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Managing Marketing: Working in Global Markets and The Future of The Agency

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Senior Consultant, David Angell. 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.

Anathea Ruys is CEO, UM Australia. She is also a very well-travelled professional, having worked in Asia, Australasia and the USA. Anathea talks with David about their shared international experiences and the learnings she’s brought back to Australia with her; the importance of recognising the changed world we work in; and her ambitions to raise awareness of media as a career path, and her views on the need for change in the way media agencies work from top to bottom.

You can listen to the podcast here:

 

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Transcription:

David:

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.

And today, I’m sitting down with Anathea Ruys, CEO of UM, much respected in the industry. And I think it’s fair to say an extremely well-travelled, in fact, I should probably say globetrotting professional. So, welcome. Anathea and thanks very much for joining me.

Anathea:

Thank you. Globetrotter, I love that one.

David:

Well, you are a globetrotter. That’s a good segue. Let’s start with your professional travels. A little bit like me, but I think probably on a more successful scale, frankly. You’ve, as well as Australia, I think you’ve had stints in various markets and most recently, you’ve returned after I think a four-year (correct me if I’m wrong) — but a four-year stint with Dentsu in the U.S.

So, I’m intrigued by that. What did you find when you returned to Australia and how has international experience or learning shaped your approach to your current role?

Anathea:

I think international experience has been incredible and to be honest, I moved between Australia and New Zealand back and forth. I didn’t start in this side of the industry. I was a woman’s magazine editor. I was the editor for New Idea Magazine in New Zealand, as well as Australia. And then I became a group publisher back and forth between New Zealand and Australia.

So, obviously, that’s international to a degree, but quite similar countries. And it wasn’t until … it was probably about eight and a half years ago now, that I moved to Singapore to take up an Asia Pacific role, which of course, you have great familiarity with as well.

David:

Yes, we’ve done the same thing.

Anathea:

We’ve done the same thing. And that was a fantastic opportunity. And it’s funny, you talk about what experience on your professional life does moving have, and moving internationally and working internationally have — and I think that professional and personal is so intertwined in this instance as I do with many situations.

And so, for me, it was a great learning experience. I worked across a number of countries in Asia. And the fascinating thing about the market that we were working in is that you had some of the wealthiest and oldest countries like Australia, and some of the youngest and most developing countries like Indonesia. In Indonesia, I think at the time 50% of the population was under the age of 30 and habits and behaviors really reflected the makeup of the population.

And then of course, you had really culturally diverse and interesting places. And one of the things that I think our industry can always do better is to actually, if you are going into those markets and those environments, is getting a much better understanding in advance of cultural norms, cultural … not so much etiquette, but just requirements, how business is done.

I didn’t have that. So, I felt it was very much a explore as you go along and do your own research and your own learning. But I think that it’s a great opportunity for people when they do go into those environments to really do the research in advance, and understand, rather than just learning as you go along, maybe do a bit more of that in advance.

But fascinating learnings and experiences there. And then I moved to America on the 20th of December, 2016. So, obviously, relatively polarizing times for the United States. And then we were there for four and a half years, obviously, including a year or so of COVID times.

I found America to be a fascinating environment in which to work. Everything was very big. There were lots of zeros on budgets and that brings with it certain freedoms and opportunities, but it also brings with it certain limitations.

And one of the big limitations was when the budgets are so big that you end up just having a large group of people buying one particular channel, for example, and maybe not interacting as much with the rest of the media mix, it can be a real challenge.

And then if you look on the client side, we would often have clients who looked after media and didn’t have a lot of interaction with the folks looking after the creative side. So, I think that sometimes the very bigness, while it does bring great opportunity, it can feel a little bit more constraining or a little bit more like it puts you in a silo.

So, really, I don’t feel that in Australia. In Australia, I feel that because of our scale and size here, we are much more able to work in a really collaborative way, whether it’s with our creative agency partners or whether it’s across a broad spectrum of clients inside the organizations that we partner with. And that to me is incredibly exciting.

I don’t think it’s an accident that when you are in markets like the U.S., they’re always really excited to have Australian talent working in the agencies because that sense of flexibility, that sense of agility, that sense of having been trained and exposed across a broader spectrum of thinking and execution is always really welcome.

David:

How did you find it politically? And I’m not talking about Donald Trump, by the way, I’m talking about the-

Anathea:

Right, okay.

