Digital Mavericks 2016: The women shaking up digital marketing

Meet the new breed of Digital Mavericks: the women driving digital development on their own terms. Defying the trend that sees so many drop out of the digital sector mid-career, these innovators are making digital a source for social good as well as profit. Many come from non-marketing backgrounds and credit that with helping them to 'think differently'. While they are a varied group, they do share some things in common - interests outside of digital that give them a unique slant on their working life and a commitment to helping others succeed. Our panel of judges selected nine of the best from a strong list of nominations.



It is no surprise that in the year of Pokémon Go and (sometimes errant) chatbots, one of our Digital Mavericks is working at the cutting edge of augmented reality and artificial intelligence.

Mikela Eskenazi was promoted only last month to brand partnerships director at AR and AI platform Blippar. She has been a key player in its global growth. Joining in 2013, she quickly convinced the start-up to go international and expand into Turkey, and has subsequently been at the heart of its brand partnerships. 

"We turn their products into digital assets and transform shopping behaviour"

Which is perhaps surprising for someone who was brought up in Switzerland and initially went into banking because, as she says, "that’s what you’re drawn to when you come from Switzerland".

But time spent in Singapore exposed Eskenazi to a vibrant start-up culture and, on her return to Europe, she experimented with her own platform linking beauty brands to consumers. "It didn’t work out in the end but it was a great journey," she admits. Having come across one-year-old Blippar in 2013, she could see AR’s potential and, being half-Turkish, dived head first into the Turkish expansion project. "Turkey is a super tech-savvy country, so adoption came really fast," Eskenazi says. "We find the companies that are ready to innovate. People see what can be done and you get a domino effect."

Back at the London headquarters, Eskenazi became a major player in the company’s brand partnerships team and now leads multimillion-dollar global accounts including Pepsi, General Mills, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble, helping them introduce AR and visual browsing as a core part of their marketing strategies.

"[We] turn their products into digital assets and transform shopping behaviour," Eskenazi explains. "For example, with P&G’s Max Factor, all of the 500 products are interactive, so you can scan a product and immediately get reviews of that product, tips, video."

Eskenazi is something of an AR evangelist and has invested time and effort into speaking at conferences and events. She is equally passionate about helping women succeed in the tech sector.

Through groups such as Levo, Develop-Her and GeekGirl Meetup, Eskenazi mentors, encourages and supports women looking for a career in the tech industry: "Tech can sometimes seem scary but I just want to get more women into it because it’s an exciting world." 

And excited she certainly is, especially when talking about the innovations to come, such as AR mass adoption, a blending of AR and VR, and much more. "Pokémon Go made an amazing noise but this is just the beginning," Eskenazi says. "And it means mobile digital advertising will become more exciting with a whole new door open for advertisers."

Her decision not to stay in banking is certainly a bonus for an industry so in need of strong female role models.


Ask many entrepreneurs and creatives where their light-bulb moment happened and the word "cafe" comes up surprisingly often. So it was for Digital Mums founders Kathryn Tyler and Nikki Cochrane.

Digital Mums trains women seeking to return to work as freelance social media managers, upskilling them for digital companies that can feel like alien worlds to those who have spent significant time out of the workplace in the midst of the digital revolution. 

"Maternal unemployment is a big and growing problem," Cochrane says. "And the digital skills gap is huge for businesses. We were keen to set up something that was values-driven and looked at the problems. Digital Mums is a simple concept that solves them both."

"300 mums have graduated (with 200 still in training) and 85% of those have found work that they attribute to the course"

The light-bulb moment came when Tyler, who was head of digital at the Innovation Unit, and Cochrane, who worked in social media and as a personal assistant to the founders of M&C Saatchi, got together to brainstorm business ideas. One day, while sitting in an empty cafe in Hackney, they wondered why another one nearby was buzzing. The answer? Its social media engagement. 

Cue intensive research, months of working 24/7 and the conclusion that mums needed help in upskilling to digital, wanted a flexible working life and would be trusted by businesses to run their social media presence.

"Smaller businesses don’t have the time to do it themselves but our research showed there weren’t many qualified social media specialists because it’s such a new industry," Tyler explains.

These businesses needed flexible, affordable specialists, and Digital Mums gives them that. The learning curve has been huge, including Digital Mums morphing from a social media agency model into a pure training operation and two financing rounds that led to investment from people including Cochrane’s former M&C Saatchi bosses, David Kershaw and Jeremy Sinclair.

Of course, Tyler and Cochrane have not only invested in an idea. The quality of the training is key – the completion rate currently stands at 95%. Using project-based learning, peer-to-peer work and online and flexible working, Digital Mums has built a training model that develops skills as students learn while they work with real businesses.

