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Managing Marketing: Media, Marketing, Trade Journalism And Mumbrella

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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.

Tim Burrowes is the founder and editor-at-large of Australia’s biggest media and marketing platform Mumbrella. He is also the author of the soon to be released book, Media Unmade. Tim shares his experience launching the highly successful Mumbrella from scratch and talks about the role of trade journalism in the marketing, media and advertising category. He also reflects on the many challenges encountered and the changes that have occurred in the more than 12 years since the launch of Mumbrella

You can listen to the podcast here:

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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 Tim Burrowes, founder and editor at large at Mumbrella and author of the upcoming book, Media Unmade: Australia Media’s Most Disruptive Decade. Welcome, Tim.

Tim:

Thank you, Darren. Nice to be here, finally.

Darren:

Well, I guess the introduction is “thought leaders and practitioners,” but you’ve had quite a different role in that you’re also an observer, a commentator, and a journalist looking at this industry for how long is it now? When did you get into marketing and journalism?

Tim:

Well, marketing journalism would have been … I mean, that has been pretty much getting on for two decades now. So, I guess I’ve been a journo for a little over 30 years and writing about the media and marketing world in some way for about 20.

So, that was initially writing about the media agency scene and media sales scene in the UK via a quick diversion to Dubai and been here in Australia for nearly 15 years now.

Darren:

Right. And I imagine over that time, some things have changed, but a lot of things stay the same, don’t they?

Tim:

Yeah, look, that’s very true. So, for instance, things that stay the same, which might be familiar to you as well; whenever you walk into an advertising agency, they always tell you, you should see the work that’s in the pipeline, it’s great. And it never seems to quite come through at the other end.

They also always tell you, and I guess this is with my trade press hat on ─ they always tell you, “We’re not very good at doing PR for ourselves.” So, that’s always been a constant. And I suppose things have been different.

Definitely one thing that feels different is even 15 years ago, certainly 20 years ago, it felt like media agencies had the upper hand, really had the upper hand. And maybe the pendulum has swung against them a bit now. Maybe they have a little bit less influence in the ecosystem overall. Like it’s swung even further towards the marketers, I would have said.

Darren:

It’s interesting that observation, because I think part of it is the dominance of what some people call a duopoly. That they’ve been so good at building relationships and inviting marketers to work with them directly and capture so much of the media budget that it has had that effect of reframing media agencies.

What are the other influences though that you think have changed that? Is it the big thing about trust and transparency or is there a more fundamental change?

Tim:

Yeah, that’s definitely on a global level. That’s definitely one of those issues. The sort of everything that was said in the US, I suppose, four or five years ago now, about murkiness in the buying chain, both within programmatic but also traditional that definitely hurt trust. But very possibly deservedly so, because there were definite examples where there were unacceptable behaviors, that was part of it.

I think maybe to your point on the rise of Google and Facebook, in Australia, I suppose thinking back, one of the things that surprised me, that dynamic when I first got here, having written about the media agency world in the UK, was there without question, the media agencies were on top in terms of the relation, the buying relationship between agencies and media owners.

Whereas I got to Australia and at that point, the TV networks were so powerful still. If they decided they didn’t like a particular buyer or a particular group, often it was a new arrogant person arriving from the UK. They could shut them out. And you’d see examples where they just had to leave the role because they’d come in too hard.

Whereas I think because of the rise of Google and Facebook, maybe the TV networks aren’t as powerful as they once were. And maybe that’s not a bad thing from that point of view.

Darren:

Yeah, I think you’re right in that the Australian market and especially the media market would always be considered quite different from the UK and even the US.

But I think that the rise of Google, Facebook, Amazon ─ we’re getting more and more of these big tech companies offering advertising inventory in formats that blind Freddie could buy, it means that the media market is becoming more global. It is becoming more consistent because they’re having such a big disruptive influence on it. And I think that that’s part of the change that you saw.

It sounds like this is all part of the preparation for your upcoming book, Media Unmade, but…

Tim:

Yeah. And in fairness, that’s more about the rise and changes of ownership on the media owner side. So, funnily enough, although I do talk about the programmatic chain of that, I don’t go that deeply into the world of media agencies. That might come later, perhaps if it’s an interest … problem is I’m not sure it’s an interesting enough topic for a general audience, to be honest.

