer... Aileen O'Toole, Chartered Director & Digital Strategist

Posted By Learning & Development Team, Monday 29 April 2019
Updated: Thursday 25 April 2019

What do you do as a Digital Strategist and a Chartered Director? 

I’ve a portfolio career with three elements – digital strategy assignments, non-executive board roles and pro-bono commitments.  My digital work focuses on supporting leadership teams to plan, deliver and troubleshoot ambitious digital projects that support their business strategies.  My board roles involve helping to formulate strategies and having oversight of their implementation by executive teams while my pro bono roles are about causes that light my fire.


What were your key career moves to get to your current role?

I am a former business journalist and Editor. I took an entrepreneurial leap in 1989 when I co-founded The Sunday Business Post where I combined my part owner/Executive Director/Company Secretary role with editorial management, and an involvement in the marketing strategy that ultimately created a strong media brand. 

Three years after the newspaper was sold, I wanted a fresh challenge outside of the media sector and established Ireland’s first digital strategy business in 2001. That has been like three separate start-ups in one, as I’ve had to pivot the business to respond to digital changes, client requirements and where I can add the most value.  I’ve combined this with non-executive board roles and in 2016 I qualified as a Chartered Director.


What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?

Staying up to date, relevant and strategic.  Given the fast pace of change in digital technologies, I’ve to constantly upskill and stay on top of trends.  I see my role as enabling my clients to be both future-focused and make strategic decisions. Right now, for example, clients need to be considering how emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain will impact on their sectors and their businesses.  They also need to avoid the many temptations to invest in “shiny new digital things” that may not deliver any long-term business value.  Instead, they should have a clear vision of how digital can deliver on their business strategies and then be able make informed investment and people decisions.


What key skills do you need to be effective in your role?

Firstly, it’s necessary for me to be strategic and concentrate more on what is of most importance to the long-term success of the business, instead of being buried in the entrails of a digital project.  Communications skills are vital.  For many senior leaders, techno babble is a turn off so I need to translate the jargon into business speak and make it all relevant and accessible to everyone. 

Digital projects are really change management projects and taking a customer perspective helps to get an understanding and buy in to change.  Similar strategic, communications, technical and other skills are also relevant to board roles.  Given my portfolio life, I have to be highly organised in how I manage multiple complex projects and other commitments concurrently. 


Describe a typical working day.

It very much depends on the mix of client commitments, board and pro-bono activities I have on a given day.  I might be facilitating a digital strategy workshop, commissioning or analysing research or managing a vendor selection process.  If I’ve an upcoming board meeting or board committee meeting, I’d have to spend a lot of time reading and annotating the board pack.  As a non-accountant, I can’t simply skip over the sometimes voluminous financial data as board members without accounting qualifications are as equally responsible for the oversight of the financial performance as those with such qualifications. 

I’ll also have to make time for pro-bono commitments, which at the moment involves a female leadership initiative I co-founded and mentoring some young professionals. There isn’t a day goes by without me consuming a lot of media – traditional and digital – and sharing content on my social media accounts.


What do you love most about your role?  

Variety.  The mix of what I do is ever-changing between different sectors, businesses, teams and suppliers. Because I’ve worked across all sectors, and am completely independent, I can often make a breakthrough by applying an approach that works in one sector to another one.  I also love achieving a tangible result arising from my work or my input into something.  That result may be hugely significant to a business, like the successful entry into a new market, or to an individual, like mentoring them to successfully transition to a new career.


Looking ahead, where might your career path lead to next?

I’m about to embark on a process to help me to answer that very question. Every few years, I take a step back and with professional help try to envision what I might do next.   In the past, this has helped me make some big career decisions, like leaving The Sunday Business Post and taking time out to pursue a corporate governance qualification. It’s also helped me shed some of the work I no longer find challenging and identify new potential areas of opportunity. At this stage, the changes are more evolutionary than revolutionary.


