ADMA CEO shares her vision for the data-driven marketers' association

In her first interview since becoming chief, Andrea Martens shares her plans to shake-up education, drive simplicity and ensure relevance to the modern marketing community

Andrea Martens
Andrea Martens

A refreshed education curriculum, new-look awards program and membership benefits driven by simplicity are just some of the ways ADMA’s CEO is looking to ensure the association’s relevance to modern marketers.

In her first interview since taking on the ADMA CEO helm nearly six months ago, association chief, Andrea Martens, told CMO her approach to turning the ship around is based on addressing three key pillars: Education, thought leadership and advocacy.

“It’s about ensuring we set those up to be delivering to members in the industry,” she said. “My first three months was about meeting, listening, hearing what was working and what role we need to play. This meant looking back at what the role the organisation plays within member organisations and the support they need, and honestly, where we were not delivering.”  

The primary focus upfront has been education. Martens said the emphasis is on equipping marketers going through massive transition with the capabilities they require as their roles continue to change.

“For a lot of CMOs, they need a place where they can get their teams upskilled in areas they may not necessarily be as familiar with themselves, and to make sure they stay ahead of the market,” she said.  

To do this, Martens is taking advantage of ADMA’s position within the global Direct Marketing Association (DMA) network to harness more education resources and set up a partnership with the UK-based Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing (IDM), to bring its content to Australia for ADMA members.

A local industry panel is working with ADMA’s education specialist, who in turn is working with IDM, to provide input on what works and doesn’t work, where the team might need more speakers, and bring the new-look education offer to life.

While existing program elements remain, Martens estimated about 70 per cent of ADMA’s curriculum will be new. The refreshed education offering is due to launch on 1 April, with the Digital Marketing Certificate the first cab off the rank.

“This means a complete refresh of our curriculum, online and face-to-face,” Martens said. “But it does also need the Australian component.

“The piece we’re working on now is building the case studies coming from the local market. The IDM is constantly investing in this thought-leading curriculum from the industry over there, but we’re also taking input from our members and curating that.”  

ADMA’s last education shake-up was in 2016, when it debuted the ADMA iQ program. Pitched as a way to upskill marketers in a more technology and data-driven environment, the curriculum promised entry level through to advanced modules covering analytics, creative, content, data, digital marketing, marketing technology, mobile, privacy and compliance, search marketing and social. These have since been offered online, in-class or via bespoke in-house courses within an organisation.

“If we think of the depth ADMA was providing before as 10 per cent, what we’re now providing is that additional 90 per cent through case studies, exams and so on,” Martens continued. “It’s a lot more depth in terms of content and it means more relevance. It essentially means what we’re delivering is best-in-class constantly and as marketing evolves, we evolve.

“We’re absolutely centred around data-driven marketing – that doesn’t change – but the breadth of what we can offer together is much more expansive.”

Another piece of feedback was that ADMA needed to lift what felt like a major focus on entry-level training, and expand the intermediate elements of its curriculum. This is less about foundation skills and more about the pragmatic, ‘how do I do the next level’ work, Martens said.

“We have a portfolio of trainers, but we’re also going out to market to find the best of the best to be talking the content, who have the enthusiasm and want to engage. That’s as important as the content itself,” she added.

Awards and effectiveness

It’s professional improvement that’s also seen Martens rethink ADMA’s annual AC&E Effectiveness Awards. One of her first decisions as association chief was to postpone the 2018 edition, and she’s since been working to revise the awards based on industry feedback.

“We delayed the awards to work out what is the best way to take this forward. My questions were: Did we need another awards program in market? What is the potential breadth of this proposition? Is it just about awards? Is it our responsibility as ADMA just to celebrate?” she said.  

To help, ADMA pulled together a 12-strong group of agency-side planners and creators to debate what AC&E stood for. “I was surprised by the level of passion from the industry, and what we’ve ended up with is a completely revised proposition,” Martens said.

“It’s not just awards; it’s about advertising creativity and effectiveness as an overall platform, with an educational component upfront, and the awards at the back end.”

The education component revolves around a 12-week program, working with platform giants including Google, Snapchat and Amazon to skill up mid-level planners and creatives on leveraging such platforms to achieve optimum creativity and effectiveness.

“The overarching thought is that nothing beats the power of strategically driven creative,” Martens said.

One of the challenges to arise in discussions is that KPIs of planners and creatives are often separated. “Instead, they’re being set up on projects where they’re briefed separately and it’s not necessarily coming together,” she said.  