Darren:

Well, that’s true. The thing about the media owners and especially the media owners in Australia for most of the 20th century and the start of the 21st century, is that they were so high profile. They were like the media owners in the US, for instance, that were celebrities in their own right, and wielded huge amounts of power.

Tim:

Yeah, I mean, we have the Kerry Packers obviously, will be the people always go to first, but let’s remember the absolute pirates like Robert Maxwell circled around Australia trying to get his hands on Fairfax, for instance. Whereas now, people sort of say they aren’t quite the same personalities, and I suppose that’s true. But there again….

Darren:

Well, they’re called media barons, remember? Because there was this sense of royalty and power that was associated with it.

Tim:

I suppose the one character that I watch with a lot of interest now is Anthony Catalano, who at the moment, is Australian community media. And he’s a big personality. He came from not much more than a decade ago launching that one kind of real estate title in Melbourne and taking away so many of Fairfax’s revenues before coming back into the fold, only to have a kind of second blow up and go out again.

And now, he’s doing this. I mean, he’s got the potential to be our sort of, I guess, maybe our last media baron, even if he becomes like the king of regional Australian media. So, they are out there and they have got personalities.

Darren:

Which is part of what we love about advertising and marketing. But your journalistic career didn’t start in marketing. You actually started out as a cadet out in a newspaper group.

Tim:

Yeah, local newspapers. I mean, the UK word wasn’t “cadet,” it was more cub reporter was the UK wording. So, I mean, looking back now, I’m so glad I came in just when I did, because I just got to glimpse the old world. So, for my first few months, I trained on a manual typewriter because that was how we wrote our news stories then.

You’d have three little bits of folio paper with a little bit of carbon paper between them. And you’d wind them into your manual typewriter and you’d write your two paragraphs on it. And your version of word processing was just reshuffling the order of the typed paragraphs.

I remember the excitement in the office a few weeks in when we got our fax machine for the first time. It was that period. And then we computerised very shortly afterwards. Also in that first job, I got my first mobile phone. So, it all happened….

Darren:

A big brick was it?

Tim:

It was. It was almost exactly the dimensions of a house brick. So, you have to wear a big wax jacket with a poacher pocket because it was the only way of carrying it around.

Darren:

So, Tim was journalism something that was your passion, or was it one of those things of, “I need to go to university, what would I do?”

Tim:

Yeah, well, look, firstly, I think that’s university, so since I was 18. But I think it was something which always fascinated me. So, the UK system was prior to university, you do two years of A levels. And although I was doing three A levels, which had nothing to do with journalism, there was a voluntary kind of course, which was around journalism.

And I guess that was just enough to prove to my first newspaper that I was interested enough for them to try me out with a job. And we were very lucky in the very late eighties that jobs were booming in the UK. It was just before the early nineties recession, so I was lucky, they trained me on the job and sent me off on the journalism courses, which now, people have to have to find a way of funding themselves.

So, one of my many privileges, that was one of them that I was very lucky to get in and be trained.

Darren:

And what is the attraction of journalism? If you think back to the person you were then three decades ago, you were sitting there, you’re a cub reporter, you were doing rounds, you ended up chief reporter on your first job. So, you rose fairly rapidly, I guess, through the ranks.

What was it that really motivated you and got you up in the morning to go and hunt the stories and write them up?

Tim:

Yeah, I mean, it’s a complex art, so it’s never boring. That’s one of the good things about most forms of journalism, is you don’t do the same day over and over again. And if you do, then it’s probably time to move on.

You’re certainly on local papers or if there’s a connection back to the world of writing, but you’re writing about your own world. Local papers you’re writing about your community. I think that was why I ended up writing back about media and the marketing world, because again, you’re writing about your own world.

But yeah, so certainly having that stake in it, I think was important. You get this … I’m using the word “privileged” again, which is interesting, but you get this privileged front-row seat where you get to, hey, on the local paper, sit in the council meeting and there are a couple of chairs just for the reporters from the local paper who sit in the press box at the local court.