Aileen O’Toole is facilitating the Marketing Institute's CMO masterclass, Increasing Marketing's Influence in the Boardroom on 28th May. More details on

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Meet the Trainer... Richard O’Donnell, Associate Director Strategy & Innovation at MCCP

Posted By Learning & Development Team, Monday 15 April 2019
Updated: Tuesday 9 April 2019


What does the Associate Director of Strategy & Innovation do at MCCP?

Within MCCP, our expertise spans Research, Strategy, Culture & Innovation and I work across each of these pillars as we believe business transformation requires each of these to be working together effectively. Within innovation, I lead projects across financial services, technology, retail, and transport. This involves working across several areas from customer ethnography, design sprint facilitation, to concept development and strategy implementation. My role is quite varied, so you need to enjoy thinking creatively, dealing with lots of ambiguity and digging deep into problems to like it.

What route did you take to this role, i.e. what did you study in college, experience on the way?

I completed a MSc in International Business in UCD Smurfit Business School and started my career working in venture capital investing which gave me a great start in business strategy development and assessing market opportunities. Following this, I moved into management consulting and then into digital strategy development. Prior to joining MCCP, I worked in Accenture’s Digital Innovation Hub, where I led design thinking and digital innovation projects for large global clients in the retail and healthcare space.

How important do you think continued upskilling and continuous professional development is to marketing? 

When I started my career, I worked for some very successful entrepreneurs and something I noticed is that they were always reading, learning and developing themselves. Sometimes progress can seem slow but over the years it all adds up and, in my view, continuous learning and development is what really sets people apart in their career.  Especially with innovation being such an emergent field, I feel it is critical to constantly keep up to date with the most effective methods and approaches, so I can keep providing greater value to my clients. 

What benefits can attendees hope to obtain from attending training programmes?

 Participants should be leaving training programmes with confidence that they can apply what they have learned within their own roles. Sometimes attending training can seem like a lot of effort but when you learn something that helps you solve a problem or provides you with a unique perspective, these are the nuggets that make good training really worth it and an invaluable ingredient to becoming more effective in your role.

What do you consider as the key criteria for training to be effective?

Trainers should be as practical as possible and ensure participants are working on challenges relevant to their roles. Effective training should be immersive where participants are solving problems for themselves and collaborating with their peers instead of being lectured to. Finally, trainers need to establish their credibility and ensure participants feel confident as they work through the session, so they have the confidence to apply what they have learned within their own roles and teams.  

What do you believe are the challenges facing marketers today?  

Marketing is an industry that faced significant disruption and in many ways lost itself trying to adapt to this change. Marketers need to be more cautious about the next big trend or piece of technology and become the customer champion within their organisations. They should do everything they can to get to know their customer’s needs, understand their pain points and uncover which of these needs are being underserved. They should then do everything they can to improve the customer experience and satisfy these underserved needs. If this means moving beyond the traditionally defined role of marketing they need to start doing this. A marketer’s role today should probably be less about communications and much more about satisfying customer needs.

What are the current challenges and opportunities that you believe businesses face around being agile today?

 As an industry we are getting much better at understanding customer needs, defining opportunities for innovation and coming up with good ideas. Where we have a lot of work to do is in bringing these good ideas to life and bridging the execution gap. Large companies are set up to reduce risk and create certainty in decision making, however innovation involves a huge amount of ambiguity and this can be a real challenge for larger organisations to leap into the unknown which is so necessary in innovation. Agile approaches such as design thinking, lean methodologies and sprints are a great way to get decision makers into a room, set constraints and quickly get alignment and commitment to overcome this barrier. However, this approach can work brilliantly in companies that are less bureaucratic but within slower companies this can be a radical way of working and can be too much of a shock to the system so more patience and time is required.  As with all innovation work, there is no cookie cutter approach as every organisation is different, so you always need to approach innovation strategically rather than believing process A or process B will be the answer to all your problems.  

And finally to whom do you look for professional inspiration in your role?