The students also join a growing alumni community. "It’s an amazing group of mums that offer support so when they pitch to clients, need holiday cover or help with creative ideas, they’re not just solo freelancers," Cochrane says.

The training costs about £2,000 (a newer course for less skilled mums is cheaper) and 10% of the company’s profits are dedicated to bursaries. "That money is locked in to support low-
income mums," Tyler says. "There’s a lot of people who can’t afford to pay."

The business is just over two years old but is already looking at going international and introducing new courses. According to Digital Mums, 300 mums have graduated (with 200 still in training) and 85% of those have found work that they attribute to the course. Tyler and Cochrane wanted to start something that made a difference. It looks like they have succeeded.


By day, Scarlett Montanaro is a mild-mannered digital creative working on brands such as Sainsbury’s and Malibu at AnalogFolk. But after hours (and occasionally in hours, with the agency’s permission), she transforms into a social enterprise pioneer.

Her belief is that "the industry can innovate our way to a better world" and she is putting that into action with socially impactful projects that have really made a mark. 

The big idea last year was Crack & Cider, founded with friend and business partner Charlotte Cramer, to make charitable giving "more personal". Inspired by the fact that many people do not give money to the homeless for fear it would be spent unwisely (on "crack and cider", as one rough sleeper said), Crack & Cider allows customers to buy essentials such as jackets and backpacks, and it delivers the products to shelters across London. 

"We had a start-up attitude – test and learn"

"When you’ve got such a strong insight, the creative idea just falls out of it. It was a shop for the homeless – a simple, clean idea," Montanaro says. "The name was contentious on purpose and we could do it because it wasn’t for a client, it was our own thing. You have to be brave, accept some people won’t like it and don’t dilute the idea too much."

In the run-up to Christmas last year, the project virtually took over her life: "AnalogFolk were great – they could see me sat at my desk stamping the gift cards and doing stuff I needed to do, but nobody really said anything."

The duo’s innovative way of using ecommerce means that "people are able to directly affect the problem they walk past every single day, without worrying about where their cash will be spent", according to Montanaro. 

Not only has it been a commercial success but it was a publicity magnet both at home and abroad. Currently moving towards becoming a lifestyle brand with a consumer product line, Crack & Cider is expanding to San Francisco with the help of a grant from social entrepreneur charity UnLtd.

"We had a start-up attitude – test and learn," Montanaro explains. "If it goes wrong, move on, try again. We’ve got consumers out there who want to throw money at us and we’ve created a brand that people trust out of nowhere in six months."

So does she see herself running a full-time start-up in the future? "I’d love to… eventually," she says. "I need to learn more stuff first. There’s always so much to learn."

For now, she is continuing with Crack & Cider, carrying on with the day job and encouraging more young women into the industry via her membership of the Young Creative Council. It sounds hectic, but it’s all in a day’s work for Montanaro.


Hannah Bailey is one woman working very hard to bring the physical and digital worlds together – with a bang. 

Digital marketer, content creator, founder of PR agency Neon Stash, advocate for women in action sports and contact point for action sportswomen, she is an ambassador for the digital age.

And whether consulting for brands, providing skaters for campaigns, attending sports events or working with international children’s charity Skateistan, Bailey really does seem to be living her dream.

"I found snowboarding in my early twenties," she explains. "It was amazing and I just wanted to find a job within the industry and commit some of my working life to help push action sports for women."

"In the past, action sports video content was created by men about men, but change is both empowering women and creating brand opportunities"

A career in sports communications led to Bailey founding Neon Stash in 2012, evolving the agency into the go-to place for anyone considering women’s action sports projects. She now works with brands such as Monster Energy, Mountain Dew, O’Neill, Howies and Red Bull as they seek to ride the women’s action sports wave and use empowering role models for their marketing.

"We’re getting so many opportunities and more interest in featuring women and girl skaters and women’s sport," Bailey says, citing a campaign for fashion brand Jigsaw. "When they got in touch, what was exciting was that they wanted to use girl skaters and could see that it would be an inspiring angle. They used three young girls who are part of the skate community in the campaign and also interviewed them for Jigsaw online."

Brands often discover Neon Stash because of the non-stop publicity drive Bailey conducts around women’s action sports, and her digital activity is key to this. Having set up her own magazine, The Free Life, this year, she teamed up with digital storytelling platform Steller to display the content in a new format to bring it to a wider audience. 

Bailey also dived into video. "I produced Brits on Board, a short video series about the grass-roots female snowboard scene in the UK, with a sideline competition that encouraged crews of girls to produce their own edits," she says. And she works with Mahfia. TV, a US-based digital platform for women’s action sports culture, to ensure the UK and European scenes get a look-in.

"For action sports, video and digital content is really the way to show the strength and the activity because it’s a moving activity," Bailey explains.

