Jonathan Cloonan

Jonathan Cloonan

MSc Marketing Practice '09

Jonathan Cloonan’s status as one of Ireland’s bright young stars was recognised on the international stage when he made it onto the Forbes 30 under 30 listing of innovators and disruptors in 2013, alongside a host of household names, including Mark Zuckerberg, Lady Gaga and Usain Bolt.

About Jonathan Cloonan

Can you tell us about your education?
I was in Belvedere College for both junior and senior school. From there, I went all of 500 yards down O’Connell St to Trinity College Dublin where I graduated in business, economics and social studies. I ended up getting a huge kick out of the marketing communications courses, so I completed an MSc in Marketing Practice at UCD Smurfit. I liked how marketing required ambidextrous thinking – having to use the rational, analytical, business side of the brain – but also the more creative, artistic, philosophical side. So I decided to pursue a career in it!

Can you mention some of the awards you won along the way?
Sure. I, somehow, came first in Ireland in the Leaving Cert business studies exam. It was fun because the Minister for Education invited me to a Government ceremony for a presentation of the gold medal – 35,000 students sat the paper that year, so it was kind of nuts. In 2007, I was a Trinity College Student of the Year and, in 2009, the overall Marketing Advisor of the Year in UCD Smurfit. My fellow students and classmates in the Smurfit programme voted for the winner of that particular award making it extra special.

Tell us a bit about your campaign to target WPP and its fellowship programme
WPP, the world’s largest marketing communications company, receives 2,500 applications every year for their international WPP Fellowship, so I knew that I had to stand out. A year before the applications opened, I started a blog called ‘Tall Irish Leprechaun for the WPP Fellowship’. I blogged about WPP agencies, brands and campaigns. I also took their Twitter handle before they got to it. I tweeted on their behalf for over a year. During the interview process, my soon to be boss, Jon Steel, asked me if I was passionate or psychotic for all the work I’d put in. I managed to persuade him that I was not the latter. Thankfully, he bought it and my career with WPP began.

What have you been doing since joining WPP?
I’ve been with WPP agencies for five years. The WPP Fellowship, which was my full-time job for three years, allowed me to work on three continents in three of our different operating companies.

For my first year, I worked as a strategic planner in JWT London, the ad agency that put the hole in the Polo mint and invented the Andrex puppy mascot. My accounts were incredibly varied. I looked after Viagra, chewing gum and women’s hair care!

From there, I moved to Singapore to work at GroupM Entertainment in our Mindshare and Mediacom agencies specialising in the creation of branded content. After two years in Asia, I transferred to New York where I worked on the Nestle account at Ogilvy, followed by VICE, a WPP invested digital company in the youth media space.

Now, I’m back in GroupM Entertainment, WPP’s media investment management arm, as director of partnerships and business development, North America. I love it.

What do you believe have been your biggest achievements at WPP?
I created a medical entertainment TV show in Vietnam for a pharmaceutical brand in 2013. I’m proud of that show as it successfully spread a health and well-being message to some of Vietnam’s poorest people, which had a true impact on the society itself. That’s, by far, my biggest achievement.  

More recently, I’ve been running WPP’s relationship with Fullscreen, a YouTube focused multi-channel network. Since WPP invested in Fullscreen, it has been a rocket ship. Being part of that ride and bringing in some major brand deals for them has been massively satisfying.

Can you tell us about the impact of being named in the Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2013?
It was pretty surreal to see my name sandwiched in between Mark Zuckerberg and Lena Dunham, to be honest. But it led to a major promotion, speaking opportunities at conferences all over the world and places on multiple start-up advisory boards. It’s also allowed me access to a network of similar like-minded 20-something year olds. Forbes invited me to their Under 30 Summit last month along with the CEO of Oculus Rift, Tindr, Spanx and the likes of Peter Thiel and Malala Yousafzai so picking their brains for a few days was incredibly insightful.

What is your philosophy in business and in life?
Positivity trumps all. I can’t bear negativity and constantly reiterate that to my teams.

Who is your greatest influence?
Career wise, I look up to innovators or entrepreneurs. I admire our overall boss, Sir Martin Sorrell. What he has done with WPP, in terms of scale and revenue, is incredible.  I respect what Jon Steinberg is doing with Daily Mail, George Strompolos with Fullscreen and Sam Altman with YCombinator. They are each challenging traditional conventions in their respective industries.

What are your main interests outside of work?
I rowed throughout university, so I try and hit the water when I can. I also go to a ton of NY tech meet-ups in the evenings. Apart from that, I jog everyday and try to practise yoga as much as possible. With my travel schedule, that’s not as often as I’d like unfortunately. I also write for some trade publications.

Do you have immediate and more long-term plans you can share?
Start my own enterprise or become CEO of one of WPP/GroupM’s business units.

January 2015