“The idea of having them together is about showing that the power of what they deliver is so much stronger by working connectedly. That became the proposition for the 12-week program.”

Slated to run twice a year from May, graduates will have work showcased during the new-look AC&E awards evening, scheduled for September.

A key market is the rising number of in-house agency teams that need more ways to develop and engage staff. Based on initial interest, Martens expected ADMA would end up running the program constantly.

The AC&E Awards will still incorporate industry-wide accolades, but through refreshed categories.

“That industry team of 12 are defining the new categories again to line up with something that’s relevant for today, not necessarily something that was relevant five years ago,” Martens said.  

Association mix

While the education revamp is well underway, what’s less clear is how ADMA’s portfolio of association brands will look moving forward. Over recent years, the group has grown to include the Institute of Analytics Professionals of Australia (IAPA), the Digital & Technology Collective (previously AIMIA), and Data Governance Australia.

It was this collection of associations that resulted in ADMA creating a holding company, the Australian Alliance of Data Leadership (AADL), in 2017. The move was designed to allow the group to restructure in order to better support each organisation. But it quickly led to widespread confusion around ADMA’s brand and position in market that remains today.  

Having been followed by the departure of iconic former CEO, Jodie Sangster, the arrival of AADL CEO, Steven Porges and COO, Steve Singha, the quick entry and exit of former Adroll chief, Ben Sharp, and an executive vacuum, many in the industry have been unclear as to how AADL fits the picture, and what the long-term strategy is for the portfolio of associations.

Martens is clear on where ADMA is going, and believed the team was 90 per cent there in terms of strategy. The rest is a work in progress. One example is DTC, which has been without a leader since the departure of former GM, Mandy Eyles, last August.

“What current members are getting is exactly what it has been in the past – content and events,” Martens said of DTC. Further details on plans will be confirmed in coming months.

What Martens did confirm was the DTC's AMY awards will be part of the AC&E revamp. "The importance of building the partnership between strategy and creative, as well recognising and celebrating this, is as relevant to the AMY audience as it is the broader marketing and advertising community," she said. "We look forward to sharing the revamped categories in more detail shortly."

Likewise, ADMA’s approach to its wider portfolio of events is still in discussion, although Martens stressed its commitment to flagship conferences, Data Day and Global Forum, as well as thought leadership and value-added events for members, remained in place.

“We’re working on all of these elements and you’ll see more from us in coming months around this,” she said.  “Getting the back-of-house sorted has been key to moving us forward.”

Membership benefits

As the strategy solidifies, Martens’ next priority is the benefits ADMA is providing to its members. It’s work that sees her review all reselling agreements on education programs, for example.

“We need to ensure members are provided with the best value through their ADMA membership. We have to explore what are our benefits and what can they get as a true member, as opposed to something open to everyone,” Martens continued.  

“The next thing that will launch is a membership review, and what members will see is simplicity and value. At the moment, the strategy taken a few years ago to launch premium benefits was fantastic – members were calling out for more value and I can see why,

“The complexity of how it was executed, however, makes it hard for them to walk away with value. From my point of view, the less decisions members need to make so we make it easier for them, the better. We can then focus energy on ensuring they get value out of it, rather than choosing. That’s where we’re heading.”

Martens expected further details to be about a month away, but said every step she takes is about driving simplicity.

“It’s similar with the regulatory piece, which is our third pillar, and we’re working to devise a regulatory strategy that reflects where ADMA will and won’t play. Our energy needs to be in the right debates,” she said.   

Collaboration across the industry plays a big role here. For example, ADMA recently partnered with the AANA on a response to Australia’s Digital Platforms Inquiry.

“We came at it from two different angles. But we worked closely on it because for the benefit of the industry, we wanted to make sure collectively everything was being put on the table,” Martens said. “ADMA’s perspective was we should make sure the regulation that is in place is used before we overlay it further. The AANA came from an advertiser’s perspective. That’s where synergies need to be leveraged.

“All the associations play a role and in some instances one may be better placed to do that. I don’t feel the need to get into every conversation.”

Throughout her work to date, Martens said she’s been supported solidly by ADMA’s board and sought their guidance from an industry perspective.

“I’m so fortunate to have them at hand if I need feedback. With Steve Coll [WiTH Collective creative partner and ADMA board member] on AC&E, for example, he’s leaned in to get these individuals together, stimulated the conversation and as a result, we’ve crafted a better outcome,” she said.  

“Our members want best-in-class service and that’s what we’ll provide in the areas we focus on.”

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