You’re obviously representing your readers in the community and that’s why you’re doing it. So, you’re in this privileged position where you get special access in some way, because it’s your job to tell the story back to your community. And that’s something which particularly when you’re kind of young and naive, which generally you are when you start in journalism, that’s something which is quite exciting, I think.

I don’t think journalists should aspire to be insiders, but you do get an insider’s view.

Darren:

Well, I like the metaphor, I guess, of the front row seat. That you do get invited into places except that often, I imagine people are putting on a performance as well. You must, especially focusing on media marketing and advertising, that you would have had that frustration of people always want to put their best face forward.

They want to present to you the story that they’d like it to be, even though it’s not necessarily the best story to be told or the right story to be told.

Tim:

Yeah, look, it’s definitely a double-edged sword because, when I think about … I spent a period, five or six years writing about the medical world, writing about doctors. And on the one hand, there’s obviously far more naivety around how media works and that side of things. So, maybe less appreciation of the value of having a profile. So, people won’t put themselves forward in quite the same way.

But on the other, they’re also probably less, I guess, artful in the picture of themselves they construct. So definitely, you get that construct. But I think that the challenge for every sort of journalism you’re doing is to think about who the reader is when you’re writing in a professional context like Mumbrella ─ what their working life is about, and then what questions they need answered.

So, with Mumbrella, it always really comes back to the question of why is this important to a marketer? We write for the whole media marketing world, but the bullseye is marketers. So, that’s a way to question what you’ve got in the back of your mind when people are putting up this performance.

So, if you’re an agency putting your best foot forward by playing the reel, it’s well, what was the effectiveness of this campaign, what’s the evidence, did it actually work or whatever. But yeah, absolutely. I guess the charitable version is the truth well-told.

Darren:

I think that belongs to an agency.

Tim:

I wanted to say McCann but hesitated slightly, it was McCann.

Darren:

No, it is McCann. McCann said, “Truth well-told.”

Tim:

Yes, and I like the … do you remember The Monkeys, they created that short-lived sitcom about advertising – 30 Seconds – and the slogan of that agency was, “The truth well-sold.”

Darren:

I’d forgotten that, but I remember they did one season, didn’t they?

Tim:

Yeah, it was such a pity they didn’t get to do a second season because the thing is I watched it again three or four years later and he really held up, well, I thought. They told the stories, there was a great arc for the season. So, I guess it was just a narrow view. And it’s hard to find when it’s only Foxtel. I don’t think it’s yet turned up in any of the streaming services, has it?

Darren:

Not that I know of. I remember it did come out on DVD. You can get the season one DVD. In fact, I think I’ve got a copy of it somewhere, I’ll hunt it out.

Tim:

I had very … I’m not sure what the word is ─ probably a realistic experience of what it’s like to advertise during that show because we thought, okay, early days of Mumbrella, what more perfect place to advertise Mumbrella, whether to buy some ads on Foxtel.

So, we actually bought an ad in the first ad break of the first episode. And in truth, we probably did some contract or something. But I went along to The Monkees, had a launch party to watch it live on Foxtel in a pub in Surry Hills. So, of course, I was there. I was thinking, “Yeah, my ad’s going to come on in for a minute.”

And of course, no one paid the blind bit of notice to it. As soon as the ads came on, everyone piled to the bar, the drinks, the roaring, and not a single person in there in the pub even noticed our ad. And I thought, yeah, that’s the life of an advertiser. That’s really what’s going on; everyone’s making a cup of tea in the ad break, aren’t they?

Darren:

So, you mentioned the early days of Mumbrella, you were the Editor at B&T, and suddenly I remember we were sitting at Cook & Archies having a coffee.

Tim:

A very fine Surry Hills breakfast place, I guess it’s still going. I’ve not been in there recently.

Darren:

It’s still there. I walked past it only two weeks ago and it’s still there. And you said I’m starting a new trade media and it’s called Mumbrella, get it? And it was everything under the marketing umbrella.

Tim:

Media and marketing umbrella.

Darren:

Marketing, sorry. Media and marketing umbrella ─ Mumbrella.

Tim:

The two Ms.

