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Managing Marketing: Creativity And Innovation In Media

Mike_Wilson

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Mike Wilson is the Chairman at Havas Media Group Australia and New Zealand and here shares his experience from starting in media planning and buying at BMP London, where he worked with many of the team who started Naked years later. His time as a Senior Marketing Manager at Warner music and the path that led him to founding Naked in Australia. He talks about the importance of working with great people and how to manage exceptional misfits to achieve outstanding results.

You can listen to the podcast here:

Follow Managing Marketing on Soundcloud, Podbean, Google Podcasts, TuneInStitcher, Spotify, Apple Podcast and Amazon Podcasts (the USA, UK, Germany & Japan only)

Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising, with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today, I’m sitting down with Mike Wilson, Chairman at Havas Media Group Australia and New Zealand. Welcome, Mike.

Mike:

Thanks for having me, Darren.

Darren:

Well, and thank you for having me too. This is the Havas Village, isn’t it?

Mike:

It is, yeah. You’re sitting here in Harrington Street in The Rocks, which is probably recognisable to most people, by the giant Bushell’s Tea sign on the wall because it’s part of the heritage of Sydney. And it’s got a great history as a building and yes, you’re right, all of the Havas companies are all together under one roof in what we call the Havas Village.

Darren:

It’s interesting, isn’t it? Because both you and I without dating us — but let’s just say we started our careers last century.

Mike:

Last millennium.

Darren:

Or last millennium, of course. But we worked at a time when media and creative were inextricably linked. And then what was it? The mid-nineties, they separated the two into separate businesses. But the whole psychology, I guess, to me, of having a village like this is to, in many ways, physically bring back together those parts, if not financially.

Mike:

I think that’s exactly right. And I think you’ll see if you look at the holding companies that still control the vast majority of advertising and media dollars in the marketplace, you’ll see most of them have tried their own version to bring different entities, creative and media, different agency styles together.

Probably, I think it’s fair to say with differing levels of success, I think something that distinguishes the Havas approach is what we call the “village approach.” And that is literally having all of the different agencies under one roof.

If you had a walk through the building, you’d see that it’s even physically designed to encourage and foster collaboration between the various entities. Of course, it’s not just a creative agency and a media agency anymore, there are lots of other skills and disciplines that reside within an agency holding firm.

So, whether that’s what traditional PR business is or content and digital services, experiential, etc etc. We all co-habitate, we work together, and increasingly, we work together on different client assignments.

Although, I think it’s fair to say that the industry, as a whole, both on the client and the agency side, hasn’t completely modernised in the sense that it’s commonplace to have singular tenders where both creative and media assignments are part of the same tender as you would know as well, probably better than anybody in the P3 business; we’re still largely structured in a way that was prevalent 20 years ago or more.

Darren:

Yeah. And yet, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Because the pace of change of the media landscape and therefore, the requirements on creative agencies producing content for that media landscape, has changed phenomenally in the past 20 years.

Mike:

It has. Well, of course, that was one of the accelerators or the reasons why media agencies in some senses broke away from the creative agency parent groups if you like. I think there were several other reasons as well, from corporate and political.

But purely from a capability point of view, it became fairly obvious probably 25 years ago that media agencies were increasingly going to be able to sing for their own supper as the advent of digital technology came around, and a greater reliance on data.

Of course, it was very rudimentary back then, but it was very evident that that was going to be a skillset that clients were going to have to rely on independently of their creative advertising focus. And of course, it was a television advertising-centric business back in those days and it’s far from that now.

Darren:

Well, my colleague Michael Farmer in the US, he’s been tracking creative agencies since 1995. And he regularly, is on the record saying a brand would produce around 150 to 200 pieces of work a year.

And now, it’s in excess of 5,000 pieces of work because of this phenomenal, not just fragmentation of channels or multiplication of channels, but also that the modern digital channels and social media channels consume so much content.

