Creative Data Lab: A look back at our two days with the University of Edinburgh


Earlier this month, we held a Creative Data Lab, exclusively for students of the Mathematics and Business Schools at the University of Edinburgh, to encourage them to pursue a career in our industry.

Students got a taste of working in the data and marketing industry, as we challenged them to find solutions to a brief provided by Scottish whisky distillers, Whyte & Mackay, using data to guide their response.

Carolyn Bondi and Richard Calvert, Co-Founders of data and marketing consultancy, The Thread Team, helped facilitate the Lab. Carolyn kicked off with an inspirational insight into the powerful world of data, and how, when harnessed correctly, it is critical to a successful marketing campaign.

Laura MacDonald and Rachael Clark from Whyte & Mackay followed with a presentation of the brief; Distilling Data: Using Data to Solve Sustainability Issues. This brief challenged the students to identify the most viable carbon neutral route for a distillery located on the remote Scottish Hebridean Isle of Jura and, crucially, how they would communicate this success story to Whyte & Mackay’s stakeholders. They were given datasets to interrogate and were encouraged to do their own research.

The students worked in small teams, with a mix of Business and Maths specialists in each to ensure collaboration across disciplines; both bringing their own strengths and problem-solving skills to the table. Carolyn, Richard and some university academics were on hand throughout the Lab to offer advice and guidance.

The client was looking for creative responses that considered both the story that the data was presenting and a communication strategy that would appeal to the brand’s consumers, the media and the community on the Isle of Jura. This is a real-life issue that the client is facing and working on right now, so the challenge was not to be underestimated.

After an afternoon of hard work, the morning of day two saw the teams pitch their ideas to the Whyte & Mackay, The Thread Team and the university academics, having just 15 minutes each to convince their audience that they had to the most compelling solution.

The panel had a tough job selecting a winner as all five teams pitched professionally, offering a wealth of fresh and innovative ideas. But one team – Jura’s Era of Sustainability – with their “out of the box” thinking and consideration of geothermal, wave turbine and HVO energy, took home the crown. They were awarded with a Jura Distillery branded jacket each and DMA Student Membership, but all participants left with a unique learning experience and invaluable feedback on their work.

We asked Laura MacDonald, Whyte & Mackay why they decided to provide the brief for the lab:

“We were delighted to partner with DMA Talent and University of Edinburgh for the Creative Data Lab. As a business, we understand the importance of using data every day and the power it can have on the consumer. The Lab was a great opportunity for us to bring a real-life challenge to the students and work with the best and brightest future stars to solve a problem.

We were blown away by the candidates problem solving and their creative thinking – it really enabled us to take a fresh look at ways to problem solve the challenge. The Lab was a really invigorating and inspiring process for us to take part in – we’re looking forward to seeing what it will bring for other brands in the future.”

We also caught up with a couple of the University of Edinburgh team to get their views on the Lab.

Rosie Wilkie, Business Development Executive, University of Edinburgh, School of Mathematics told us:

“The Creative Data Lab was such a fantastic opportunity for our students to work with real data and an open-ended problem that contained many relevant considerations for the final solution. I was extremely impressed by the confident and clear presentations that were given after less than a day to work on the brief. All of the teams demonstrated their understanding of the problem well and clearly kept the client in mind.”

Stuart Cronin, Industry Engagement Manager, University of Edinburgh, Business School added:

“The Lab provided students with an exciting real-life challenge from a well-known, established brand. This provided vital experience for our students to work with real datasets to tackle the challenge and develop their pitching skills. The event was very well organised with a supportive team insuring everything ran smoothly and provided an excellent platform for our students to collaborate together.”


If you’re interested in attending one of our Labs, complete our application form by clicking here and if you’re successful, we’ll let you know when the next Lab will be taking place.

If you're looking to recruit talent or raise your profile amongst aspiring marketers, our Creative Data programme provides the perfect platform. Get in touch with Jessica here to find out more.

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