David:

Firstly, in Asia Pac, I completely agree, and it was the same for me, it was an exploration I didn’t have time and I should have really found the time to educate myself more. The complexities of markets like India and China, just unbelievable from just from a media point of view, if nothing else.

Anathea:

Yes.

David:

Large swathes of the population, not owning mobile phones and all of this kind of stuff that you just take for granted in other markets, just not there. And yeah, in the U.S. huge numbers, as you say, lots and lots and lots of people.

How do you navigate all of that? How did you navigate all of that? All of that mind field of sort of different people doing different things, different cultures, doing things in different ways?

Anathea:

It’s interesting. I think it really did evolve over the experience of working in those different markets. I think I went into Asia with quite a naive view of, well, this is me, this is who I am. And I get on well with people, I’m sure it’ll be the same here.

And to a large degree, it really was. I had incredibly collaborative relationships with people across the spectrum. And I think when you’re in a regional role, you need to very, very specifically and clearly add value to the markets that you are going into.

David:

Indeed. Yes.

Anathea:

Because we all know what it’s like when someone comes in and they don’t know your clients and they don’t know your people, and they don’t know your challenges. So, how can you go into those markets and provide something that both the local teams and the local clients really value and appreciate.

And I wouldn’t presume to speak for all of the markets that I worked with, but I did a lot of internal and external training. I did a lot of sort of pieces around — I worked in the content space then, around how content was changing, how content could be used in different organizations.

So, hopefully, that was valuable. And I think that that sense of collaboration and a genuine desire to work in the way that was going to be most meaningful for those leaders and teams worked for me. And then in the States, again, I think constantly pushing for collaboration.

Collaboration is such an easy word to use and it’s a word I use a lot. But when it’s just a word it’s absolutely useless. It’s something that needs to be exercised and utilized and fought for, and reiterated on a daily, multiple times a day basis. So, in order to be a collaborative person, you have to genuinely be a collaborative person at all times.

And so, that meant doing my best to put myself out, to support other people in things that they were trying to achieve. And managing lots of different needs from lots of different stakeholders across the group.

I worked for an agency on the West Coast, which is where I was running Carat, but I was also responsible for the integration across our West Coast office there in Culver City in the County of Los Angeles. And that was great. That was incredible with about 10 different agency groups in there. But again, constant collaboration.

It’s interesting though, you talk about … you said, how did you cope with the political side, and you said not the Donald Trump side. From my perspective, the political side of America afforded me an incredible learning experience, particularly over that last year. And around the time of George Floyd’s murder, and what that brought up across the country as a whole.

But also, in our own industry, and where we as an industry were lacking in genuine diversity and were lacking in creating a genuinely safe environment for people to work in. And, again, I’ll use that word from the beginning: naivety. I think I went in with a naivety that I was a broadminded, open non-discriminatory person.

And yet what I found was that I was moving through my working environment, let alone my personal environment, in a very privileged way, without necessarily being as aware as I could be and want to be about the challenges that other folks that I’m working with were facing.

So, for me, that last year in particular and the grace with which colleagues spoke up and shared their stories and spoke about what a meaningful work environment would really look like, it was an incredible gift.

We had a team of people in my office actually, who developed something called difficult dialogues made easier, which was, as it sounds, a dialogue series where we really did learn about each other and the biases we bring to everyday life.

And what I really hope is that that time has taught me to think much more broadly, and that I have brought that back into my current role, and that I will use that in any roles that I have in the future and in any way, any teams that I work with. So, it was a real privilege, a really interesting and challenging time to be there.

David:

Yeah, clearly, that’s going to be hugely valuable to anyone who wants to learn. A lot of the discussions on this podcast that I’ve been having have naturally gravitated to diversity and inclusion, particularly.

How do you see Australia in that … having come back, you just talked about your experience and powerful experience in America. Where’s Australia at? How well attuned is this market to true inclusivity and true diversity?

Anathea:

I think that we are all working really hard to achieve diversity and inclusion. And there’s such pat terms to trot out there. What it really means is are we creating an environment that is welcoming and open — that’s one side of it.

Then are we creating policies, quotas, guardrails, guidelines, things that we can keep coming back to, and making sure that we are progressing. Because I think that you need those hard measures, as well as the sort of the softer, the what’s the environment like, what are the behaviors like, what’s the language we use, how do we correct each other, how do we work with each other?

But without those guardrails, without those measurement forums, then I think it is just words and it is performative.