Mike:

They do. And they also demand production of a different nature. So, if you even think again — and I’m just using very rough figures. If you think your typical TVC may have been, let’s say somewhere between $400,000 to $700,000; if a client had that amount of money available now, it’s unlikely they would spend all of it on one TVC. Or the number of clients who would is much smaller than it used to be.

However, those clients may still have access to that as a production pool, hypothetically, being entirely hypothetical. And the likelihood is now, they would want dozens and dozens and dozens of pieces of content for the same investment. So, by very nature, the whole ecosystem of agencies and the production model has to change.

What’s interesting, I think, is the degree to which it hasn’t in many cases. I mean, I would argue that we are still structured in a way that was basically born in the 1950s in the US with mass consumerism, mass production, a very limited number of media channels, where you could achieve huge reach by very few channels. And yet, that’s the structure that led to the birth of the modern advertising industry if you like.

And I would argue that many companies are still structured in that way, and in some ways, are struggling with redefining themselves and reconfiguring themselves to be as appropriate as possible. And that always gives rise to the opportunity for smart people and for entrepreneurialism. You see it in the independent sector, and of course, you see it in particular, I think at the moment, with what Sir Martin Sorrell’s doing, well, that’s S4 Capital.

Darren:

S4 Capital, good old S4 Capital. Look, before we go there, I just want to rewind back to — you can tell by the lingering accent that you grew up in the UK and that you graduated from university, and then I noticed you went straight into a creative agency, but in a media role. Was that something that you planned or was this serendipitous or just, you know?

Mike:

No, it was complete luck. Yeah, I haven’t shaken off the accident, have I? I’ve been in Australia for a quarter of a century. But I will say that whenever I go back to the UK, people say I’ve got an Australian accent-

Darren:

I’m sure they do.

Mike:

Which I know will sound strange to Australian ears, but yeah, you kind of feel like you’ve got two homes, I like to say, which is nice.

I know that the story which is not particularly exciting and is very common, is I graduated from university in London, desperately needed a job, went to a careers fair, got a job in a company that had publishing in their name, so I thought that sounded vaguely glamorous and creative. And of course, it was working in a publishing company on the media sales side.

Quickly realised that actually it was far more exciting to be on the media buying side because you could go out for nice lunches in London. And it sounds very flippant, but actually it wasn’t a lot more than that.

Darren:

Look, yeah, when I made my midlife jump at 25, I realised I’d jumped into the wrong area because the media department were the ones that had all the good tickets and the good lunches and the … I had to wait for the photographer or the film director to take me out.

Mike:

Exactly, and it does sound a bit flippant and people may correctly roll their eyes at such a flagrant and blatant opportunity just to have fun. But the reality is over 30 years later into my career, I still don’t take those things for granted and I still think we’re very, very lucky to work in this industry. And if there are those sorts of benefits along the way, then that’s terrific.

But the story is, I was again, completely lucky because I joined what I think is largely considered to be one of the greatest ad agencies. And again, it was luck, not judgment because they were the people who had a job going at the time and they were called BMP. They are now called adam&eveDDB because DDB acquired them.

But for those people who are of a certain vintage or who are interested in the history of advertising, BMP is probably up there as one of the great British ad agencies in the same way that DDB would be there in the US if you were looking at US history.

One of the things that was particularly great about them was they were one of the inventors, if not the inventor or the founders of modern-day planning. So, they had a great focus on intellect, insight, understanding consumers, and working in that environment that obviously filtered through to the media agency or the media department as it then was.

And so, you had a real hotbed of super smart people that I was able to learn from, many of whom are still very, very significant in the industry today. And names like Ivan Pollard, for example, who’s the global CMO at General Mills. People like Jon Wilkins, who was the founder of Naked where I went to work, and is now a chairman at Karmarama and Accenture Interactive.

These people would cut their teeth in that small department in London. Indeed the European Head of Facebook was one of my best friends who I sat next to in that team then. Little did we know at the time, well, we were learning how to plan and buy media.

