A Zenith lifer (with just a brief stint at Publicis Media in the middle) Sannah Rogers has risen from a graduate planner-buyer at Zed Media to the ranks of managing director of Zenith UK – a role she was appointed to in 2019. She was amongst Campaign’s Hot in 2019 top 10 media planners around the same time, having been responsible for creating greater synergies between planning and activation, notably in digital performance and leading on some of Zenith’s top accounts.
Since taking on her current role, Sannah’s helped lead ‘The ROI Agency’ through pitch wins including Uswitch, Birds Eye and Durex and handle media planning for campaigns that made an impact for brands from TikTok to CALM and TENA to Aviva.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Sannah.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what were you like as a kid?
Sannah> I grew up in Hamburg, Germany and was in fact there when the Berlin Wall came down. I would have been 10 at the time but I remember it as a very defining, historic moment. I went to an international school there, but I desperately wanted to go to a boarding school after reading Malory Towers.
What was I like as a child? My grandfather once described me as precocious, but my dad would say he was mistaken, and it was confidence he was observing.
I remember being very energetic and competitive – I loved games of any kind. I think I was also quite an empathetic kid. Even today, I can be cheering emphatically for England one minute, only to feel desperately sad for the other team when we triumph!
LBB> How did you first get into media and what was it like in those early years?
Sannah> I started at Zed Media, part of Zenith, as a graduate. In fact, I was Zed Media’s first ever graduate. I remember it was Lucas Brown (now at Total Media) that interviewed me. He told me I’d be working on Scottish Widows but also Zanussi, so I started talking about how much I loved cars… I guess I must have done better in the other areas of the interview!
As a graduate, a couple of my responsibilities were faxing (I would literally stand by the fax machine for hours) and opening/locking up office. Something that seems very foreign today. Something that hasn’t changed however is data-led panning – as a DR planner/buyer we were using (call centre) data to optimise our print schedules and power negotiations.
Zed was a small agency based on Scala Street, so long lunches were spent at Navarro’s followed by The Hope pub. But my fondest memories of the early years are from my time at Zenith in Paddington, where I made friends for life.
LBB> What were some early moments that helped you understand the career you were in?
Sannah> There’s not really one or a few moments.
I realised pretty early on that media was an industry built on relationships – with colleagues, media owners and clients. My best work was always linked to my strongest relationships – from creative partnerships that promoted the release of Shrek 2, through to tough annual negotiations on behalf of L’Oréal.
It wasn’t until I was a manager that I realised how important it is to have stakeholders to support your career development. Senior people who speak positively about you behind your back.
LBB> What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given others?
Sannah> Don’t succumb to status. My most inspiring leaders have been the ones that stay grounded, involved in the work and are happy to take up any task to get the job done.
LBB> What do you think are the key questions that need answering in the media planning landscape right now?
Sannah> Media fragmentation and the proliferation of new digital media channels means media planning is much more complicated and sophisticated today, but the challenge remains the same. How can we most effectively reach our audience?
As the AV landscape continues to change, and factors like viewability and a migrating TV audience become important, understanding where this best quality reach lies is critical.
Finding new ways to solve these (same) old problems is where our focus is at Zenith. Chasing the shiny new trend or innovation simply doesn’t compare to the significance of getting this right.
LBB> What have been the interesting ways that Covid has affected media? Any surprises?
Sannah> The pandemic has accelerated trends that were coming, specifically in the commerce space with the rise of the digital customer, quick commerce, convergence of retail media…
But, two things happened that I don’t think would have ever happened without the pandemic:
1) QR codes… a necessary evil during the pandemic.
2) ‘Real’ flexible working. There was always a shift to flexibility working and the pandemic certainly accelerated that trend, but I think it did more than that. I don’t believe we would be discussing two days in the office as normal practice even 10 years from now. People living in the Lakes with their office in London? No way.
LBB> What have you been particularly proud of working on recently at Zenith and why?
Sannah> Last year we worked with our client Carling and their partner CALM to help normalise conversations around mental health and give young men the confidence to seek CALM’s support.
Over lockdown, helplines saw a dramatic rise in demand and mental health challenges were on the rise. Double the number of men were having suicidal thoughts – so we worked with Carling and CALM to set up Team Talks: a series of passionate, honest and open talks from footballing idols. These talks acted as a way to get men talking when there were no pubs open and no live football – a space they’d usually talk to their mates in.
LBB> What kinds of media strategy would you love to see more of in 2022?
Sannah> I’d like to see more big, brave changes to media strategy. At Zenith, we help our clients to make bold moves and take better paths, rather than just making slight changes to last year’s media plan. When we’re brave with media strategy, that’s when the rapid, spectacular growth happens for clients.
LBB> How did you adapt at home to the realities of 2020/2021? Any new hobbies or skills as we emerge from the pandemic?
Sannah> One thing I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to is pitching in slippers! In terms of hobbies, I’ve restarted my love affair with painting – it gives my eyes a rest from the screen. I’ve also rekindled my love for camping in the UK.
LBB> What's been keeping you happy and inspired this year?
Sannah> Although we lost physical connections during the pandemic, we also found new virtual ways to come together more regularly and create ongoing dialogue. At Zenith we adapted, found new ways to connect – despite covid, there’s been a real sense of coming together as an agency.
One way I felt this happen was through our reverse mentoring scheme. I’ve had two mentees now; firstly Nate Akodu (PPC exec) and more recently Lucinda Dodd (planning exec). I probably wouldn’t have come across either if it wasn’t for the scheme, yet it was incredibly valuable to spend time with both of these brilliant individuals. Not only did they help me see the agency – our strengths and weaknesses - from a different view, but they taught me that we can find support from anywhere across the agency. These sessions helped me to pause and reflect on what was going on around me, and in and amongst all the craziness, this was a very special thing.