Nicole Buckler, Editor of, interviews Ciaran Cunningham, the CEO of Carat Media.

Having left DCU at the height of recession in the late eighties, Ciaran Cunningham was one of the few graduates who didn’t leave Ireland. He started working in the RTE sales division in a research role before joining the media agency world. He has held roles at Initiative Media, and All-Ireland Media, and now he heads up Carat.

What is a normal day for you?

It is difficult to describe a normal day because working days are so varied. I believe one of the great attractions of working in a large media agency is that it gives the opportunity to work with a wide range of companies and brands, understanding different companies’ business objectives, strategies and culture. My week starts with a management meeting every Monday and my week is usually divided fairly evenly between client work and internal work around people development and business planning.

What makes Carat different to other agencies?

I believe our investment in digital and data services is a real competitive advantage for Carat. The global leaders at Carat and our parent company Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) set out our strategic vision that put digital and data at the heart of the business and we have consistently invested in digital and data services ahead of the market. This investment has been recognised by RECMA, the only independent company to publish a wide range of evaluations of media agencies and Carat has been named as the number one Global Media Agency Network once again. Carat has consistently been awarded the number one position achieving this accolade nine times out of the last ten reports published. I also believe culture is a significant differentiator between advertising agencies, and although it can be hard to describe an agency’s culture, I passionately believe we have a culture at Carat that genuinely empowers everyone who works at Carat to be brave, try new things and strive to create and deliver the best and most innovative solutions for our clients.

What do you see going into the future?

The agency model has been in a constant state of evolution but now needs to be evolving faster than ever before. Agencies need to ask themselves whether the job descriptions they are recruiting with, the media plans they are creating and the media deals they are brokering look the same as they did 12 months ago. And if so, are those changes transformational enough, and happening as quickly as they need to? We’ve witnessed a great deal of disruption within our industry driven by globalisation and the growth of the digital economy. Specifically, there are four things that I believe agencies need to focus on evolving if they are to stay ahead of the curve in today’s rapidly evolving consumer and business climate.


The number of connected devices will exceed the number of people on earth by the end of this year. This exponentially increases the need for the media markets to organise, interpret and activate increasingly complex data sets. Data empowers media agencies to shift from targeting people we don’t know, to people we know; driving greater personalisation, relevance and eradicating media inefficiencies.


The explosion of media opportunities has reduced the ability of any one medium to tell the entire brand story effectively. Instead, brands need to evolve to tell their stories across the full consumer experience. As media becomes increasingly addressable, the personalisation of those stories and messages increases, driving relevance and tackling issues such as ad blocking head on. A new level of integration and collaboration is required amongst agencies and partners.


Brand control will continue to diminish as social influence becomes an even greater driver to purchase decisions. Nielsen’s global survey on trust show that word-of-mouth and online consumer opinion rank ahead of all other types of advertising.  As the force of social influence increases, agencies will need to ensure that they are equipped to identify and execute against trust and influence metrics. Furthermore, as this becomes a standardised part of the marketing mix, agencies will be expected to accurately measure its impact.


The point of engagement consumers have with a brand and the point at which they transact have come closer and closer together, meaning that more sales can happen directly within media, making media more directly accountable for sales performance. Agency performance can now be reviewed with greater confidence against direct business performance. This is a critical part of media agencies re-setting their place within the value chain.

If agencies do not focus on the four points above, there is a threat that the large consultancy firms could move into this space or advertisers take some of these services in-house. The opportunities for agencies are huge. With the agency model in a constant state of evolution, there has never been a more exciting and dynamic environment for agencies. Agency leaders need to think in terms of having both a compass for where they are going as an organisation, as well as a radar, in order to stay agile enough to be able to adapt to the limitless opportunities that the digital economy presents. An agency’s ability to morph to the changing environment around them is what drives innovation and keeps the industry fresh and exciting. There has never been a more important and more exciting time to work in media.

Will Brexit have an effect?

It is very difficult to predict the effect Brexit will have on the advertising industry in Ireland. In the short term, the sterling euro exchange rate may have a negative impact on marketing budgets in Ireland and the general uncertainty around Brexit is not helpful. Longer term, there are too many unknowns at this stage to accurately predict the impact on the adverting industry in Ireland.

How does the Irish market differ to other markets across the world?

The biggest difference by far between Ireland and other markets is the size of our population. We have a very small population compared to virtually any other market. This means media budgets are relatively small and Irish agencies have to work very hard at delivering a wide array of specialist services to clients at a cost that is manageable for the client and sustainable for the agency.

What is the most exciting thing on the horizon for the advertising industry, in your opinion?

Because sales can increasingly happen directly within media, this makes media and media services more important than ever before. This is enormously exciting for media agencies and gives them the opportunity to strengthen the strategic importance of media agencies to their clients and their clients’ brands and services.

Do you get much work/life balance? Is there time for a doughnut during the day…

We are very well structured and resourced within Carat and I do enjoy a good work/life balance as do the all the team at Carat. With four active children, it is a necessity for me to have a strong work/life balance! I am involved with some of the kids’ sports teams which is a great discipline to have, to leave work and attend training/matches. I also manage to play a bit of 5-a-side soccer and jump on a bike at the weekends. The nature of our business means there are times when work will encroach into late evening and weekends. But that tends to be centred around pitching for new business which is very hard work but great fun at the same time!

Click here to read about Carat’s 10 Trends for 2017.