Darren:

It’s amazing, isn’t it? One of the great things about advertising is the way that it can attract incredibly intelligent people and curious people and often, unusual. They’re not ones for the corporate life and yet, when the right combination comes together, it absolutely produces magic, doesn’t it?

Mike:

It does. And I think there’s something in there and you can look at it in any team environment. Sometimes, you just get a generation that comes together and people who aren’t necessarily the most talented or visionary within that team. And I certainly wasn’t one of the leading lights in that team.

But you get carried along on a wave of other people who are real pioneers. And yeah, I was very lucky. That was an incredible group. And I think Campaign Magazine named it as the best ad agency of the century in the UK, or one of those hyperbole driven articles that they write from time to time.

Darren:

As our industries want.

Mike:

Exactly. But let’s be honest, Darren, I could have just as easily ended up in another agency, which had nothing like as much intellectual heft and would probably have left the industry after two or three years and done something entirely different.

Darren:

But Mike, it wasn’t just media because next you had to roll on the client side, didn’t you? At Warner Music?

Mike:

Yeah, I think not unusually. I worked on that client for a number of years at the agency and they were looking for someone senior in the marketing team, and I think sometimes better the devil you know and ultimately, they offered me the role. And I went to work, interestingly, for the Head of Marketing there who was a former advertising planner himself. So again, there was probably some connection.

But yes, that was a fun time for I think anybody in their twenties who was into music and that being a passion.

Darren:

Because you personally have a passion for music, don’t you?

Mike:

Absolutely, and I think most people in the music industry do. So, that was a great time living the life in London and working with famous artists and going to Glastonbury and it being part of my work. I mean, that’s a wonderful thing to have.

I think often it’s good not to work with your passion because it can be sullied a little bit by the commercial reality and you lose a little bit of the enjoyment. But no, I absolutely loved it. And so, I worked on that with Warner Music for three years in the agency side, and then three years as a client before I moved to Australia.

Darren:

Can you remember back to that time? But from the point of view of being a client, did it change your view of what it meant to be as an agency?

Mike:

It certainly obviously helped. And because it was an entertainment-led business, you were briefing the agency for both thinking and doing a lot of almost every day, because there were so many campaigns going through.

And having done the job on the agency side, the first thing is you have to be extremely respectful of the people who are doing the job that you used to do. And often, you would know the answer that you wanted them to give, but you have to give people the leeway to demonstrate their capability.

Equally though, it also meant you could shortcut sometimes and you could get to an answer quicker. And I think once you get to know the people on the other side, in that case in the agency, then you were able to get respect from each other and just move forward together.

Terrible cliche, of course, but I think there’s two types of clients and I run an agency now and certainly, something that recent experience has born out; there’s clients who say they want a partner relationship, but they don’t really. They want a master-servant relationship.

I’ve always been of the view that you get the best work with a true partnership relationship. That’s why even today, I’m I suppose one of the media agency leaders who is quite happy for media owners to have direct relationships with clients. And I know that’s not the case with every agency, so I’m not saying one’s right and one’s wrong. I think it’s about what you believe in.

Darren:

No, I’m really glad you said that Mike, because I think it requires a huge amount of confidence, which comes from maturity on both the client side to allow the agency to be a partner. But also, then, when you went on to say having the media owners also partner with your client.

Because what that means is you’ve given up this almost childish desire to try and control everything, and you’re willing to step back and create the space for everyone to actually do the best they can in their contribution.

Mike:

I think so, and I think that’s where you get the best results. That’s not to say sometimes you don’t get burned, and I’ve had that experience sometimes as well.

But I think every time you give somebody some leeway or some freedom, there’s always a chance that a small proportion will take advantage of in a way that wasn’t desired. And I think once you accept that’s an occupational hazard or a small degree, a small component is likely to go awry, that’s fine, you live with that.

