30 Under 30: GroupM ANZ CEO Mark Lollback – “Taking Risks Isn’t About Being Reckless”

30 Under 30: GroupM ANZ CEO Mark Lollback – “Taking Risks Isn’t About Being Reckless”

According to Group M’s Australia and New Zealand CEO, Mark Lollback, it takes a lot to back yourself and your team to take risks on a big idea—even if you think you might get fired. But taking risks isn’t about being reckless with a brand, it’s about thinking big, to get big results.

While entries may have closed for the 30 Under Awards, presented by Vevo, creatives keen to enter the event have until 1 March 2021, when late entries will officially close.

In the lead-up to the 15 April event, B&T is chatting with the industry’s big names—the success stories of the present who began their journeys, in some cases, from similar spots to where our 30 Under 30 entrants are standing now.

The head of GroupM’s Australia and New Zealand business, Mark Lollback began his career in marketing at an aluminium manufacturer—a long way away from leading the charge at the likes of Unilever and PepsiCo, and now GroupM.

Recently, I had the chance to hear how Lollback made his way through the industry, his sources of pride and a surprising mistake he made while at PepsiCo—something as strange as referring to tea as ‘black tea’ made a massive difference while at Lipton, he tells me.

He also reveals his advice for his younger self, and for the younger industry cohort, including the importance of having fun, and of financial independence.

There’s all this and more in our candid chat, which you can check out below.

Mark, where did your adland journey begin?

I always wanted to go into marketing and studied Commerce at UNSW. When I graduated in 1989, my first job was in marketing at an aluminium manufacturer. I hated it!

After that I knew what kind of marketing work I wanted to do, and joined Unilever which is known the world over as a great training ground for brand marketing.

How has the industry landscape changed most since you entered it? What blows your mind?

It’s such an obvious answer but the advancement in tech and data since my early days blows my mind. It’s gone from being a purely creative and strategic craft to layering tech and data on top.

The potential for greater addressability and personalisation that comes with that is incredible and it really allows marketers to do smarter and more sophisticated things that fuse creativity and strategy with tech and data.

What has remained consistent in your time, up to now?

The fundamentals of great marketing are still the same. That hasn’t changed. It’s a craft built on science. It’s still about doing great work, about being brave with ideas and doing things that make a brand distinctive and truly excite people.

Are there any qualities or circumstances that have helped you to get to where you are now?

My passion and love of strategy, building brands and helping turn business around through transformation and being part of high-performance teams has always driven me from one thing to the next opportunity.

Every role I’ve ever had has brought me to where I am today. I’ve built up skills and experiences at each point that have helped me. I always believed in getting international experience and took opportunities to travel and work overseas throughout my career. I learned that marketing in the UK, versus Australia, New York or China—they are all built on the same foundations but are really very different on the ground and you learn every day.

What has been your greatest source of pride? What has helped you succeed?

I’ve had the privilege of working with some world class companies and brands, across Unilever, PepsiCo, McDonald’s and now GroupM. They value the power of their brands and always looked at the discipline of marketing as a business driver and a growth engine rather than a cost.

There is so much to gain from working at these huge professional multinational marketing organisations but within that, I’ve embraced breaking the rules at times because I’ve believed it was the right thing to do for the business. It takes a lot to back yourself and your team to take risks on a big idea, even if you think you might get fired! Taking risks isn’t about being reckless with a brand, it’s about thinking big, to get big results.

Being part of the transformation at McDonald’s, tasked with re-engaging Aussies with the brand has always been a something I’ve been proud of. We were the fastest growing McDonald’s region for three years and we did that through taking calculated, strategic risks on big ideas—and it paid off.

One of the greatest moments was the Australia Day activity where we changed the branding from McDonald’s to Maccas in Australia with DDB. That was about embracing Aussie culture, and McDonald’s place within it—even if it went against global brand guidelines.

What were your biggest mistakes and what would you do differently?

One of my biggest mistakes at PepsiCo was changing the Lipton Tea packaging. For something as simple as including the wording ‘Black Tea’ on the packaging, we crashed our sales overnight.

The lesson I learned from it though was not to be too internally focused and look at everything through the lens of the consumer. When most people in the market drink their tea with milk, calling it Black Tea on the packaging immediately meant people thought it wasn’t for them even though the product was exactly the same.

We made a mistake so we reversed the packaging change and spent millions on an apology campaign that made fun of us for making the mistake. We took accountability for it, and sales got back to normal in weeks.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I’d tell myself four things that I think balance key areas of professional and personal life.

One is to have more fun. Sometimes I look back and think I took it all too seriously when I was younger.

The second is to focus on your physical and mental wellbeing right from the start and get into good habits if you want to have a healthy personal life and an amazing career.

The third is invest more time early on at becoming very skilful at managing up and managing multiple stakeholders.

And finally, I think it’s never too early to start working on financial independence—outside of your career. I don’t think anyone talks to young people about their financial future enough, early enough, so I’d tell myself to read The Millionaire Next Door asap!

Very early on I had a terrible boss, who was very conservative and told me that they didn’t take risks or make bold choices because they had a family and a mortgage and couldn’t risk getting fired. I knew I wanted to be free to do work that I really believed in and not in fear of losing a salary.

What’s a hidden talent of yours? 

I think most people that know me know I love to sail, so this might not be a hidden talent, but one of the reasons I love it is that it’s about teamwork. I’m a very good tactician—which is the strategy of sailing and coaching the team and crew to work harmoniously together to make the right decisions.

Late entries for B&T’s 30 Under 30 Awards close Monday, 1 March 2021. You can submit your entry here.

The 30 Under 30 Awards will be held at The Factory Theatre, Sydney on Thursday, 15 April.

If you’d like more information on the event, head to this website.

Other key information

  • Late entries close Monday, 1 March 2021
  • People’s Choice Poll launches Wednesday, 3 March 2021
  • Judging period: Wednesday, 3 March to Friday, 19 March 2021
  • Shortlist announced Wednesday, 24 March 2021
  • Early bird tickets close at 11.59pm Wednesday, 2 April 2021
  • Full price tickets on sale at 12am Thursday, 3rd April 2021 (until sold out)
  • People’s Choice Poll closes Friday, 26 March 2021.

Thank you to our incredible sponsors for making this event possible.

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30 under 30 2021 GroupM mark lollback

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