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Big Ideas: “How advertisers can funnel a percentage of their media spend back to people and social causes” with Sue Fennessy, CEO of WeAre8

When we shift 3% of the current media spend back to the people, $10 billion will be injected into people’s pockets and causes they care about. The economic impact is social impact and I cannot think of any better way to pump money into the economy. A federal reserve statistic states that 40% of all […]


When we shift 3% of the current media spend back to the people, $10 billion will be injected into people’s pockets and causes they care about. The economic impact is social impact and I cannot think of any better way to pump money into the economy. A federal reserve statistic states that 40% of all Americans cannot find $400 in an emergency. It is our mission to change that!


As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sue Fennessy CEO of WeAre8 — a digital ecosystem that enables brands to sponsor millions of people directly, rewarding them for their advocacy at scale. Sue and her team have created a future where every person will be valued and sponsored directly by brands. Obsessed with restoring humanity to digital platforms, Sue is a self-confessed data nerd, who previously founded the Standard Media Index (SMI) in 2008, and transformed visibility into the global ad market. Through partnerships with 5 of the world’s largest media buying agencies, SMI was able to provide an accurate and timely picture of the ad spend market for the first time ever. The data is now used daily by the world’s largest media and finance companies. Originally from Australia, Sue spent 4 years in China building the largest foreign-owned sports-entertainment company in the country. She was the driving force behind the evolution of musical theater, negotiated the first World Cup television rights deal in China and created 5 large sponsor driven television series. Starting her first business at 21, Sue built the largest sponsorship agency in Asia and managed the sponsorship strategies and portfolios for over 30 large corporate brands including brokering 8 of the Olympic deals. After 11 years and with a team of 100 people, she sold the company to Omnicom/BBDO in 2000. Her current mission, and the culmination of a 30-year career in tech, data, and media, is to connect brands deeply with customers at scale and financially empower those who are creating the social content — the people. She believes in inspiring and empowering people by providing them with the tools to transform their lives and make a positive impact. Sitting at the intersection of technology, economics, and media, Sue passionately believes that if we give people the right tools, they will solve the world’s biggest problems. Sue currently lives in New York with her husband and three sons. She sits on the board of SMI, is Chair of Monash University US Alumni and mentors many students. Sue is on a mission to bring the economic power back to the people by turning them into the largest media channel on the planet.


Thank you so much for joining us Sue. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Sometimes careers choose you. I have always been inspired by the power of media to entertain and engage people. Even as a child, I used to sit in front of the television and talk to the screen imagining that all the people on the shows could talk back to me. I always dreamt of a world where we, consumers, could be part of the experience. Even though we have the internet and social media now, the construct continues to feel broken to me. 1.7 billion people on the planet are now creating and sharing content every day on social media, but they are not part of the economic equation. We the people are, in fact, the largest unpaid workforce in human history.

So, we have reimagined the digital ecosystem. Allowing brands to directly sponsor millions of people at scale and rewarding them directly for creating or sharing across social platforms. Through WeAre8, millions of people become active brand advocates and are able to become part of the story. Seeing individuals as empowered media channels, not just viewers is something I have always been obsessed with.

What we have created is a variation of what I used to imagine as a 10-year-old girl talking to the TV.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

What a tough question. I have had 4 businesses over 30 years, so lots of adventures in that time! Seeing media evolve over 30 years has been fascinating and exciting — particularly as we are helping shape the future by empowering every individual to be a media channel, enabling everyone to live in a world where each individual is their own media channel.

Besides that, I would have to say bringing the first musical to China as business opened up in 2002 and working with 8 of the Sydney 2000 Olympics sponsors was pretty exciting.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

We believe that ‘Real People’ are the largest media channel and when advertisers funnel a percentage of their media spend back to people and social causes, it results in a major impact.

How do you think this will change the world?

When we shift 3% of the current media spend back to the people, $10 billion will be injected into people’s pockets and causes they care about. The economic impact is social impact and I cannot think of any better way to pump money into the economy.

A federal reserve statistic states that 40% of all Americans cannot find $400 in an emergency. It is our mission to change that!

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

People should be conscious of how they are being used on social media every day. Today, we (1.7 billion social media users) are the largest unpaid workforce on the planet. Our creativity and sharing is making others money, and we are seeing no return. We have been reduced to mere data points. So, in our mind, the worst drawback is already a reality with the way our favorite brands and social media channels are treating us on these platforms.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

My whole career has been leading up to this “tipping point”. I have spent an entire life imagining this ecosystem and a 30-year career understanding media, marketing, data, and people so that we could architect an ecosystem that connects brands and people at scale, whilst economically empowering them and making impact.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

10 more powerhouse brands joining the 10 large advertisers who are currently on board.

The voice of the people will always rise. Once we have 5 million people getting sponsored weekly (we’re not too far off from that now), the scale will tip in their favor. Who doesn’t want to make money and have donations made in their name when they share something they love?

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

● Always follow your gut because intuition never lies.

● Don’t try and downplay your big vision to make other people feel comfortable. You are doing yourself, and others, a disservice.

● Surround yourself with great people you trust to stand with you in the trenches.

● It always takes longer than you think, so think hard about timing before you launch. You want to be at the beginning of the wave and ride the crest while the world is catching up with you.

● If your business idea truly changes the world in positive ways, put every ounce of effort, energy, brand power, and love into it and never lose hope.

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

Stay in a permanent learning mindset. Read everything. Tap into what makes you happy and stimulates your mind, then do more of it!

Use your imagination — and trust your gut.

Invest time in building relationships and mentors — just following people on IG does not count.

Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?

I would invest back into WeAre8, no better investment than into something that empowers millions of people.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

Integrity — at the end of the day that is all that matters.

Believe in your vision — question yourself, sanity check, move forward, drive hard, hire great people, ask others questions, stay resilient, work hard, rinse and repeat.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

Get up early.

Eat healthy food.

Express gratitude for everyone around you.

Take time to think and plan — don’t just be reactive.

Focus and work hard.

Hope is not a strategy.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

The future of the $300 billion dollar advertising market is not advertising. It is the direct sponsorship of millions of people who can engage and advocate for your brand. Advertisers around the world understand that they can ‘future proof’ themselves when they have direct relationships with their customers at scale. WeAre8 enables brands to sponsor hundreds of millions of people — in a brand compliant way — and our goal is to put $10 billion back into the pockets of the people, while simultaneously making a positive social impact.

Let’s face it — why advertise at someone when you can sponsor and reward them directly for their advocacy?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, @fennessysue, and LinkedIn. Or, even better, follow @WeAre8Official on Instagram and download the WeAre8 app on iTunes or Google Play to get sponsored and make impact for brands you love.

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