Darren:

Right. So, what was the stimulus? What was the motivation? I mean, you could have easily stayed a jobbing journalist editor, working for another company. I’m always fascinated by what the motivation is to step out on your own.

Tim:

Yeah, looking back, I’m not sure it was only one thing. Some of it was … it felt like there was a bit of an idea and a bit of an opportunity. So, I mean, the initial idea we had wasn’t quite what we ended up doing.

It was a series of … I thought more narrow newsletters. So, we might do one just for media agencies because that was the world I’d written about in the UK. One of the people in PR, one of the people in ad agencies, and then we’d need some sort of receptacle, SEO receptacle to put all of this content.

And the overall umbrella receptacle was going to be what became Mumbrella. And then of course, the idea of doing kind of PDF newsletters was in fact, a terrible idea. So, luckily, we didn’t even start that bit. We started with a receptacle and then that was the bit that took off.

So, that part of it was the idea. Part of it was talking to former colleagues who had already struck out on their own, who wanted me to come on board. So, that was Martin Lane and Ian Wakelin, who were working in the travel world, actually, publishing backpackers, I think with TNT, which unless you’re hanging out in backpacker pubs, you probably wouldn’t see, but it’s a sort of magazine for visiting backpackers.

But they had already launched a trade title for the travel world or the adventure travel world. We’re looking to just spin off something else. So, we said, okay, let’s do something in media. So, there was the opportunity. And with that, I guess, because I was joining a small company, it was a new company, but it was at least on its feet slightly that probably made the risk feel a little bit less.

And also, I was probably even then naive enough, not to quite realise how much of a risk I was taking, because giving up quite a nice job a nice salary and basically going in on half of what I’d been on before ─ but yeah, so looking back now, I think I probably should have been more scared than I was.

Darren:

Well, you did come across as very… you had enthusiasm in buckets.

Tim:

Had? Are you saying this is in the past tense now?

Darren:

Let’s see as the conversation progresses, but the interesting thing for me was that it was an innovation at the time because almost everything in the marketplace, even Simon Kennings page that they used to put in Adweek, wasn’t it?

Tim:

Yeah, that’s right.

Darren:

It used to be printed and then distributed. B&T was printed and distributed. AdNews was printed and distributed. It was the first time that someone had sat down and said, “Hey, we live in an era where publishing can happen all online.” I mean, that must have … in hindsight, it seems absolutely normal. Was it part of the allure?

Tim:

Well, look, I think, yeah. If you think about the environment, definitely even the time when I was on B&T, we would have judged our main rival as being AdNews. And the thinking was very much as if this was like an old form of publishing where once a day, the email will drop and you’d build-up towards it.

So, I was very lucky for one thing that if we had a good story, we’d sit on it till AdNews came out. But unfortunately, they sometimes have the same good story and they would be sitting on it until we came out. So, you’d have this kind of standoff. They’d go through to five o’clock at night and finally, both sides would give in and send out. And then we know email sent all day.

So, just one of the things that we do with Mumbrella was to think of ourselves as okay, always on, always publishing.

Yeah, there’s an email as well. But remember, to start off, it was weekly and then three times a week. But I was trying to do the website the whole time. So, just by taking over during the day in 2008, 2009, that was actually an alternative to what else was going on. So, that proved to be good for us.

I guess that wasn’t the plan. It was just it proved to be a gap and hey, the timing was really fortunate because it was just when sending email got really cheap. And I remember just going in when I was at B&T and talking to an agency about rebuilding our very basic email sending service and they were quoting us like 30 grand or something.

And yet, when we started Mumbrella, we just signed up for a service that was like 30 bucks a month. So, the email got cheap. WordPress just became mature enough to be able to publish on. So, again, basically, a free platform and Twitter came through. So, that became a great way of getting our sort of, I guess, early adopters each day to join in the conversation, come onto the website.

And again, because we had a comment thread, which was a relatively new thing ─ I think AdNews probably had means of having comments, but they didn’t really get them. Whereas, you would find that your twitter, would drive people to start the conversation. And then by the time you sent the email, the conversation had already started, the conversation would go where the conversation was.