David:

I think execution is nine-tenths of the law, right. And it’s going to take some time. What do you think? And there’s obviously the MFA is doing a lot of work in this area.

Anathea:

Yeah. Doing great work.

David:

They’ve done some great work. So, personally, I think the foundations are in place to build a house. And I think it’s down to people like yourself who are leading this industry to lead by example and follow through and execute these things.

Anathea:

And execute. Exactly, follow through. I’m also part of an organization that is part of UM women called Unstereotype Alliance. Set up globally a few years ago, the Australian Chapter has just launched or launched at the beginning of the year. And that brings together agency folks. And IPG is a global and local champion. It brings together folks from across the agency spectrum, but also across the marketing side, client side as well.

And these are great conversations to have, and really critically, we are putting in place, like how are we going to measure ourselves this year and next year and beyond. Because … and I’m part of a pillar there that’s around data and measurement, and that’s so important, especially in our industry. But we need to do so much more in terms of representation in content and on screen.

But also, the only way that that happens is that you have representation behind screen. You have representation across the entire process of developing whatever that content is. But that you have representation when you are determining where to place that content and how to engage with people with that. And that’s the media side.

And as we have more and more data, we need to be more and more thoughtful and more and more human about how we use that. But that’s not … I have a view of a white heterosexual cisgendered woman that that is vastly different, my lived experience can never be broadly reflective. So, we need that broad reflection sitting inside our organization. And it makes the conversation over a coffee or a sandwich significantly broader and more interesting as well.

David:

Yes. It’s exploded outwards in such a good way. 10 years ago, we’d be saying similar things, but it was much more about, oh, well, the people who work in advertising agencies, they’re a bit affluent. And so, they don’t represent the entirety of the populous.

There was nothing about female representation. There was nothing about racial diversity. There was nothing about gender diversity. There was nothing about any LBGTQI. There was nothing about really no serious conversation from an industry point of view. So, it’s amazing how much this is escalated. But like I say-

Anathea:

And good.

David:

We are talking about it, we’re talking. There’s talk, talk, talk but the more we can execute-

Anathea:

Do, do, do.

David:

I think it’s amazing. And I think people are becoming much more aware now. And so, end results in content, ultimately, brands are going to be much more invested. I know it sounds heartless, but purely commercially, if nothing else. If you’re going to be making content that has a tin ear, so to speak, that your customers, your consumers are going to be turned off by that.

Anathea:

Oh, absolutely.

David:

So, there is an absolute commercial — as well as doing the right thing, there is now a commercial imperative very much.

Anathea:

There was a piece of content that was put out recently. And the memes that went around with it that I was following was saying things like “Tell me you don’t have a woman on your team without telling me you don’t have a woman on your team.”

Because you looked at this piece of content, you went, whoa, a woman on that team, or someone who identified with vulnerability that was represented in this piece of content would not have supported it. If they felt that they were in a safe environment where they could voice their thoughts, they would’ve said, “Hey, no, that does not reflect the world in any way, shape or form.” So, yep, it’s critical.

David:

Well, let’s change gear a little bit and talk about … well, actually, we’re sort of segueing into it. Let’s talk about UM a little bit. You’ve taken the helm, you’re back as a local market leader. And I’ll be interested to know how you then sort of work with your regional counterparts, because it’s the other end of the telescope.

Anathea:

Yes.

David:

And obviously, UM’s a well-established presence in this market and there’s a lot of respect behind the brand, I think, but there’s always more to do. What’s your vision, and as well as what we’ve just been talking about, what are the red buttons that you are pressing right now?

Anathea:

So, fantastic organization. Even obviously, before I started, I knew UM by its incredible strong reputation particularly here in Australia. I was obviously very familiar with them before I moved overseas and coming back into the organization, I’ve just been blown away by the spirit of high performance. It’s interesting.

I’ve spoken about this to a few people internally, when I came into UM, the teams would talk a lot about being a high-performing team and my natural reaction to that, just the language to it was it sounded very at all costs. But I came very quickly to realize talking to the teams and seeing the work they did and the way they interacted with each other, was that this was high performance in the purest sense of the word.

High performance in, I have a great deal of pride in my knowledge, my expertise, my ability to do this. And I want that to be represented. So, I will work really hard to make sure that I represent my work in the best way possible. And I want those around me to feel the joy of that pride as well. So, I will uplift others.

So, it’s actually been a great year. It’s been a year. I cannot believe it’s been just over a year.

