Spotlight: Toni Dandrea, CMO/President & Partner

Is there a better person than Media Bridge CMO/President & Partner, Toni Dandrea to talk about what it takes for young people — especially women — to make it in the advertising world? We don’t think so. Here’s what Toni had to say on that topic and many others.


You were Tracy Call’s first major hire after she founded Media Bridge. What’s the biggest difference between the Media Bridge then and now? 

Ten years ago, Tracy and I wore every hat: copywriting, reporting, media buying, client relations … we did it all. Now we have the right people in the right seats, which is why we’ve been able to grow so fast. But I love the fact that Tracy and I can still relate to every job and person on our team. Not every agency can say that. It’s one of our secret advantages.


You’re one of two female partners and several female leadership team members at Media Bridge. Can you talk about the agency’s role in empowering women leaders?

From day one, Tracy has made sure that women’s voices are always heard here, and that women have many seats — not just “a seat” — at the table. I was only 25 when she hired me. She coached me from the beginning on how to deal with some of the negative perceptions about women leaders out there, especially young women leaders. 

Women often deal with negative perceptions that turn into negative self-talk, even self-sabotage. I’m proud to say that we see everyone’s potential here, and we’ll never expect anyone to accomplish twice as much to get the same amount of recognition and respect.


You recently spearheaded the launch of MB Health as a specialized practice within Media Bridge. How did that come about? 

We’ve turned a lot of heads by helping Inspire Medical grow into a $600 million company. The consumer-centric approach we took with them disrupted healthcare and medtech marketing, and now we’ve applied that approach to Axonics, Impulse Dynamics and others. So it made sense to create a formal practice area in that space to grow it even more. 

MB Health also fits our “the best strategy is to care” mantra. We love taking on brands that change lives for the better. Obstructive sleep apnea, overactive bladder, heart failure — they’re all life-changing (and sometimes life-ending) conditions. So getting up every morning knowing that you’re helping people access treatments that can improve their quality of life … that just feels good.


Speaking of “the best strategy is to care,” I hear you have a recent story about that. Care to share?

This one is personal. My best friend’s infant was recently diagnosed with cancer at the age of 2. I have three young kids of my own, and I can’t even imagine what it’s like to get that news. I talked to our People Team about the fact that my friend was missing work and dealing with all kinds of financial burdens. We coordinated a silent auction within the agency, and we raised over $20,000 to help my friend. 

When I handed her that check, I knew without a doubt that caring is more than the words on a wall here. We show caring in our offerings and how we work with clients, but also in how we support each other. It’s special. I still get emotional when I talk about it.


What’s your advice to a high school or college student who’s considering a career in advertising or media? 

This won’t be a popular answer, but I’ll say it anyway: Say “yes” to work! Do the internships, even if they’re unpaid!

I came up in the industry saying “yes” to everything that came my way. I shadowed people. I went to meetings and watched pitches. In college, I interned for the St. Paul Saints baseball team, and when I wasn’t chaperoning their mascot Mudonna around, I was coming up with ways to promote sponsors on the field. Then I blogged during Twins and Wild games for Fox Sports North ($50 a game plus free pretzels and popcorn). Over time, I learned how to run a brand: sponsorships, public speaking, social media, content calendars, community outreach, you name it.

A lot of young people are afraid to learn by trying and failing — to the point where it paralyzes them, especially women. There’s beauty in NOT knowing what you’re doing and figuring it out as you go. If you’re a self-starter who’s willing to do that, you’ll succeed in this industry.


What does the future of advertising look like?

The future will be about delivering the right mix of data and heart, humanity and AI, technology and relationship-building. Companies expect to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns in real-time, and agencies are learning that you can no longer send reports to clients without addressing the “so what?” factor. You have to tell them what to do months and years down the line, based on hard data.

At the same time, you can’t be robotic. Intuition still plays a role, and success always comes down to relationships. A good example: Our eMBi dashboard organizes multiple media metrics into one place so you can get a clear picture of how your campaign is performing. To make eMBi work best, you need clients’ internal data as well. They’ll only give that up if they trust you and value your relationship.


Finally, what’s harder: managing a 50-person agency or managing three young kids at home? 

Honestly, they’re equally challenging and rewarding! Luckily, I have a solid partner on both sides. When one person’s capacity is low, the other steps up and carries more of the burden. These days, I’m learning to accept that help more often. I call it “letting the ducks cross.” Hey, if I need to take the scenic route to work along the Mississippi River to get my head right and have good energy for the day, so be it!