Darren:

So, the reason I asked about the technology is the fact that you seem to also take a very different approach to the competition in regards to news. I mean, it was very much news of the moment, but it was also thought-provoking. It could sometimes be controversial. But it wasn’t like every story was considered on “What way is that going to fit in the book?”

It was more along a timeline than it was the cycle of every two weeks or a week or month of putting stories in a book, that seemed to make Mumbrella quite fresh and confronting in many ways for the industry. And especially, in an industry that is so obsessed with the way they look.

Tim:

Yeah, and I suppose looking back, I definitely, for instance, when there was something big in our world breaking, it was a lot of fun to be able to write three updates in the same day which obviously wouldn’t be something you’d do in a newspaper or magazine.

So, silly things like when Naked Communications, which was a really great strategy agency for a while. When they did their hoax campaign on behalf of Witchery, where they created the fake video, the girl hunting for the man who had left his jacket behind.

I mean, it sounds so mad to people who weren’t around at the time on how big a story that became in the mainstream press as well, and what a potential scandal it was that it could be a hoax video on YouTube perpetrated by a brand lying to the public.

And it was just such a huge story for a couple of weeks, but we’d sort of run with it sometimes two or three stories a day on the development. So, I guess in the end, the medium became ideal for doing that sort of thing.

Darren:

Well, because that’s another point, is that a lot of trade media, and Mumbrella was part of the trade media for marketing media and advertising; very rarely got coverage in you call it the mainstream media, except that Mumbrella seemed to have this habit of provoking or at least stimulating the mainstream media to take interest in the category.

Often, the News Limited, they were News Corp and Fairfax at the time, would have business sections, but very rarely would cover media that much in those sections. They were more sort of hard core. But Mumbrella on quite a few occasions actually broke stories that ended up running all over the place.

Darren:

Yeah, and I suppose … and maybe remember, we were at the tail end and maybe we’re returning to it again now, where for a while there were thriving sections or thriving-ish sections if that’s a thing in the Metro papers. So, there was a while where the Australians media section on a Monday was actually quite good for a while if you were in the agency world.

They broke agency stories and that sort of thing. There was a journalist called Julian Lee, used to do something similar for the Sydney Morning Herald. And they would have days of the week where the section would run.

And I suppose that’s the thing, is whether that stands the test of time even now as having a section on a certain day, is a question. But yeah, so I suppose where maybe we got a bit picked up by, I guess … and again, it was probably the online news. It was the news.com, etc ─ would it be, yeah, I guess when we spot an angle and it was a good story.

And look, one of the things is I guess I spent a lot of my time, my trading as a news-breaking journalist and it’s always been through the filter of who the audience is. So, when Mumbrella tells a story, it absolutely is and should be about the professional world. So, we don’t talk about we, the audience, we talk about the audience when we’re talking about the public.

But even through that, I guess I’ve always been able to spot a story and break a story that might get picked up elsewhere.

Darren:

Yeah, because I was wondering whether it’s because you didn’t define yourself as just a trade journal that you actually saw it as a news journal for marketing media and advertising.

Tim:

Yeah, but that could be true.

Darren:

And I think it’s an important distinction because I’ve had these conversations all around the world with lots of different trade journalists.

Tim:

Yeah, look, if I had to sum up the biggest area where maybe I disagree with some of my peers about the trade press before, is some have this sort of vague definition that we work for the industry, we should work in the interests of the industry. And therefore, we shouldn’t talk down the industry … but often I feel that’s a smoke screen for they’re writing for the big end of town and the people who actually advertise with them and the individuals and the brands there.

Whereas, I suppose, the way I’ve seen it is we’re working for the readers, not our advertisers. We feel very lucky and we’re very happy to partner with our advertisers, but primarily, we’re working for an audience where writing around what should interest them and be important. And hopefully, we’ll build up an audience as a result, which we can then help people talk to, just the nature of advertising.

Whereas, I think there are others who would think first about their advertisers and that’s not to say one is right and one is wrong. But if I had to make the argument on why we did well finding an audience quite quickly, it was because we were very clear that we were going to prioritise our audience and hopefully, the advertising might come along.