David:

It’s actually quite scary.

Anathea:

I know it’s terrifying. And that’s been fantastic. There are a few things that are critical to me and I spoke about them when I first joined the organization. I’m still speaking about them now.

The first is we need to manage workloads with our teams. Workloads are huge. And I believe in part, that’s because we all dealt with the beginning of COVID when we had that incredible adrenaline rush. No one knew what was happening. We really didn’t have a clue. Clients didn’t have a clue. We didn’t have a clue.

So, we were needing to work together to change things and pivot on an absolute, I was going to say a dime, 5 cent piece.

David:

You’re an Australian now, come on!

Anathea:

And you can do that when you’re in a high-adrenaline situation, but you can’t stay in high adrenaline for a long time. And I don’t think we did a very good job of resetting — okay, so now we are through this time of crisis, what does life look like? What does our partnership look like moving forward?

So, people’s workloads and it’s the topic that we’re all talking about. Obviously, staffing movements and open roles and stuff coming from other markets has been really, really challenged over the last couple of years. So, that’s caused a lot of problems.

So, we need to be thinking about, are we critically sure that we’ve got the right people in the right roles? Are we taking a very long, hard look at our process and saying, this feels like this part of the process would benefit from someone with these types of skills, which will free up these people to focus on this type of thinking.

We need to think about what automation can do and how we can take away the types of repetitive action tasks that don’t need to be necessarily done by people. So, workloads is a huge area of focus. And the second is we need to support people in understanding their stress loads. Stress loads are of course, linked to workloads, but it’s not the only thing.

And if we’ve learned nothing else over the last two years, other than we need to understand that every person has their own challenges and stresses and things that they need to balance between what they do inside the work environment and outside the work environment.

I think that parenting has always been something that we’ve sort of understood. And that was a bit of a, “Oh, we know those people are parents, therefore they’ll have different stresses.” But we’ve learned that people have all sorts of stresses, whether it’s caring for elderly parents or a child that’s going through HSC or the last year of school. Or it’s, this person might need to do a large amount of exercise because they’re training for a marathon.

So, people have things in their lives that bring them joy and bring them stress. And we as employers, and as partners in their careers, we really need to understand and have empathy and put support barriers around those folks.

The third thing that I’m really being focused on is we need to, as an industry, make sure that people can see a future career for themselves, preferably in UM. If not in UM I want people staying in our industry.

It really distresses me that we are losing people to go client side or to go to do something vastly, vastly different because they haven’t felt that our industry can deliver them the career growth and the personal satisfaction that they need.

So, that’s something that I feel really, really strongly about. And for us, we are having a lot of conversations at the moment around what is the strategic dividend for one of a better phrase, that you as an employee, will get out of your relationship with us at UM.

And the interesting thing about that, and I think this is critical, is that can change across not just your career, but it can change across a period of months or a year. So, if you think about someone who is at the stage of their career, where what they’re interested in is real growth, real immersion, real learning. They want it all, and they want it all now. They want to work on the new business pitches, they want to do the courses, they want to network with partners. They want to take on all of the different opportunities.

Then that’s the conversation we need to have with them. How can we support you in order to do all of this? And then if you think about someone who might be at a different phase of their lives, who’s saying “I still want to do a great job. I still want to work hard and derive a great sense of pride from being exceptional at my work, but I have pressures in another part of my life at the moment. So, I don’t want to work on new business. I’m not interested in heavy training loads. I can’t take the time to do all of the networking events.”

That’s equally as valid. And guess what, equally as manageable, because we’ve got all of those different people inside the organization. So, what I would say and have been saying to certainly folks at UM, is let’s have that conversation about what it is you need in your career right now, and how can we facilitate that?

Don’t make that jump. Don’t make the assumption that media can’t give this to me, because really, we can, it is a very very flexible business. And certainly, UM’s a very flexible organization and we can work through that and have those conversations.

Over my career, I’ve had around 10 women, and it’s important to determine that, come to me and say, “Oh, I’ve been offered this great job or this great promotion, or this new opportunity, or to lead this project, but you know what, I think I might want to have a family in the next year or so, so I’m not going to take it on because it wouldn’t be fair to the client. It wouldn’t be fair to the business, It wouldn’t be fair to the team.”

And I’ve had zero men come and have that same conversation with me, even though I’m sure men are still having children. But to all of those women, I’ve always said, “Take it, take on the opportunity.” First of all, you never know what’s going to happen, when it comes to having children and falling pregnant, all of those sorts of things.

