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Q&A with Ali Reed, UK Managing Director

Ali Reed was recently promoted to UK Managing Director at Essence. From poker tournaments to deathproof cars, Ali shares what brought her to this point, and what she's excited for in 2020.

ESSENCE: What are you most excited about in this new role, looking after not only the success of client accounts, but also nearly 500 Essentials in the UK?

Ali: It's a diverse role, so I get to play in a lot of spaces, which I love: client relationships, new business, culture and talent. I think what I'm most looking forward to is getting out and about in the wider industry, bringing our eight beliefs to life with a broader audience and seeing how our evolving story starts new conversations with prospective clients, and strengthens existing relationships with our partners like Google and BT.

You've competed in the World Series of Poker. How did you fare and how did you first get into that?

I made it past day one! Which doesn't sound that impressive, but I had to outlast about 1000 players to get that far, so I was pretty chuffed. My father taught me to play poker when I was a teenager and I loved the psychology of it - I went on to study Behavioural Science at university and then put my knowledge to good use working as the UK Marketing Director for Full Tilt Poker in the early years of the online gaming boom.

Are there aspects of poker playing that translate to leadership, or vice versa?

Poker has been used as an analogy for everything from war to sex to politics, so it does translate, I suppose. Where I find it most useful, is during negotiations. Being able to read the players in the room and broker a winning strategy based on incomplete information is a crucial skill in this industry.

You’ve worked with numerous iconic brands in your career: Disney, Hasbro and MINI previously, and now L’Oréal, BT and The Financial Times, to name just a few. What’s one brand you would love to represent and why?

Volvo. I love Volvos. I drive them, and I love saying the word “Volvo” like the woman on the Sky Atlantic idents. I love that they want to make deathproof cars by the end of this year. Deathproof is also one of my favourite Tarantino films, so it just speaks to me.

You’ve spent quite a lot of time abroad, and in fact your youngest was born abroad - tell me about what took you to Africa and how those experiences shape how you approach your career and path forward.

My husband is a diplomat and we travelled to Sudan, Kenya and Italy with his job when the kids were young. I had to take a front seat in parenting and a back seat in my career for the first part, and I learnt that it was ok to support your partner for a while - my time would come. Getting back into work and agency life after having 3 kids in 3 years has been great, and a big boost to my confidence.

My husband is hugely supportive of my new role and is taking the lead with the mini Reeds. Which is good, as 2020 is going to be a really busy year!

Where do you feel the advertising industry has the most work to do in the next one to three years?

Diversity and inclusion is obviously a go-to answer, and that's because it's true. We have a long way to go to ensure our teams are representative of the kinds of people we're talking to through our clients' brands and this needs to be front and centre of any agency's agenda. It not only makes sense from a societal point of view, it makes business sense too - companies that have that diversity of thought are more productive, as measured by market value and revenue.

What's your quirky fact?

I used to ten-pin bowl for Great Britain.