We weren’t going to in any way be kowtowing to the advertising. It would always be would the audience be interested in hearing this. And therefore, if they are, we’re going to tell that story.

Darren:

Which is the traditional separation of church and state with inside publishers. That editorial is about telling the stories and that there’s the commercial pattern, never the twain shall meet, which a lot of people would say has become old hat because many organisations have just collapsed those.

There must’ve been times during the Mumbrella years when you were breaking stories that upset some of the sponsors, the advertisers, that you worked with.

Tim:

Yeah, and look, I guess one of the benefits of being one of the owners was that you could take a very long-term view. You didn’t have to worry about this week’s or this month’s or this year’s numbers, so long as we were viable as a company, of course.

So, that meant that we could always take the long-term view, the correct strategy is to build up a reputation with the audience that you’ll do your best to tell it like it is. And if that has some short-term costs in the long-term, you’ll have a bigger audience that trust you more and that will pay off.

So, there was always a commercial strategy behind having that approach. And of course, there’d be internal arguments and it will be the job of the sales team to try and persuade us and try and make the case for their clients. And it will be the job of the editor to help them if they could and to be very sorry if they couldn’t.

Darren:

Now, part of that has to be the commentary, and you’ve mentioned it earlier that Mumbrella was famous for allowing the readers to comment anonymously. It was so controversial for so long. Is there any time that you would change things? Have you ever had regrets about some of the comments that you went through or just the policy?

Tim:

Yeah, look, that’s a really good question, particularly like is there anything you would change because of course, each day you were moderating … and it wouldn’t just be myself, it would be the editorial team and whoever the editor or the news editor of the day would have been ─ when judgment calls were being made on any given comment.

So, it’s all very well to set a rule, say you won’t let people be personal or personally attacking or whatever, but people would find ways sneaking things in any way. So, I don’t know, there’d be some sort of elicit relationship going on in an agency between two executives.

So, it will be sneaked in with an illusion in the name of the so-called….

Darren:

The people in the know would know.

Tim:

Yeah, exactly. And sometimes that stuff could sneak past you and so, some of it was about just developing an instinct for that sort of thing.

It’s funny, so, it’s a number of years later, but I remember there was one where an agency had ─ I think the way it’d come to life was it had been written as a kind of think peace for clients about what the effect of all of the job cuts at News Corp and Fairfax in 2012 was, trying to make a kind of PR-ish glass half full point; at least with fewer journalists, we’ll get more stories in.

And of course, once it went to the clients, they offered it to Mumbrella and it was to an audience that includes journalists. It seemed a much more kind of opportunist, a harsh callous point of view.

And what happened when that came in was I looked at it and did what I always did with the opinion pieces, which I would write a tighter intro and a tighter headline, which got to the point arguably to the point of the tabloid-ness. But we’d always tell if it was true to the argument, would send it back for approval, it took two minutes later for the approval to come through.

So, you wonder in that case whether actually it was looked at properly, and then posted it, and then, of course, all hell broke loose, and the author of that piece was a villain in the eyes of the journalists. And suddenly, there were 200 comments and you can imagine how stressful that is for a relatively junior person.

Now, where does the duty of care lie? Is it with the publication? Is it with the boss who sent it through and then approved it? Is it with the person who stated that view in the first place? So, I still feel conflicted with that one, because if you look back at the comments now, wow, you wouldn’t want to be the person who was the subject of them.

That’s a good example where we would often say to people, is you should see the comments that didn’t go up because of course, you’re always drawing a line somewhere. And it’s the ones that are either side of the line. The ones that just get up are the ones that cause the outrage and the ones that didn’t quite get up, are the ones where no one will ever see. And the ones that absolutely didn’t get up, are kind of the really terrible ones.

So, yeah. So, where I always really valued it, was as a way of people being able to punch up at their bosses, people who couldn’t say what they really thought on LinkedIn, because it would be career-limiting, would be more junior at the agency, and they knew that (to your very early point) everybody puts a front forward, the ones that knew that that was kind of bullshit.

So, that was at its best. And at its negative, was when it didn’t contribute. And I think you often, as a journalist, you have this sort of instinct you don’t want the censor. Yet, actually, there is a difference. When you’re curating a conversation, it’s your dinner table, you can invite who you want. So, probably over the years, we began to go in that direction anyway.