But again, organizations can work around that. The beauty of pregnancy is that it gives us plenty of time to work through plans and alternatives. So, I think that we just need to be having more open conversations about what’s critical for people at what time in their career.

David:

There’s so much to unpack there, isn’t there? You’ve taken the entirety of the next … like I was going to focus the entire topic. Your answer just almost covered all of it, which is great. There’s lots to unpack there.

I think let’s start with what you just said. This is a point of interest; 10 women, zero men coming to you with that, kind of, “Well, I’ve got family that I want to …” Do you feel intuitively that that is because there is still an overhang of women being expected to do more in terms of taking care of families and therefore-

Anathea:

100%.

David:

Is it? The alternative is that men still don’t feel comfortable professionally coming and talking about … I don’t know, it’s an open question.

Anathea:

Actually, I like that. Is that the case? Let me think about that. I think in my mind, men weren’t coming and having that conversation because they weren’t holding themselves back from taking on the promotion or the new job, because even though most men are wanting to take parental leave and wanting to be very involved, that’s not necessarily the thought process of, I want to have a child in the next year, so, therefore I’m not going to take on this role.

It would be I do think that historically anyway, that’s been, the woman has interpreted that it would make it harder on because she might be taking longer off or pregnancy might impact in any way. So, that’s a good thought. If there are men who are thinking that, take the job, take the promotion, but certainly, if there are women who are thinking that, definitely take the job, take the promotion.

David:

I think there’s no doubt. I guess what I was getting at there … there’s no doubt, obviously, the greater burden of responsibility still falls on women, and there’s no surprise, and it’s not fair, necessarily. It’s no surprise that you’re getting more women coming to you than men.

But as you were talking now, I was thinking well, from my point of view, my wife works full time. She’s got a career and I’ve got a career. It is only very recently in my … and I’ve got children who are — my oldest is 12. So, I’ve been a parent for 12 years.

It’s only very, very recently that I’ve been able to talk to who I’m working with or my employers, and say, I’ve got childcare issues, or I’ve got challenges that I need to … so, I need to stop doing that now, and I need to focus on that. In previous years, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable with that.

Anathea:

That’s a really good point.

David:

Because of what it looks like, which is ridiculous, but it’s, like you say, it’s historical. And I think the more men who feel comfortable as well is important, as well as making sure that things are fair and equal for women who are having to take maternity leave and everything else.

Anathea:

Well, I think that parental leave now is so critical and we’re certainly at a place where our parents can take the same amount of time regardless of gender, of course. And it’s wonderful to see how families are navigating that and different folks taking different time off at different times and people making sure that in the first period of a child’s life that they’ve really got this lovely sort of secure support around them.

And again, to be honest, coming from the U.S. where parental leave is by no means a given, we had, in the organization I was in, it was very generous, especially by consideration with other organizations across the country. But you’d routinely hear of people having to go back to work two weeks after having a baby because they had no protection.

So, I think that I’m so pleased that we are in a position where the conversations we’re having is how can we make this fairer and broader and more representative, rather than being in a position where we are still fighting for even those couple of weeks.

So, great conversations to have, and I’m super excited to be part of an organization that recognizes this and is constantly listening to our people and saying, well, what is it that we need, what kind of policies do we need to put in place to make sure that it’s really fair. And it means that people want to come back and work with us.

David:

There’s a couple of other topics I want to sort of unpack a bit based on what we’ve just been talking about. You talked about workloads there as a primary concern. And you talked about essentially either burnout or exit from the industry as a concern. And I’ve worked in media agencies long enough. I know the work, the stress load and the workload that comes with working in media agencies.

And, you see a lot of mid-level burnout. You see ageism in the industry, which pushes people out as well without wanting to sort of boil the ocean on all of the diversity and inclusivity topics, but there is ageism, I think, that exists.

But I also think that media particularly has become less and less attractive over the years to graduates coming in. And the starting salaries are quite low, the grind is really high. Automation can fix that to a certain extent, but people don’t always find it exciting to come in.

So, I don’t think we’re always attracting enough graduates or best quality graduates in. What do you think about … how do we attract better quality graduates into the industry or more?

Anathea:

I’ll tell you the quality of graduates where you are-

David:

Or more.

Anathea:

Thank you. I think that’s better.