And the current deluge of female-originated content is a huge step forward. In the past, action sports video content was created by men about men, but change is both empowering women and creating brand opportunities. "Skateboarding is associated with teenage boys," Bailey says. "But when brands see there are more female eyes on the sport, and more purchase power, they’re interested."

All of which helps her master plan. "I want to reset what a girl or woman can do," Bailey says. And that is? "Absolutely anything!"


Natasha Hanckel-Spice is helping brands stay on top of the light-speed rate of innovation in the digital sector while also widening the technical and creative talent pool available to the industry.

"60% or 70% of people in the creative industries get their job through someone they know"

A key figure at Livity, Hanckel-Spice is part of the agency’s Digify initiative that immerses young people in digital skills and gets them placements. In addition, she works with Pitch It! to help disadvantaged young people get into the creative industries, and with Ada’s List, the networking women’s group committed to changing the tech industry.

Having networked her way into Social@Ogilvy in Sydney, she moved to London in 2012 solely to seek a job at Livity – and succeeded. So it is no surprise that Hanckel-Spice understands how networks, just as much as cutting-edge digital skills, are important both for individuals and the industry as a whole. 

"Pitch It! is built around networks because 60% or 70% of people in the creative industries get their job through someone they know. So many people in the industry come from the same narrow background," she explains.

Through a number of roles (currently as business development account director), Hanckel-Spice has been instrumental in Livity’s own transformation from a youth agency into a digital shop. She has a passion for industry-changing digital practice and wants to increase team knowledge and confidence for all things social.

Hanckel-Spice also played a key role in Livity winning and developing Barclays LifeSkills into one of the agency’s biggest accounts. "I helped Barclays hand control of one of their social media platforms over to young people and moved them to having a youth voice in everything the LifeSkills team does," she says. "They knew that just sounding like a bank talking to young people wasn’t right and that the youth market has a lot to teach the older market. 

"Brands can’t ‘own’ the youth audience but should think more like it, gaining access to it, getting a small bit of their attention and working out how you play the value role in that access space."

And while many agencies are still scratching their heads over how to work with Snapchat, Hanckel-Spice promotes the marketing value of the platform’s "here today, gone tomorrow" snapshots of how young people’s physical lives play out digitally: "Working out what young people want and working with them to create campaigns – that’s key."

In fact, Hanckel-Spice is a living example of how digital can interact seamlessly with the physical world. As a creative side project, she retrained in textiles and founded Code Knit – converting text into binary sequences then showcasing those sequences in a machine-knitted piece that can be "decoded" using ASCII. "Digital is creative. Without any creative thought you’ll just do the same things over and over again," Hanckel-Spice says.


Working at City Hall and driving its social media transformation may not have been on Natasha Hutchinson’s mind when she studied philosophy at university. But she believes philosophy helped her future career.

"It helped me think differently," she says. "Philosophy gives you a grounding in logic and reason and the ability to see things differently, especially when you have to understand very diverse viewpoints."

"We reach around 2.5 million Londoners monthly and our engagement rates are as high as 40%"

Having experimented with coding and building her own website aged 14, it was inevitable that a digital career beckoned. Hutchinson landed an internship at mobile ad company Adfonic (now Byyd): "With start-ups, if you show initiative and some skill, you get to run with it."

And run she did. She moved to the Mayor’s Office in 2013 and shook things up at City Hall, where 80 social media accounts and departments not working together meant a confusing digital "personality" for the organisation.

"It’s a challenge driving an organisation forward when you’ve got all different levels of experience," Hutchinson says. "The biggest challenges were breaking down silos, getting people working together [and] challenging assumptions about what government should or should not be doing online."

Hutchinson ran workshops (called Content ’n’ Cake – "we assumed cake would bring people along and they’d stay for the content") with teams who were not used to working together. They planned social activity from data-driven air-quality campaigns to a cycling festival featuring the mayor on a penny-farthing. 

"Now I run a monthly group where we discuss how to promote each other’s work and develop ways to be innovative," Hutchinson says. "From celebrating London’s parks on Instagram to using infographics to make sense of housing stats – with little or no budget. Londoners have better ways to interact with us." And those 80 social media accounts? "We have 16 now," she says. 

During this year’s London mayoral elections, Hutchinson showed how her work fed into a more powerful service for Londoners: "We used things like gifs, Twitter cards and video – all the stuff that hadn’t been used for an election before."

On voting day, there were roving reporters in different count centres (after reassuring nervous senior management about what would and would not be shared). "We had people on the ground Periscoping the results and the mayor’s acceptance speech, which hadn’t been done before," Hutchinson adds.

And how does she measure her success? "It was the highest-ever turnout for a mayoral election and the feedback we got was great," she says. "We reach around 2.5 million Londoners monthly and our engagement rates are as high as 40%. Instagram has even used us as a best-practice example."


