Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Dora Michail-Clendinnen: Making a mark with mentoring

Dora Michail-Clendinnen is Chief Strategy Officer at The Ozone Project and NDA’s monthly columnist.

After the March madness of third-party cookie-gate where I – like many others – weighed in on what our industry post-cookie might look like, I have decided to use my second NDA column to talk about something entirely different. 

Last year, during the height of lockdown, fresh from maternity leave and about to start a new consultancy role for The Ozone Project, I signed up to be a mentor for Outvertising, the not-for-profit LGBTQ advertising and marketing advocacy group. I was slightly nervous about the time commitment required considering I was a new mother about to start a new job, but during such strange times I was really keen to get involved and positively contribute to something beyond myself.  

I was matched with a brilliant mentee and we embarked on a 6-month process of fortnightly, hour-long meetings where we both reflected on a range of professional and personal experiences. An unexpected consequence of the mentoring process from my perspective was that I began to ask myself the same questions that I was asking of my mentee. What drives you? Which brands do you admire and why? What aspects of the work are important to you when you think about the kind of career you would like to build?

It was with these questions in mind that made my decision to join Ozone permanently at the beginning of this year so easy. Some of the UK’s leading publishers – News UK, The Guardian, The Telegraph and Reach plc – built The Ozone Project to offer advertisers an alternative solution to other digital ad platforms. Ozone was conceived as an alternative way for brands to connect directly with publishers and for those publishers and advertisers to have a greater say in the direction of their product roadmaps and the determination of their future digital advertising strategies. 

Ozone was founded on two main beliefs: firstly that the digital ecosystem can be safer, more trusted, compliant and effective than anything that has come before and that through greater collaboration, advertisers and publishers can set that agenda. And secondly, by offering a single point of access for advertisers into a premium marketplace built on trusted, editorially governed content, Ozone can offer a legitimate, consumer-led ‘privacy by design’ alternative to the somewhat disorderly nature of the open web. 

I’m excited to be part of something so mission-driven and whilst there will always be headwinds, I can’t think of a business better placed to meet those challenges and turn them into opportunities. Having that clarity of mission and corresponding values really resonates with the Ozone team – I was surprised (and delighted) to hear people from right across the business, at every level, talk so articulately about their desire to create something better. For me personally, I credit my first formal experience as a mentor in providing the clarity I needed to realise what I wanted to do next – and why.

With my 6 month Outvertising scheme wrapped up, I’m now looking forward to the next mentoring programme that’s about to begin for Media For All. MeFA was conceived by Naren Patel – one December evening in 2018 – when he gathered together around a dining table in London twelve industry leads from diverse ethnic groups and asked what could be done about the lack of Black, Asian and other ethnic representation in the advertising industry. 

Cut to a few years later and Naren and the Media For All team have created a hugely influential community of Black, Asian and other ethnic senior leaders. There are over a 120 mentors ready for the first structured mentoring programme to begin this month, there are regular “MeFA Matters” talks hosted by Liam Mullins of the7stars alongside a series of panelists representing the best of our industry, and there is real momentum – but a long way to go – when it comes to confronting the conversations we must have about race disparities, racism and under-representation. 

I wasn’t aware of anything like Outvertising or Media For All when I was growing up in the industry. I would have benefited enormously from a mentor who was like me in the early stages of my career and I’m grateful for the leaders and visionaries today who are making a difference to those coming up behind us. As a mentor I have taken as much from the journey as I’ve put in, and I’d definitely encourage anyone thinking about sharing their own experience to do the same – particularly at a time when many people might be even more in need of a helping hand or a little bit of guidance.

For any of you reading who might be looking to find a mentor, organisations like those already mentioned, as well as the likes of NABS, should be able to help. Also, never be afraid to ask within your organisation or your network – today’s leaders are more likely than ever to want to help, and the wisest ones will know they’ll be helping themselves too as a result.