But I think the best work is a tripartite, three-part relationship between client, agency, and media. Even more so now than in the past, given there’s so many different variables available in order to produce solutions for clients.

Darren:

Well, it is also part of growing up. Are you willing to accept the responsibility for the mistakes of others, especially those that you’re in the role of managing, isn’t it?

Mike:

Yeah, it is.

Darren:

It’s a big growing step, isn’t it? The first time you give someone responsibility and create that space for them and they let you down and you have to fess up, apologise to either the client or someone else and take the responsibility, that is a big step for a human being.

Mike:

I think in our world, in the client agency world, that’s something you can establish really quickly with clients because clients want to know who you are as a person and know how you operate — something I tend to try to establish very, very quickly, just a little bit, but not being apparent. You have to give people the opportunity and sometimes, they let you down a little bit, but nearly every time, it’s a good decision, but that’s okay.

Darren:

Well, one of the questions or one of the conversations I find myself having with a lot of clients, advertisers, is that I’ve yet to find an advertising agency where people turn up every day to do an ordinary job.

It’s one of those industries that really does attract people that want to do great work. So, I say to them … because they’ll be talking about, well, which agency is the best? Every agency will be fielding the best team possible; whether they can produce the work is so many things other than the team, including you and the role that you will take in this.

Mike:

Yes, that’s right. And there are so many anomalies in that structure, aren’t there? There’s the people that clients see, there’s the people clients don’t see who do an awful lot of work, and sometimes don’t get the credit. I think it’s really incumbent on us as managers and leaders to make sure that everybody that plays a role in the system, is duly rewarded and recognised.

I think most people in agencies, they just want recognition for hard work and creative thinking and going the extra mile and all of those things. I’m not sure always as an industry we’re as good as some of the others. I think there hasn’t probably been a strong emphasis on training and personal development as there are in other industries. And I think if there was, we would benefit immensely.

I think sometimes it goes in the important, but not urgent bucket and therefore, can tend to get overlooked, particularly in tougher economic times. It tends to be one of those things that gets parked a little bit.

Darren:

I think one of the problems with that pulling back of things like training — and when I talk about training, I’m not talking about formal training, as in classes and things. But even the mentoring that people used to get, that there was a time agencies were able to have the resources that you didn’t just do the job. There were usually other people there that were able to share with you the lessons they’d learned.

Whereas you take all that away, you slim down the agency resources, you take away the training; what you’re basically setting up is for people to make the same mistakes and learn the same lessons over and over again.

Mike:

Yeah, and of course, it’s ironic because as everybody knows, essentially our only variability in our businesses is our people. We don’t have manufacturing bases and giant factories, it’s all about people. So, there’s kind of an irony that perhaps we don’t over invest in people development. And as you say, it’s not just sort of the day-to-day skills, but it’s things like mentoring and giving people experience.

I have to say though, one of the things I would say is the difference now to when I was starting out, was I think that young people tend to be a lot more resourceful than they used to be. I think there’s a lot more self-starters, there’s a lot more energy. Perhaps when I was starting out, you expected the corporation to look after you and to structure the path for you in a more linear fashion.

Here, I never cease to be amazed by some of the endeavors that my younger staff members get up to out of work and the creative pursuits-

Darren:

Their side hustle.

Mike:

Their side hustles, their commercial nous, their creativity being brought to fore in many other fields. And of course, that’s partly enhanced by technology.

So, yeah, I think the future of the industry is positive. I’m always a glass half full person. I actually get more buzz from what I see the younger people in my company doing than I do necessarily from conversations with some of the older, more established leaders around town. Although, obviously, a lot of them are very good friends of mine.

Darren:

Well, and I think part of that goes to what I see as the driver of creativity, which is curiosity.

Mike:

Yes, 100%.

Darren:

And that people age when they lose their curiosity. One of the things that keeps you young is that constant wonderment and questioning, which comes in spades in the young people that you recruit.

