August Edition 2019

Ushering In a Techno-Creative future for Marketing: MBA


Marketing is an indispensable part of growing any business today. MBA, recently featured as one of the World’s Leading Independent Agencies by Campaign magazine, believes the key to successful marketing today is to blend the very best of digital and of direct marketing through inspiring creativity, cutting-edge technology, integrated data infrastructure and an entrepreneurial culture that fosters innovation and autonomy.

In conversation with the brains behind MBA, Stephen Maher

What was the motivation that led to the founding of the company?

We have always had a strong belief that a business should not need to choose between marketing communications that either work at a brand level or work at a response level, but that the secret of success is to merge the two to create more effective campaigns. It is not a question of ‘or’ but of ‘and’. This is how we established our own concept of ‘Brand Action™’.

This is where the art meets the science, where the ability to apply powerful creativity and insight merges with the brilliant application of proven data and direct techniques to give a brand the best of both worlds. Brand Action™ is having your cake and eating it.

This gave us a unique position in the market when we launched over 20 years ago, and still proves to be a successful recipe to this day, albeit in our more digital world. Hence we now describe this philosophy as ‘where digital and direct interconnect’.

So today we optimize for our clients the entire non-linear digital buying ecosystem - working as business partners to help our clients navigate this more complex world. This is based around our 6 principles of joined up data & infrastructure, a connected content framework, Brand Action™, creative technology, a culture of sharing, and an ROI focus. This helps us deliver for our clients exceptional multi-channel, customer experiences that lead to a step-change in business performance. Ultimately, MBA exists to drive growth.

Our core asset of course is our talent – we work hard to build a strong entrepreneurial culture and are proud that our staff is highly diverse - gender balanced with almost a quarter of our team being non-UK. Our values, including “All for One”, mean that we are a ‘Real Living Wage’ employer and we have won our industry body, the IPA (The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, formed over 100 years ago) CPD (Continuous Professional Development) top Platinum standard for four years in a row, adding to our effectiveness award collection. Our people are at the heart of everything we do, with regular #MBAGoodTimes social events, from karaoke nights to outdoor pursuits.

How does MBA contribute to the wider industry?

I am Chair of The IPA’s Effectiveness Board where I also helped to found #IPASocialWorks to help develop industry best practice around robust social media measurement. Until recently I was Chair of The Marketing Society (an exclusive global network of senior marketers formed in 1959) for over 4 years where I continue in a role as Ambassador today. I am also on the board of The DMA (the UK industry’s data and marketing association) and I’m a Fellow of Oystercatchers (one of the UK’s leading marketing consultants) and an Ambassador for E2E (the leading UK entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur network) and The Scale-Up Institute.

I and other members of the management team such as Megan Hallinan (Head of Social & PR) and James Devon (Strategy Director) regularly contribute articles to publications such as Campaign and speak at events such as the Indie Summit in Beijing, The IBC in Amsterdam and the British Embassy Olympic summit in London.

MBA is also committed to helping promote all forms of diversity in the industry as a whole. For many years we’ve worked closely with Creative Pioneers (The IPA’s and mass news channel Metro’s award-winning initiative to find the next generation of industry talent), and helped get a number of apprenticeship standards passed for the industry. We regularly participate in programmes such as Advertising Unlocked, where we invite groups of disadvantaged students from local schools/colleges in for the day, to give them an introduction (and ultimately a foot in the door) to agency life.

What challenges are your clients facing and how are you helping them?

Last year we successfully pitched for The Royal Mail Group, the UK’s leading postal service and courier company, with over 160,000 employees, established in 1516. We’ve recently helped promote their Parcelforce Worldwide business, with a new digital, social and direct campaign “We’ll take it from here.” In an increasingly competitive postal/parcel market, with new operations regularly entering the sector, it has never been more important for Parcelforce Worldwide to establish their position as the leading trusted express parcel carrier for business and consumer, delivering across the UK and Worldwide. Early indications show that our campaigns are performing well.

For another recent client win, Interflora, the leading global flower delivery network, with over 58,000 affiliated florists in over 140 countries, our task is to help bring more emotion back to the gifting of flowers and the brand, in an increasingly competitive gifting market.

Our truly diverse and inclusive digital/ social #ShareSomethingReal campaign with its emotive copy and distinctive Rankin photography has helped to achieve their best ever day for mobile orders. (see campaign image right).


Where do you see your business growing in the future?

We see our positioning of ‘where digital and direct interconnect’ being very potent in today’s market both in the UK and beyond, and indeed we see even more potential overseas for our business in the coming years in Asia, the US, and the Middle East – especially as the UK and London continue to be real powerhouses of global creativity. We are proud members of thenetworkone – the world’s leading independent agency network, present in over 100 countries, who recently featured us with Campaign as one of the World’s Leading Independent Agencies, as mentioned earlier.

This year we were also named as an Export Advocate by the UK Government to promote the UK creative industries overseas, and our work was selected to showcase British creativity at the UK Parliamentary Reception. We also enjoyed this year’s Cannes Festival of Creativity where I attended as UK Representative for the #CreativityisGREAT campaign.

For more information:

MBA website:

World’s Leading Independent Agencies website:

Meet the Stalwart behind MBA’s International Success, Stephen Maher

Stephen is the Founder and CEO of the digital marketing agency, MBA. A Modern History graduate from Balliol College, Oxford, Stephen’s career spans over 35 years. He had previously worked at global Omnicom agencies such as AMV/ BBDO and TBWA/ Simons Palmer before MBA. Stephen is also the Chair of the IPA Effectiveness Board, Ambassador of The Marketing Society, sits on the DMA Board, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, features in Debrett’s ‘People of Today’ and sits on the commercial board of BAFTA (as well as being a failed rock guitarist!).

“We’re an independent digital agency with expertise at driving results for clients, helping them transform to the demands of digital buying journeys.”