The Mars Agency is committed to investing in and addressing the imbalance in the industry

Sally Tobin and Rebecca Jackson delineate their strategies for creating balance and equal opportunities in the workplace

by India Fizer , AdForum

The Mars Agency
Marketing/Creative Services
Southfield, United States
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Sally Tobin
Founder & Managing Director The Mars Agency ANZ

Rebecca Jackson
Managing Director, UK The Mars Agency

We had the opportunity to chat with the lovely Sally Tobin and Rebecca Jackson of The Mars Agency on improving diversity, equity and inclusion in the industry. 

Sally is the Founder & Managing Director of XPO:The Mars Agency - ANZ. Over the last 10 years, she has built XPO Brands into a multi-million-dollar agency that delivers first-class, end-to-end, shopper, customer, experiential and commerce marketing services to Australia and New Zealand's leading brands. Sally’s passion for pioneering innovation has led her to create multiple tech platforms that drive operational efficiency for the company and clients.

Becky leads clients in Europe to drive total business impact. She helps build growth - driving collaborations between brands and retailers in order to create unique marketing programs that satisfy the needs of shoppers — at every customer that matters to their clients. 


Can you tell us a bit about your role and your journey to arriving there?

Tobin: As Founder and Managing Director of XPO: The Mars Agency, my journey has been a rollercoaster moving at a fast pace. While I technically have been in the same role for the last 10 years, my responsibilities have changed and evolved as the business has grown – although remaining centered on the core elements of managing the commercial business and our people.

I started working very early in life, getting my first job at 10 and moving quickly into running a family business when I was 17. I would say that I’ve developed my own strengths by filling in the gaps I noticed around me, leaning in to complete the picture and be whatever was needed that day to get the job done. That ability and the hustle I learned from my mum — who was an amazing entrepreneur — have put me on a career journey which continues to evolve and keep me inspired (most days)!


Jackson: I am Managing Director of the London office at The Mars Agency, an award-winning, independently owned, global commerce marketing practice. Having grown up in an advertising household (my Dad had his own agency), I knew it would be hard work, but I’ve always been fascinated by brands and buyer behavior, so it felt like the obvious career choice. 

My first proper job was at a kids marketing agency, starting as a research assistant before moving into client leadership. I have worked in a broad range of agencies during my career, from small independent outfits to global network shops, before joining The Mars Agency in March 2011 as a Business Director. In my time here, I have partnered with some amazing brands and with some outstanding talent. The hub of our International Markets business, the London office, has a close-knit team of over 30 people. I am passionate about providing our people with the environment and opportunities that will let them shine.


What barriers do women still face in our industry and how can we challenge them?

Jackson: Sadly, I think there are still some deep-seated sexist attitudes in our industry which quieten the voices and hinder the progress of women. These attitudes have led to women lacking the confidence and self-belief of their male counterparts, perpetuating the problem and ultimately leading to ongoing inequalities. We have made progress over the past 20 years, and there is now greater visibility of women in leadership, but in truth we still are drastically underrepresented. We need to call out biases where they exist, continue to push for greater inclusion and diversity in leadership, and be each other’s allies. 

Another critical barrier is the limited understanding of, and support for, people returning to work following maternity leave and trying to juggle demanding careers with parenthood. As well as caring for their families at home, women generally also do more to support employee well-being and foster inclusion in the workplace, but this vital work largely goes unrecognized and unrewarded. We need to fight to keep flexible working patterns for those who need it and recognize the importance of caregiving in and out of work. 

I am fortunate enough to work for an agency that is investing behind addressing the imbalance. The Mars Agency supported me in my return to work and allowed me the flexibility I needed to be more present (physically and mentally) for my children, but it is tough. I am lucky enough to have a very supportive partner with whom I share the load, but I know this is not the case for many, many women.


Tobin: Women continue to face real boundaries and prejudices in the workplace. Personally, I have witnessed and even experienced the obstacles that arise as women try to manage the realities of balancing their careers with the real responsibilities of being a mother — while also dealing with the pressure from outside perceptions about how they should balance the two.

Women must often take a step back in their careers due to their absence from the workforce during childbearing/rearing years. This creates a cycle which is hard to undo: These women inevitably miss out on experience and career opportunities, which results in the gender pay-gap increasing and more males rising to the top. Shouldn’t we be creating a better environment for women to succeed during these years? 

I do not believe there is a simple fix, and I don’t have the answers on how to best challenge the issue. I do think, however, that it’s important for organizations to advocate for balance in the workplace and create equal opportunities across genders; they need to place more woman in key roles on the leadership team to balance the perceptions and policies that impact their culture.


How do you use your position to build equitable teams that are diverse and balanced?

Jackson: In my role, I am very aware of the need to continually progress towards a better workplace that welcomes, embraces, and uplifts all employees.

We have established DEI and “WeLead” committees whose aim is to foster a more inclusive environment that will be reflected in the way we work and the work we create. It is my responsibility to ensure that our international operation actually lives by this. I hope to bring about positive change and progress through my own behavior and attitudes, and through our recruitment processes and operational practices.

I recognize that I can and must use my position within the Senior Leadership team to represent the views of our people. I am also passionate about giving everyone a platform to have a voice within our London office and the broader organization, to ensure we continually build the confidence and profile of all who work here.


Who are your female advertising icons/role models and why?

Jackson: I have been fortunate to work directly with some outstanding women. I have learned something from every one of them about tenacity, resilience, and vision. Women currently working in the industry who I follow and admire are Nicola Mendelsohn, Natalie Graeme, and Shelley Macintyre, as they all are passionate about finding and leading a better, more equal way to do things.

Another trailblazer who deserves massive kudos is Marilyn Barnett, who founded The Mars Agency over 50 years ago. She assuredly encountered significant prejudice and resistance as a woman — and working mother — in a male-dominated world, but she rose above those challenges to build a successful agency, breaking boundaries in the process.


Tobin: I get to work with many women who I find inspirational and worth modelling on a daily basis. They aren’t well-known names in marketing and advertising, but they represent something important to me. 

Unfortunately, at this moment I quite literally can’t think of a single advertising role model who is a woman! That is likely an output of our industry being so male dominated in the early years, which made most of the iconic “gurus” who are quoted men.

That might sound a little inward-focused, given that I am part of The Mars Agency. But it makes me even prouder and more impressed to work for an agency that was founded by a woman over 50 years ago — a woman who is making an epic stamp on my world, and on my team’s world, today. That is kind of cool.

Whilst women don't dominate the ranks of advertising icons historically, it is on the current generation to rewrite the textbooks for a world that no longer wants to hear a single gender’s point of view. I look around my office, and our employee mix is predominantly women; these women need mentors. Our target audience is half women, and they, too, need the marketing targeted at them to be heavily influenced by women. This requires education in the marketing sector to be focused on providing a balanced viewpoint that will allow us to see women succeeding and influencing the future of our industry.