Mike:

Totally. I had a stint when I arrived in Australia 20-odd years ago in a management role at WPP Media Agency. And my job there, as well as looking after the business and the clients, was to train young people and develop young people.

What I found in the last decade or so, is I learn more from the young people than I teach them in many ways, and that feels like a fundamental change. Obviously, it’s a two-way street, but yeah, I think there’s a hotbed of superb talent in the industry in this market and we should do everything we can to continue to develop it.

Darren:

And that was at MEC, wasn’t it? You were running MEC here, weren’t you?

Mike:

Sydney office, yes. So, I wasn’t running the whole company. I had a very influential boss, Mike Porter, who many people in the industry will have learned from and I don’t mind mentioning him by name because he’s a very influential man. And at the time, I was running the Sydney office and Mark Coad was running the Melbourne office. So again, very strong leadership in that group.

Darren:

A couple of big names of Australian media.

Mike:

There you go.

Darren:

So, and this is something I want to focus on, is that you actually start, well, one of the people that founded Naked or brought Naked to this market.

Mike:

Yes, that’s right. So, I again, it all comes down to people and who you know and relationships. But in my London agency, BMP that we mentioned, I had worked with the guys who subsequently founded Naked in the UK that launched in about 2000, I think, and expanded into various markets around the world.

I was still very good friends with them, and they approached me to see if we’d be interested in launching Naked in Australia. And I absolutely was, it was a fundamental challenge to the status quo of agencies and their structure, and felt like the right offer at the right time.

And to be frank, we replicated the model that had been so successful in London which was with two smart media guys and one strategic planner. And those two people who were far, far smarter than me, were Adam Ferrier and Mat Baxter, who, I think most people will be familiar with; both those guys were absolute legends in their own rights. So, the three of us-

Darren:

I’ve now pulled the trifecta because I’ve actually recorded a podcast with both of them. So, you actually complete that.

Mike:

There you go. So, I was talking to Mat, funnily enough, about working together at WPP and I’d done some project work with Adam, and they felt to me, to be the perfect partners for an archaic industry challenging brand like Naked.

Darren:

So, what was it about the opportunity of starting Naked? Because as you just said, it completely ended up being like the hexagonal peg in the very square hole of advertising here. I mean, it didn’t just redefine it, it sort of crushed its way into it.

Mike:

It did. And to be honest, there’s obviously a number of elements to it. If I could distill it down, essentially, agencies, particularly media agencies, had been working in a very traditional way for a long time. And yet, we were sitting on the advent of digitisation and the first dot com revolution.

And it was very obvious to clients and to smart people in agencies, that there was a different way or potentially a better way to do things than they had previously been doing. It was compounded by the fact that the way media agencies were structured was predicated on doing deals with media owners.

So, in other words, if you’re a brand owner, it meant that your money was likely to have been spent on your behalf by a media agency with a media owner before you’d even issued a brief as to what your brand objectives were, and yet we were sitting on the cusp of this digital ecosystem and landscape, which wasn’t being taken into consideration.

You had that coupled with smart people in agencies who could all see the folly of this media industry structure, and they were what we used to call brilliant misfits. They were frustrated by the silos in which they found themselves, the limited opportunities they had to express themselves creatively, and intellectually.

And they just needed a place which said all of those historic boundaries can go out the window now. There’s a better way, let’s talk to clients, let’s work with media and digital companies in a different way, and bring some proper intellect and creativity to planning, which was lacking. And I mean really channel planning and media planning.

And to be honest, everybody got that. Naked was the first, it kind of broke the mould a little bit, even if I say so myself. You can argue if you think that’s not the case, Darren, I’m fine to have that discussion.

But here we are 20 years later or 16 years later in Australia, and I think it’s kind of accepted because most agencies have a discipline or a worldview that encompasses exactly that thought. Channel planning is commonplace, people, media agencies’ output isn’t necessarily predicated on deals with media owners anymore. Perhaps it is in some networks and agencies, but not particularly compared to how it was.

