Eoin Rodgers has built a career for himself within one agency. Much like Drake, he started at the bottom and now he’s managing director of TMW Business, the B2B arm of integrated creative agency TMW UNLIMITED.
Having spent many years as a planner before he took the MD job in 2021, he’s naturally a proponent of basing marketing decisions on reliable insights – something that’s particularly deeply embedded in the DNA of the agency group he’s part of. UNLIMITED’s Human Understanding Lab contains over 100 neuroscientists, behavioural scientists and data scientists. So if Eoin wants insight, his agency has plenty of ways to get it.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Eoin to better understand him and the work TMW Business is doing.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what sort of kid were you? How did you feel about advertising?
Eoin> I grew up in a tiny fishing village south of Belfast. It was quite rural – a more-pubs-than-shops type place. I grew up quickly and was very independent. I had lots of jobs alongside my school studies. I’m not sure that in my early years I really knew what advertising or marketing was.
My first career inspiration came from watching Ally McBeal, which made me desperately want to be a lawyer. Even then, before marketing had appeared on my radar, the careful use of language, the power of persuasion and the idea of working in a small, close-knit business was shaping my future.
I firmly believed that the career I wanted didn’t exist in Northern Ireland, so my goal was to study in England. I was accepted into Aston Business School in Birmingham (one of the best business schools in the country at the time) and started my journey towards a marketing career there.
LBB> What was the most important moment in putting you on your career path? (I'm from Bracknell by the way... I noticed you worked there.)
Eoin> I was lucky enough to enrol on a degree course that included an industrial placement. For my ‘year in industry’, I moved to Bracknell to work as a marketing executive for Fujitsu Siemens Computers. While working there, I met an inspirational agency leader, Debbie Bough, and instantly wanted her job. I told her as much over coffee when I finished my degree and she offered me a graduate position in the agency. And the rest, as they say, is history.
LBB> Are there any lessons that you wish you'd learned earlier?
Eoin> It was only later in my career when I truly understood what a work-life balance was all about. Working in this industry comes with an expectation of time investment. I was willing to invest and, coupled with excitement about building a career, I asked a lot of myself. I expected more and more and struggled to work effectively with the people and teams around me to prioritise and delegate. That meant my evenings and weekends were rarely my own. That takes a toll.
I adopt the persona of fixer, which means I love to help. Not wanting to see anyone struggle or take on the tough stuff means I put myself in the firing line. But understanding that helping doesn’t mean doing was a real revelation for me and one that paved the way to me becoming a more effective manager and leader.
LBB> What's the thing you're most proud of in your career so far?
Eoin> Rather than a single accomplishment, I think I’m most proud of my journey. I’m a graduate success story in its purest sense. Starting at the bottom, I worked hard to get where I am today. Now, 15 years later, I lead the agency I grew up in. It just goes to show that you can have a fulfilling and successful career without jumping around between jobs and businesses. Throughout my career, those around me expected me to jump ship and head off to a London agency. But, I think, when you find a home where you have passion for a business and a group of wonderful, talented people, what reason is there to look elsewhere?
LBB> When you shifted from a strategy bod to a more general management role last year, how was that change?
Eoin> I’ve been a member of the agency leadership team since 2016 and was part of the team that took the business through acquisition in 2019 and integration with our new owner, UNLIMITED. We’re now the B2B arm of integrated creative agency TMW Unlimited. My leading the agency has been an anticipated and well-planned move, working alongside our outgoing MDs who fine-tuned the business to a very healthy state before finally handing over the reins.
In moving from my role as strategy director, I’ve really missed the opportunity to deep-dive into clients’ businesses and build the trusted connections that my successors in the strategy and client services team now do. I’m still connected with many of our clients and regularly get involved in new client engagements.
LBB> What's new about the new vision for TMW Business with you in leadership?
Eoin> The agency is all about using human understanding. We do that through UNLIMITED’s Human Understanding Lab. ‘The Lab’ is a team of over 100 boffins: neuroscientists, behavioural scientists and data scientists. Basically, lots of doctors who couldn’t help you if you got sick. What they can do is help us with using science to better understand people – their beliefs, emotions, motivations and behaviours. That’s a powerful thing for our clients, especially in B2B where there’s a lot of talk about understanding audiences, but not much substance or rigour going into doing it. We’re changing the game in that respect.
LBB> What are your most exciting plans for the agency?
Eoin> We’re developing cutting edge products and tools that will allow clients to access insights and human understanding more easily. As the world becomes more tech driven, customer journeys get more fragmented and everyone is in ‘low-attention’ mode, more than ever we’ll need to double-down on human insight to join the dots and cut through. I get it: it sounds fluffy and intangible. That is, until you see it in action in our digital tools and platforms. The next 12 months will be an exciting time and take our human understanding to a place where clients can really see – and believe.
We’re also building a reputation for ourselves in brand consultancy, identity and brand campaigns. We’ve seen a lot of businesses undergo changes during the pandemic and we’ve grown our capability and experience in these areas to meet their new and increasing needs.
LBB> I read that you've been doing lots of creative testing recently to give clients confidence in your ideas. How has that been changing the way the agency works more broadly?
Eoin> Like many agencies, we’ve been doing creative testing for many years. The problem with traditional creative testing is, people tell you what they think they will do (or what they think you want to hear). To counter this, we’ve been using implicit time response testing. This technique goes beyond what people say to understand the strength of their emotional conviction. At the simplest level, the faster the response, the easier it was to access from memory – making it more authentic.
What that means is not only that the client has a means of identifying the most effective creative solutions, but also has confidence in stepping outside of their comfort zone. The risk is mitigated by the data that shows in advance how audiences will engage and most importantly, act.
LBB> What trends in the industry do you find yourself sounding off about the most and why?
Eoin> The ones I sound off about are mostly one’s that I have strong opinions on. I love a soapbox. Firstly: being more human in B2B – we’re long past benefits focused marketing minus the jargon. If we want to connect with people, we need to understand them better. That means going beyond ‘more friendly’ copywriting to basing our strategies on real audience insight and using behavioural science fundamentals to ensure marketing effectiveness.
Next up is account-based marketing, or ABM. The main reason it has become such a hot topic over the last five years is because it means so many things to different people. We see everything from vertical campaigns to social selling being badged as ABM. No wonder it’s all everyone is talking about when it has effectively become a catch-all for anything with a modicum of personalisation or targeting. Regardless of whether it meets a particular definition, we’re happy to see briefs that call for insight, targeting and personalisation – at any scale.
LBB> Outside of work, what's inspiring you right now?
Eoin> My husband and I moved to Somerset in lockdown, a move only made possible by hybrid working. We’ve started spending a lot more time outdoors with our black Lab, Elio. Discovering a new place which, quite honestly, we knew nothing about when we made the 100 mile move, has been enlightening and inspiring. The South West is a really beautiful part of the country. I suspect I’m not the only one that has found time outdoors a new and enticing pastime. Welly boots, wax jackets and National Trust membership are order of the day.