Innovation is still a relatively new field and new approaches are emerging all the time to overcome some of the big challenges faced by organisations trying to innovate. The Stanford D School has done great work in popularising human centred design and in making design thinking more accessible. Clayton Christiansen & Tony Ulwick’s work around Jobs To Be Done really put the focus on customers unmet needs over chasing trends and shiny new toys. Steve Blank & Eric Ries have challenged some of the optimism around ethnography and brainstorming and made a strong case for the importance of getting out and testing ideas early to really know if they have potential or not. Within innovation I feel these are the people who have really brought unique perspectives and proven themselves within the industry. 

Richard O'Donnell is the trainer on the Marketing Institute’s Innovating with Agility course, taking place on May 8th 2019. More details on


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Meet the Trainer…. Colin Lewis, Chief Marketing Officer at OpenJaw Technologies

Posted By Learning & Development Team, Monday 1 April 2019

Colin Lewis

What does a Chief Marketing Officer at OpenJaw Technologies do? 

Creating, communicating and delivering the marketing propositions globally for one of Ireland’s biggest travel tech brands. We have blue-chip customers all over the world such as British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Hainan Airlines, Four Seasons and Avis. Fun fact: I get to organise a conference in a big Chinese city every year for 40+ Chinese airlines - in Chinese!


What were your key career moves to get to your current role?

Half my career has been working in major airline brands such as Thomas Cook, bmi-British Midland and Stobart Air. The other half has been working in tech companies such as IONA Technologies and a few eCommerce startups. The combination of expertise in tech, digital, eCommerce and travel is pretty unique. Of course, spending time out on a Smurfit MBA, and living internationally for years has been part of it.


What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?

Dealing with international customers, offices and partners. OpenJaw has full time employees in China, Spain, Poland, and, of course, Ireland. We have eight Chinese airline clients and lots of Chinese colleagues, so it’s a been an amazing lesson in cultural differences – and similarities.


What key skills do you need to be effective in your role?

The normal skills that marketers need in 2019: strategy expertise, a deep understanding of tactics, people management skills, an open approach to experimentation and failure, deep knowledge of digital tools and technologies and their capabilities, excellent communication skills – and, most important of all, an ability to recognise your own biases. All marketers should be experts in their own biases and recognise when your opinion is overriding the data.


Describe a typical working day.

The answer is - it depends on the time of year! August to November days are tied up in making the major events that OpenJaw run in Europe and China the best in the industry…..getting speakers, lining up customers and so on. Much of our work at the moment is in setup mode – we are about to announce some major new customers, so there is a lot of communications to deliver. OpenJaw have also launched a number of brand new products and platforms, including a Big Data platform and an AI Powered Conversational Interface. This has meant that I have had to develop a deep level of expertise in understanding Big Data and Artificial Intelligence. 
One of the big changes in the working day I have introduced in 2019 is the implementation of Agile Marketing programmes. We have had some success – it's been a real eye-opener. However, we have a long way to go!


What do you love most about your role?  

I have always loved travel - have visited around 70 countries at the last count – so getting to deal with people from all over the globe is the best bit. Spending lots of time in China, understanding the cities, people and culture has been a real highlight. You have not lived until you have had the mouth burnt off you eating a Sichuan Hotpot in Chengdu in western China.


Looking ahead, where might your career path lead to next?

Who knows? I have lots to get done in OpenJaw, and outside of my day job, I am a columnist for Marketing Week magazine, I programme DMX Dublin and teach marketing and digital marketing in the UK and Ireland – up to 100 hours a year. More teaching, lecturing and writing sounds like a good plan! 


To whom do you look for professional inspiration in your role?

I am a big book reader: I often say the best thing about me doing the MBA was that I realised I loved reading. As a result, most of the professional inspiration comes from authors who I use to inspire me in my job and in my writing. 
I particularly like writers who undermine any previously held view that I had. Former DMX headliner, Ryan Holiday is somebody I really admire. Michael Lewis writing about almost anything. Marketing writers – Al Ries,  Robert Cialdini, and, of course, fellow Marketing Week columnist, Mark Ritson.


Colin Lewis is lecturing on the Marketing Institute’s Executive Diploma in Strategic Digital Marketing, starting on 8th April. More details on


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Course Review - CMO Masterclass: Value of Trust to Business

Posted By Learning & Development Team, Friday 22 March 2019

In your own words how would you describe the masterclass?

