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By Andrea Ruskin and Maddy Smith
As an Operations, Marketing and Procurement Executive Consultant and employee, Brennan discusses her journey from marketing to procurement and everything in between.
What They Didn’t Teach You
“A lot of people graduate and don’t even know what procurement is. Nobody seeks a procurement career as a youth out of college”… an area she is passionate about developing throughout her career
As an Operations, Marketing and Procurement Executive Consultant and employee for ad agencies and companies such as adidas, Mattel, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, Brennan discusses her journey from marketing to procurement, and everything in between.
Many say that the worlds of marketing and procurement are as distinct as they come. However, one look through Mary Ann Brennan’s resume will reveal that she has comfortably straddled and conquered both disciplines.
From working with brands such as adidas as Head of North America Procurement and entertainment brands Yeezy and Kanye West, as well as Mattel where she recalls flagging inclusivity concerns with the Western-centric look of the traditional Barbie doll in 2007, Brennan has undoubtedly worked in some titan roles in her time.
These foundations were set early in her career at Wells Fargo Bank where she demonstrated her grit and ability, when even in her early stage career as a Vice President of Marketing she was a high-achiever and partook in quarterly meetings with the CEO – an impressive feat considering her peers were typically 15 years her senior. It was clear that Brennan would be one to watch.
Brennan’s marketing career, which spanned 17 years, included leading and being a part of data-driven marketing efforts that have only become more prevalent in 2021. Such efforts, which were ahead of the curve in her time at Wells Fargo Bank, which featured ATM QR codes, mobile payment marketing and various eComm and online marketing work. As a marketer, she has also previously held roles at California Credit Union, Time Warner and Bank of America.
The move to marketing procurement
There’s an ongoing debate about what is the ideal experience for marketing procurement with a sound understanding of advertising and marketing scoring highly as the perfect background. So in 2007, Brennan brought all her years of marketing experience to bear when she made the shift to procurement through the Senior Director Global Procurement role at Mattel.
During this time, she oversaw most of the Global Strategic Sourcing team and nearly $1 billion of Global spend across Marketing/Advertising and IT categories. Brennan also built the indirect procurement teams for Europe and Latin America, building strong partnerships to mimic these teams in Asia Pacific.
So, having explored the world of marketing and procurement, her next challenge is the advertising landscape. Most recently, Brennan was contracted to the new role of COO at US-based independent advertising agency 9thWonder, where she contributed towards driving business transformation through brand, culture and growth initiatives resetting the stage for future success by implementing and executing on 30 strategic initiatives in one year.
Future talent – combining marketing and procurement in business education
In Brennan’s eyes, the disparity often discussed between marketing and marketing procurement boils down to education. This is an area which she is keen to implement and integrate into the broader education system, aspiring to inform students of the art and science of procurement – which she explains is largely neglected.
“The challenge we face in the world is that most marketers don’t know how to run a business and most procurement people don’t understand marketing. So there is this constant disconnect, but it is neither one’s fault”, she explains.
Brennan is a lecturer of Strategies and Business Management at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in LA, where she enlightens students about the art of procurement, how they can brand themselves and essentially how to be best prepared for the office and marketplace.
This encompasses preparation both for personal and professional life by teaching how to manage personal budgets, business strategy, company financials, marketing budgets, operations, organizational structures, interviewing techniques and negotiating strategies.
Brennan also helps students build their overall brands via tools such as 30 second commercials, bios, LinkedIn profiles, social media presence and resumes.
Discussing the undergraduate and graduate experience for both marketing and procurement, Brennan believes that there is not enough emphasis on the practical realities of running a business. While you may learn the basics of profit and loss, she highlights that there is a huge chasm between what is needed in practical reality.
As a result, Brennan says, “A lot of people graduate and don’t even know what procurement is. Nobody seeks a procurement career as a youth out of college”. This is something she also unpicks in her ANA article and US Copyright, ‘Has Indirect Procurement Earned a Seat at the Curriculum Table?’ and is an area she is passionate about developing through her own career.
This foundation of knowledge, she believes, will be essential in bridging the gap between marketing and procurement. “The challenge between the two disciplines is that [people] aren’t taught at the start of their career how to truly do their jobs well”, she explains. “So they also don’t understand each other well”.
Advertising meets marketing
After years of experience in marketing and procurement, Brennan has shifted to consulting with her first role on the “supplier side” in advertising.
Brennan is keen to point out the distinction between marketing and advertising; despite often being used synonymously outside of the department, she says that they play separate roles within a corporation.
While advertising is truly about “the art of advertising”, which is predominantly driven and owned by the creatives in the advertising and ad agency field, marketing is about knowing the marketplace and who you are trying to sell to.
Both work towards the same goal (a successful product), she says “advertising wants to do it in a way that really connects with the consumer and in a way that they want to receive it”, whereas marketing is mainly focused on the wider commercial goals sitting behind it.
What ties them together however, is the fact that they must both adapt to an ever-changing world. Regarding it as a space that needs to be highly personalised, Brennan explains how brands are no longer able to use broad brush messaging to reach audiences. Instead, content must be tailored and bespoke, thereby making the role of marketing and advertising increasingly challenging. “They need to try and be a step ahead of the world”, she admits.
Black Lives Matter – Brennan’s proudest career moment
From Brennan’s pioneering use of ATM QR codes as a data and tech geek through to her vision of marketing futurists and an integrated metaverse, Brennan has always been ahead of the curve in many respects throughout her career. The past year however, she regards as one of her proudest career moments.