Darren:

Yeah, I think though, the difference was that the starting point, and this is an observation as an outsider to Naked. But seeing the way that Naked in this country operated was that the starting point was, “Okay, what’s the problem? Now, what is the best solution?” And it wasn’t necessarily either advertising or media, it was considering the full range of things.

Mike:

That’s right, Darren, that’s right in a pure sense. But think about the context in which that existed. That existed in a context where the solution had already been pre-chosen by agencies before the client had ever even briefed them. So, it was perfect timing.

Darren:

I absolutely get that, except that you said that now, it’s commonplace. I still find media agencies, even though they offer/and some agencies get more than half their revenue from non-media services, they don’t talk about it a lot. And so, the perception is then a media agency does media, and a creative agency gets creative. And God forbid, they go to a digital agency because isn’t it all digital.

Mike:

It’s quite blurry.

Darren:

But there are still these silos or these boxes, these pigeonholes that the industry still tries to fit into.

Mike:

Yeah, I think so. It’s a very fluid marcomms ecosystem now. I would think nearly all of the media agencies have got a content offer. I think if you’re in a PR business, where does social live? Does that live in creative? Does it live in PR?

We’re the ones with the issues that we’ve created these silos, on the whole clients don’t need silo solutions, they just need, as you say-

Darren:

A solution.

Mike:

The right solution to their problem.

Darren:

And not the one that says, “Oh, look, I’ve got a hammer, where’s the nail you want me to hit?”

Mike:

Exactly. And to be honest, that’s what Naked was identifying 16 years ago in this market, 20 years ago in the UK. And I think when you start something or when you’re one of the first to do it, you’re only ever going to appeal to a certain sector of the marketplace.

So, we tended to attract clients who recognised that as well, which wasn’t the mass market. But we had a good time and we had a good brand as well, and we sort of made a noise above our size. And when you’ve got leaders like Adam and Matt, they were always going to make sure we had a strong opinion in the marketplace. And it’s time I look back on very fondly.

And also, if you look around the industry, there’s a lot of significant leaders in this marketplace who went through Naked at one point or another.

Darren:

And also, some phenomenal strategic creative people through Naked globally as well. I mean, there is just like this this honour roll of really smart thinkers.

Mike:

So, I reckon I’ve been really lucky, Darren. So, I can retire in years and years to come, hopefully quite a few years to come and say, I’ve worked for two of the greatest agencies, and many people only work for one or don’t even work for one. But I can say that, and it’s not down to me. I think it’s much more luck than anything else. Probably, a bit of good relationship management. But yeah, I think having come through BMP in the UK and then Naked is very, very lucky.

Darren:

Well, I think you’re being a little bit humble here because it takes a particular type of manager. And I use the word “manager” advisedly. But to get the best out of creative people requires you to create the environment, to allow them to excel. I mean, you can take the best creative people and try and jam them into a system of command and control and hierarchy, it’s just not going to work.

So, are there any lessons that you can share about the way you managed those brilliant — what did you call them?

Mike:

Brilliant misfits.

Darren:

Brilliant misfits.

Mike:

That was our recruitment policy, globally. So, we literally would apply for brilliant misfits and they tended to be people who were frustrated in, as you say, a command and control siloed environment which the advertising and media industry had developed.

Darren:

Well, let’s put it this way; I can’t see many of them sitting in filling their time sheets out.

Mike:

Exactly, exactly. So, well, two things; I think firstly, there’s something around people management or getting on with people that possibly can’t be taught. I think it’s just something you naturally have to a degree. Although, I suppose you do learn it as you’re growing up, but not necessarily just in a business environment.

And the other thing is I think management and managing people is in itself a discipline that you need to be trained in and learn and understand or teach yourself. And as I say, I think quite often, that’s not the case in our industry. People are expected to sink or swim.

I think we quite often promote people who are very good at a particular craft skill into a position of management. To be honest, I was never the best in the craft skills of media planning or media buying, but I was quite good at managing and it’s a different discipline.

So, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve worked with super people as well. I mean, with Adam and Matt at Naked, they had incredibly different skills than the ones I did, but I was quite good with keeping my hand on the tiller and managing people and keeping the thing going forward.

Darren:

And different personalities and different requirements. And that’s, I guess, what I’m trying to get to, is that because my observation is that some managers will give creative people as much rope as they need to hang themselves. Whereas, it’d be probably better to say if you’re going to give them rope, it’s to only build a safety net for when they fall.

Mike:

Yeah, exactly. I mean, I’ve always seen myself as … I’ve certainly never been a ranter and a disciplinarian as a manager, more of someone who sort of just nudges people and keeps them on the right path and has a grown-up conversation when required every now and then. But nothing dramatic. I certainly, I don’t have a management training book in me. I think it’s you respect people and you make sure people are recognised.

Darren:

I don’t know, Mike, you’ve got a wicked sense of humor. I think that there’s been times where you’ve sat back and chuckled when people that are working with you have either said things that have probably got a reaction or whatever. So, you’re not unwilling to take some risks, are you? Yourself?

Mike:

No, not at all. If you can’t have a bit of fun in this business, what’s the point? You could have chosen … we all could have chosen far less creative and fun and left-field careers, but we chose to be in this one.

And I must admit, when I was quite young in my career, I wondered what I’d be doing when I was 30, and now, I’m in my fifties and I’m still really happy that I’m here. It’s good. It keeps me young to be honest.

Darren:

Yeah, I can imagine. You used the word creativity. A lot of people have started to lose sight of how creative media actually is. I think some of it is to have the audacity to say there’s a creative agency and therefore, the media agency can’t possibly be creative is a misnomer. But what do you think is driving or should be driving creativity and media these days?

Mike:

Well, I think, well, it’s a big question. But I think in terms of let’s call it message delivery, I think often the context is just as important as the content, and it’s up to the people who work in largely media agencies to define what’s the correct context.

Again, I think it’s one of the things that sometimes gets overlooked that can actually influence the message delivery itself or the message content itself. But quite often, there’s resistance to that, messages are done over here in this team, and never the twain shall meet with media, which is all about delivering audiences. Well, that’s not strictly true. It’s delivering audiences in a certain way with a certain value. And, that’s what context planning is.

So, I think if you sat down with the head of a programmatic media team and said, “Your job is not creative,” they would look at you very strangely because they have to use a lot of creativity in terms of understanding different strategies and connections.

Perhaps, it’s not the same, and when people think about creative traditionally in our industry, it’s about advertising or paintings. Whereas actually, there’s a lot of creativity of thought and structure, which goes into really compelling solutions for clients.

I sound like I’m getting a bit jargon-ridden now, but the point is, media agencies are not just automatons, it’s not just spreadsheets. There’s a lot of thinking.

And of course, there’s so many options now, almost an infinite number of options. And the role of strategy is increasingly important. It’s always been something that I’ve championed. I think sometimes strategy tends to get overlooked or downplayed or not valued as much as it should be. And the Australian markets are very, very sophisticated marketplaces, as sophisticated as anything in the UK or the US.

And what is included and often what’s not included is just as important as well. So, it’s a sort of very rambly answer to your question, Darren, and I apologise. But no, there’s a different style of creativity.

Darren:

Look, I think often, when I talk to other media people, they’ll immediately go to doing a media first: “Oh, we’re the first to do this.” It’s like, okay, well, that’s partly opportunity.

But I really like the idea of contextualisation because one of the things I think gets lost, especially when people talk about programmatic, is that it sounds like it’s almost done by numbers. It’s painting by numbers.

But the thing that has to be considered is the environment, what’s around the message that either sets the person up to be open to and receptive to it or not; which is very much about knowing people, isn’t it?