 I found the session very informative and helpful – and very topical given the fact that so many categories are being disrupted by new brands or brands that have radically evolved their market position and proposition. Trust is the very essence of branding – without it, brands quickly go out of business. The origin of brands were to create trust in the product or service to the extent that consumers believed in their promise and these beliefs were matched by the customer experience consistently over time (and even exceeded at times).


Why did you decide to attend the masterclass?

The value of trust in business has become a key point of discussion at Board level in many businesses. It is linked to company reputation and the sustainability of an organisation’s business model and investor confidence in its ability to sustain future income flow; it is also linked to brands and organisations having a broader social purpose than simply shifting inventory at any expense; and it is focusing the minds of policy-makers and regulators to ensure that customers and society at large benefit from brands and their responsible marketing. So it comes an am important inflection point in the dialogue around what great marketing can add to any business to create a win/win outcome for all stakeholders, and most especially for customers.


 What aspects of the masterclass did you like?

Some powerful insights and models were shared to help participants really question how they approach this topic in a strategic manner. I came away with a couple of simple tools and ideas that are really relevant to discussions happening right now. Also getting insights from peers in other industries was really useful to highlight that many brands share similar challenges and opportunities in this area.


Would you recommend the masterclass?

I would certainly recommend this masterclass to others. I can’t think of a single category where trust is not being challenged explicitly or implicitly on multiple fronts – food & beverages, social media & media in general, entertainment & leisure, healthcare, retail, telcos, technology, automotive, etc. And where trust becomes challenged, it creates opportunities for others to gain competitive advantage and for the category incumbents to be leapfrogged or forced into reactive mode.


How will you incorporate your new found knowledge into your current role?

I think the strategic framework can be very useful to engage senior stakeholders across different functional areas within the business – everyone can see the positive and negative impact management decisions and actions can have on brand reputation and can relate to the case studies used to demonstrate good and bad practice. What customers believe about a brand or a company (relative to competitors) is what matters so discovering what’s in customers’ minds and hearts is always a good place to start – and how these perceptions can be addressed in the future!


Is there anything else you would like to share about the masterclass?

A useful investment of time to learn more about a highly relevant topic!

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Course Review - Executive Diploma in Strategic Digital Marketing

Posted By Learning & Development Team , Friday 22 March 2019
Course Review, Strategic Digital Marketing



In your own words how would you describe the Executive Diploma in Strategic Digital Marketing?

Firstly, I think anyone returning to study after a long period, no matter how competent they feel in their job, will approach it with a certain amount of trepidation, but thankfully the first way you are made feel when you start the course is at ease. There is an awareness that studying for many on the course can come at the end of a long working day and that lectures need to be succinct and engaging. I got a lot out of the whole process of doing the course and as well as giving me the relevant education on the topics, made me think about my work through a different lens, too.



Why did you decide to complete the programme?

While my current job doesn’t necessarily demand excellent in the topics covered, the course content would give me a broader understanding of different media. I come from a background of journalism and for the last seven years have been the other side of the fence as a PR professional, but increasingly the lines are becoming blurred between different disciplines. And I don’t think you can ever be educated ‘too much’.



What aspects of the programme did you like?

I liked the lecture format. They were for the most part, very engaging and the lecturers themselves speak to you as an equal, a far cry from when I was first in University. They are mindful of our own pressures as professionals to take on additional work and the course is broad enough to cover a huge variety of topics.



Would you recommend the programme?

 Yes, in particular for anyone that wants to fit study around a full-time job.



 How will you incorporate your new found knowledge into your current role? 

I think it will allow me to understand other elements of our business, better. While I don’t work directly in a Marketing role, I work very closely with our Marketing team and this has translated a lot of topics that previously might have been alien to me. Essentially it will make me a more rounded professional.



Is there anything else you would like to share about the programme?

 Meeting other professionals in similar roles across disparate industries was very rewarding and I have certainly made some good friends as a result.

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