I interviewed somewhere quite a while ago and was told I didn’t have enough testosterone to be an entrepreneur. I want to prove them wrong every day." That is one of the guiding principles that carries Holly Clarke through her working life.

Another is her passion for all things digital. As the first kid on her street to own a computer and with a career that has been 100% digital, the D word has figured heavily in Clarke’s life. But what about the M word – where does her "maverick" status come from?

Her current title of EMEA marketing manager may not sound particularly maverick-esque but, since she works for travel-industry disruptor Airbnb, that status could be almost a given. But her independent thought and lack of orthodoxy are about more than just where she works now. Clarke did not follow a traditional route into marketing and, with a history of working at start-ups (some, such as Unruly, were successful; some less so), she thinks differently as a matter of course.

Clarke’s boss, Alex Dimiziani, global marketing director at Airbnb, describes her as "a rogue in the marketing team" and hails her "start-up mentality" that has helped Airbnb’s marketing journey as it transforms from another tech newbie into a huge part of the travel-sector establishment.

"I’ve never had any formal marketing training so I’ve just learnt on the job," Clarke says. "I have the start-up mindset, which is I just assume I don’t know how to do something until I do it and I learn."

And she helps others learn too. Progressing through several roles at Airbnb, Clarke has been a champion for social, especially since taking on her current post in January 2015. She has built the foundations of a team that can truly engage with the community. Dimiziani says she has transformed the effectiveness and visibility of Airbnb’s social campaigns and bolstered its click-through rate.

Clarke has also made an impact internally, establishing a partnership with the EMEA customer experience team, enabling those dedicated to solving challenges via social platforms to lead all inbound engagement. This entails communicating the importance of collaboration, creating team-agnostic guidelines, developing and embedding new team structures and skills, and sharing processes and tools. This way of working has now been adopted by the global Airbnb social team. 

"When I joined four years ago, the company was in a very rapid growth phase but hadn’t really got a social presence," Clarke says. "Airbnb is an inherently social company so it seemed like we were missing probably the best marketing channel we should have. I pushed really heavily for increasing our social presence and for video, which went from being very small adspend to being incredibly large."

But whether it is social, video or traditional channels, she believes that innovation and creativity are always the watchwords: "You have to look at things in a different way. Everything that we do tries to be new or progressive or different from what’s gone before. I like to try to reinvent the wheel each time. You don’t get creativity from having ‘been there, done that, seen that’."


Start-up experience is almost a must-have for our Digital Mavericks and Russian-born Polina Melamed, who moved to the UK aged 13, got her first taste of start-ups and digital marketing while at university. "It was love at first sight," she admits.

Now a senior account manager at digital agency Essence, she learned the ropes with travel start-up Ostrovok.ru. "They didn’t even have a product at the time," she recalls. "I started doing everything from investor comms to wire-framing, email marketing, Google analytics and organic social."

"Essence is the only agency based outside of Russia with such large-scale operations in the market"

Joining Essence three years ago, Melamed’s first work for Google made the most of her experience in Russia as she helped the brand navigate what can be a tough market for non-Russian companies. "The market represented a massive untapped opportunity," she says. "However, there were a number of business and cultural barriers preventing non-Russian advertisers from accessing the market – status-quo practices that were creating a vicious circle of mistrust between publishers, agencies and clients." 

Melamed spearheaded the establishment of Google’s digital marketing practices in Russia and played her own small part in helping Russia’s digital media market on its journey of modernisation. "Being the youngest person – and often the only woman – around the negotiation table with suppliers was a hurdle," she says. "I overcame this by developing an educational approach to publisher engagement [and] my own negotiation style."

Within two years, Russia became Google’s third-biggest European market in advertising dollar terms and Melamed was leading a team running major campaigns, including the award-winning "Talk to Google". 

"Essence is the only agency based outside of Russia with such large-scale operations in the market," she points out. 

Clearly, Melamed has not allowed youth or gender to hold her back. And she wants to make sure it does not hold others back either. "I’m working with Girls in Tech London [now DevelopHer] to support female entrepreneurs and I advise management students," Melamed says. "I strongly believe knowledge-sharing beyond the traditional classroom will give girls the confidence to pursue any career path of their choice."

And her own career path of choice? One day, perhaps, start-ups, incubators or accelerators – she would like to help them get it right. "There’s a lot of talent but many don’t develop their full potential," she explains. "They focus on driving traffic. The mistake is nobody knows the product or who you are, so why should they trust you? There’s too big a gap between all the excitement in digital and traditional marketing acumen and business thought. Everything is lean and fast, and a brand strategy is too slow – but if you don’t have that, you don’t have a sense of direction."

Not that this is something we could ever accuse Melamed of. This is one Digital Maverick whose sense of direction is very clear.