In light of the George Floyd tragedy, which sparked the subsequent Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement across the USA and the globe, Brennan discusses how brands have had to quickly adapt and her involvement in implementing change.
After a discussion with her career coach 21 years ago, who used the African American adage, “each one, teach one”, Brennan explains she recently employed a new version of this phrase at agency 9thWonder.
The adage, she tells us, has historical roots with those who were enslaved. If one enslaved individual learnt to read, it was then that person’s responsibility to teach the next.
Brennan elaborates, “My mentor 21 years ago was an African American male”. That mentor was Vintage Foster, who is now CEO of fellow advertising agency AMF. He helped her extensively, and when asked how she could best repay him, his advice was to pass on the support to the next person in need. In essence, the lesson was the same. Each One. Teach One.
Brennan took this model of thinking and to the end of it added, “Be One. We Are One.”. By applying this, previously through her various mentoring and teaching encounters and most recently at her agency, this helped to widen the impact and helped to build a sense of unity at 9thWonder. She was able to employ this adage in a time of need to help shape the agency and customers’ own diversity programmes as well as support the BLM movement.
This framework clearly outlines what a brand stood for and captured a feeling that was running throughout the world.
Responding creatively to the problem at hand, Brennan explains that this is a moment in her career which she was immensely proud of. She already understood the nature of the issue, applying a pre-existing idea widely embraced by those who could relate to this. She helped bring about change in thinking, drive sensitivity training and to illuminate this long standing issue by encouraging one human at a time. “As an ad agency, having fellow members of the impacted community on our team, it was our duty to promote and stand behind this movement indefinitely”, she says.
Developments in Diversity
As a woman whose heritage reflects various indigenous and minority groups, Brennan believes that there is still a long way to go for diversity. While it is promising that there is now a movement within advertising to bring about change, she emphasises that advertising is limited in its progress as it has no ownership or control over the purse strings.
Nonetheless, she acknowledges the great strides that have been made at large.
Spending over eleven years at Mattel, she saw the shift of product, where Barbie not only became a much more diverse doll, transforming from the stereotypical blonde haired, blue-eyed doll to one that came in different sizes, races and with different jobs, better reflecting the real world, multi-cultural society that exists. She believes that this is an example of a company “accepting and growing” with the changing times.
Looking forward, she sees that there needs to be a collective movement to drive diversity and inclusion, and companies need to “put their money where their mouth is and deliver”. Brennan continues, “I am very excited for the generation to come and the movement [they will bring]”.
The metaverse and metadata. Understanding how they will impact our future
Looking at the pandemic, Brennan believes that there are three schools of thought. The first group are purely reactive and want things to go back to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible. The second says that normal is gone, and we must redefine what this ‘new normal’ looks like. Then the third and final group are the “believers in the future”.
Brennan believes she sits firmly in the final camp: “I think the metaverse is what I am focused on and how that will impact us in five, ten and twenty years time”, Brennan says. The metaverse is a collective shared space, which relies on a virtual space and the Internet of Things.
The Internet of things, otherwise known as IoT, describes physical objects which are embedded with sensors, processing ability, software and other technologies, that connect and exchange data with other devices and systems over the Internet or other communication networks. Whereas, the metaverse also includes cryptocurrency, blockchain technology and NFTs.
She continues, “We need to create another reality because it is going to change. I am in the process of a USA cross country project. I am seeing the impact on every major city. Retail is dead, historical buildings abandoned, foot traffic is low, restaurants are failing and people are finding other ways to live life. People are living in a bubble and it is significant”. She summarises, “we need to take life the way it was and find a new way to live it”.
Brennan thinks that more attention needs to be paid to metadata, which is data that provides information about other data.
Technology will ultimately play a huge role in this, a trend that Brennan has clearly already fully embraced. Ditching a laptop for work years ago, on most occasions she works solely from her phone and states, “I do not operate in the generation I was born in”. She is ahead of her time, and always looking forward.
What it takes to be an impressive leader
Being a futurist is also something Brennan sees as a crucial aspect to strong leadership. In order to keep the advertising juices flowing, leaders therefore need to be forward thinking and pioneering. Hence, she believes a common theme amongst leaders is that they have tapped into the future on some level, taken that idea and massaged it into something original.
Having dealt with almost every CEO of a media or creative agency in the last 14 years, Brennan expresses that she has worked with some impressive leaders, who truly care about nurturing people’s nature. As an aspiring coach and mentor to all of her employees, this is something that she has incorporated into her own leadership style.
Part of this involves nurturing a culture where people feel heard and she recalls another coach of hers telling her the proverb, “small hinges open big doors”. This essentially encourages leaders to listen to those around them to drive movement, stemming from Changemaster’s Carol Keers’ book Seeing Yourself as I Do.
One glance at Brennan’s achievements clearly demonstrates that she is an inspiring woman in many respects. Having worked in a number of global corporations, as well as the ability to do an operations and finance overhaul at companies with less than 500 employees, she has a deep understanding of how teams work and what makes marketing and procurement teams thrive.
To that arsenal Brennan has now added the knowledge of running a company effectively, successful business transformation and how to build a financially sound organisation.
Brennan explains that she is a futurist and loves running a business and the responsibility of growing and nurturing talent that comes with it. “I love having to wake up and think about what’s happening today and tomorrow, but also ten and twenty years down the road”, she adds. The future, although scary for many of us, is actually what keeps Brennan’s spark alive.
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