Mike:

It is, and you can go back to the earliest principles of media planning and it’s right message, the right person, at the right time at the right price. But that was always seen as a bit of a Holy grail. But the reality is we can do that now. We now have-

Darren:

At scale.

Mike:

At scale. We now have the complete capability to deliver against that Holy grail, which we kind of always sort of aimed for, but never really thought we could do, is absolutely doable now. But there are hundreds and hundreds of what the programmatic guys call strategies and different ways to get messages to targets now.

And you have to really understand targets. And that takes us right back to strategic planning perhaps in a different iteration now. But I think it’s a very lazy stereotype to say people in media agencies aren’t creative in the same way, if you’d said people in creative agencies don’t understand data, that’s nonsense. You need to have all of those capabilities to do the best possible jobs for your clients.

Darren:

So, the next big thing I wanted to touch on, and that is this idea of trust. Because from my perspective, you cannot do business together unless there’s a base level of trust. And yet, there’s been a lot of talk since 2015 in the US with the K2 report from the ANA and lots, thousands of column centimetres, and the demand for transparency, whatever that means.

Where do you fall in that whole discussion around trust in media?

Mike:

I’m pretty clear about it. I think absolute, full transparency is completely necessary. We’re in an industry that’s constantly evolving and gets quite technical, and sometimes, clearly people have wanted to obscure the truth.

I also think it goes back to foundationally, the birth of media agencies because when independent media agencies kicked off, sometimes they were unscrupulous leaders who would do everything they could to hide where they were making money from it. It was never declared. I think most people in the industry know that’s the case now.

There would be very few clients who don’t insist on transparency. And this particularly came up with the early days of programmatic media. But all of our clients insist on it. I think it’s like anything else; if you’re good at your job, you can absolutely put everything on the table. I think if you’ve got something to hide, then maybe that says something about your own acumen.

Darren:

There is a flip side to that though, isn’t there? Because if the media agency is going to be a hundred percent transparent, there has to be a level of trust that the client really is going to allow them to earn a sustainable profit margin, for instance.

Because, one of the things we have seen is 20 years ago, and I almost pulled you up very early on, you said, “Media agencies could go off and have their own existence.” But in the pre-separation, the 10% commission was the standard fee. And that was for both creative and media, and there was usually a service fee, 7.5, 10%, depending on which market you’re in.

But we saw that collapse. We saw that go 10%, 9%, 3%, 1% for trading only. I mean, there’s downward pressure.

Mike:

So, the only way that you could make money if you’re charging 1% for media owners, if you were making money somewhere else and not declaring it. And to me, that’s fraudulent.

Darren:

So, there is a responsibility on both sides, isn’t there?

Mike:

Yeah, but I think everything should be open. Clients should interrogate it, we should show them what our profit margin is. And obviously, we need to make money in order to keep the lights on and keep people fed. And there’s no shame in that at all.

But it’s funny, people often say, “Oh, it’s not like the old days and there was more money around and you had great characters,” yeah, well, they, in many ways, set us up for a fall because they weren’t necessarily trading transparently and openly. And here we are in the 21st century, it’s a complicated business to staff, to run, to fuel the technology, the research, etc — it should all be transparent.

And frankly, I’m glad there was an ACCC report into understanding the murky supply chain particularly in digital. But this hasn’t just existed in digital, this happened a long time before digital. In many ways, we’ve been mopping it up for the last few years. And now, I’m not saying every single agency and every agency principle has the same attitude, you’d have to ask them.

But I don’t see how you can run a multinational media agency with the amount of scrutiny, auditing, legal jurisprudence that we’re all subject to. And frankly, if you want to make your money by behaving immorally, I don’t know, it doesn’t sit well with my values.

Darren:

Look, Mike, we’ve run out of time. I’ve really enjoyed having this conversation. Thanks for sitting down and having the chat.

Mike:

It’s been my absolute pleasure, Darren.

Darren:

Before we go, just one question; do you think in hindsight, that perhaps Naked was 20 years before its time?

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media, and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here

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    Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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