Darren:

There is a bit of the Peter Packer principle, isn’t there? Because with that great reach and power that you built, there does come responsibility. The thing is always knowing with any sort of censorship, that where to draw the line and where to consistently draw the line.

Because the other thing is if on some stories, you happen to go too far one way and others, the other way, you’re then open to criticism about inconsistency and using your power and influence as the publisher to push certain agendas.

Tim:

Yeah, look that’s true. And I think particularly when you talk about commentary, what you want is I don’t really care about how an agency boss’s ego has been damaged. Fine, but what you don’t want are people who are less powerful, who are genuinely upset and hurt on a personal level.

Darren:

It is an industry though… and I worked in the medical industry, but it is an industry that takes criticism really badly, often takes it really badly.

And I know that from personal experience, I’ve been someone that’s on many occasions criticised particular aspects of the industry. And yet, criticism is one of the few ways that you can ever improve things, isn’t it?

Tim:

Yeah. Like I always say … the argument I would always use when people were criticising us for being … if they sort of portray us as being anti-industry, we would always argue we’re in favour of a better industry for everybody. And often, that means challenging the status quo.

And I think I would sometimes position (maybe now, but certainly in the past), some of our fellow trade press as being more in favour of the status quo, which is a perfect commercial position to have as well.

Darren:

Because you’ve taken on a few issues. One of them I mentioned earlier, which was media transparency. You’ve taken on issues around awards and honesty in awards. There have been quite a few topics over, what was it? 12 years.

Tim:

Yeah. We started in late 2008.

Darren:

Yeah. So, 12 years of reporting on Australian media and marketing. What’s the issue that was closest to your heart or the one that you were most passionate about? And I would say the one that you were willing to take the battle to the wall.

Tim:

Look, I mean, the one that’s gone furthest for me in my career actually wasn’t with Mumbrella at all. It was in my first job writing media for Media Week in the UK, where we were passed a letter which had been written by a large newspaper group to the boss of a still privately owned media agency, setting out exactly how much payments would be made if a certain amount of business would go their way, which included the phrase, “Andy, I want to make you a wealthy man.”

And when we got that, I’d only been the editor of Media Week for about a couple of months, I reckon. My publisher at the time, he was also a CEO of the business who I now realise looking back, the business was in some trouble at the time as well. But I didn’t really know him that well because I was quite new, but we’d been bought into Media Week.

And I thought we’ve got this story, but they’re threatening to go to the high court to injunct us saying, “This is a confidential document.” So, okay to brief barristers and all of this thing. And he just instantly said to me, “If we give in on this one, we’ll give in on everyone.” So, we stood our ground and at last, they backed off, and they didn’t go to court and we got to publish it on the front page.

So, that was the one probably I wasn’t the proudest of, because hey, look, it spoke absolutely about transparency and murkiness in the industry and all of those things.

Darren:

It’s a great story, by the way, Tim, because it actually proves that the whole issue around transparency and media isn’t a product of the last 5 or 10 years, that it’s been going on for years and years and years.

Tim:

It’s been going on I mean probably since media agencies became a thing.

Darren:

Well, you know Commodore J. Walter Thompson was one of the first. I’m sure he used to hang around the New York yacht club, shaking hands with the media owners and collecting his checks or brown paper bags of cash.

Tim:

Wow, that’s quite a claim. You’ll have old JWT turning in his grave.

Darren:

Well, let’s hope so. Tim, this has been a great conversation. Thanks for taking the time and sitting down to share part of your journey. I’m sure you could actually write volumes of books on this because you’ve got some great stories to tell.

Tim:

Well, I guess, I’ll only get invited to write another volume of the book if people buy the first one.

Darren:

And that’s due out later this year?

Tim:

Due out in July.

Darren:

July, fantastic. And it’s called Media Unmade; about Australian media’s most disruptive decade. I’m looking forward to seeing that.

Just one last question; of all the stories you’ve shared, one, that you got to publish ─ but of all the stories since you founded Mumbrella, what’s the one that you could never run but you really wished you could?

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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