David:

That’s a fair shout. I’m not suggesting that the current crop of graduates are poor by any means.

Anathea:

Yeah, no.

David:

I wouldn’t even be able to say that either way. But it’s more about making this industry attractive to the best people.

Anathea:

Exactly. I think there’s a few things there. And I’m always interested to hear about how people got into the media industry, particularly people that started at the beginning of their career. I came into it quite late. So, I didn’t do those first roles. People don’t know about the industry. They really don’t.

I grew up wanting to be a few things: a librarian, a radio host and to work in advertising, because advertising was glamorous. I knew a woman that worked in advertising and she drove a convertible and that was enough for me. It looked really glamourous. I didn’t know the media side about it, I wouldn’t have even given that any thought.

And I speak to a lot of graduates in this country and in other countries as well, they’re like “Oh, it wasn’t until I was halfway through this degree, or I heard about it here …” It’s not something that kids grow up thinking, “Oh, I want to get into media.”

And they should, because it’s incredibly exciting, it really is. What other industry can you work in where effectively you are on the cutting edge of how people are going to be communicating and connecting and experiencing in the next years. We see and learn about platforms really, really early. And, we understand and we can see how they all work together through the work we do.

So, I think we’ve got an incredibly exciting industry to offer young folks and old folks, and all folks in between. But when it comes to attracting them in, we do this thing where we say (and I think this is right), we want curious, creative, bold thinkers who want to make a difference. And then we say, alright, here’s your Excel spreadsheet, sit in front of that for seven hours. And guess what though, we do happy hour drinks, we’re going down to the pub.

David:

Yeah. There’s a ping pong table.

Anathea:

Exactly. So, I think the automation side of it is really critical and that will take away a lot of that grind, but I think more and more, it’s understanding what part of the grind is necessary to build your foundations. You spoke about foundations early on and it’s one of my favorite phrases around your career.

I think we also owe it to the people that we are working with to help them to see that careers are long, careers are long. You will do a lot of interesting things. You’ll do some not so interesting things, but careers are long and they go in often meandering patterns. But I do think it’s absolutely critical to build your career on solid foundations.

And so, I counsel people all the time to make sure that as they jump ahead, and there’s a lot of that happening at the moment where people are being promoted really quickly, that’s fantastic. If you are ready to be promoted quickly, that’s wonderful (if you are). But make sure you have someone on your side who is saying, “How deep are those foundations?”

And I say that as someone who doesn’t have very deep foundations in the industry that I’m in. Like I often feel the lack of history of mine in this industry. I often feel that I didn’t have those foundations. Now, I think I’m doing a pretty good job, but I do feel that that sense of, I would like to have that sitting underneath me.

And so, while I recognize that there is grind and there is grind in all jobs. I think that it’s important for us to say that this is necessary to help you build that foundation. And off that foundation, you will be able to build a tall and flourishing house.

David:

Yeah. I think well, for a start, the industry is actually much more … I fell into the industry backwards. I did an English Lit degree. And I had no … for the purposes of the tape, Anathea is nodding and saying the same thing –

Anathea:

Women in the 18th century literature.

David:

Women in the 18th century, yeah.

Anathea:

Anything you’d like to know.

David:

Me too, actually, yeah. So, I answered an ad in the newspaper. I had no idea really, but I guess the point I’m making is that the industry we entered 20 years ago is nothing remotely like what’s there now. The complexity, the opportunity — we talked about data, we talked about channels. The gamut of areas that an agency needs to be involved in now is so much richer.

Anathea:

Really is, yeah.

David:

But that makes for a really exciting industry. Automation is something that has been talked about a long time. And it’s been a tough nut to crack, I think, for this industry. People have been talking about automation for a long time, and I think it has been happening, but maybe slower than people would like.

But I often think this about media agencies, more so than many other industries. You guys, media agencies really have to deal with the now, the next, and the later, all at the same time. There is still need for what I would term as traditional media agency function. And people do need to build a foundation on that still, and that does require some grunt work.

But you’ve also got to be focused on evolution in such a dynamic industry and building your own business to deal with the complexities of that. And that is all wrapped up in, do we have the right people? That is all wrapped up in the quality of the people coming in. That is all wrapped up in forward planning. And it’s all wrapped up, as you say, in people’s careers.

I think we’ve been all guilty as an industry in the past of building very linear career paths that leave people in a certain position when they get more senior, that they haven’t actually been qualified to do, because they haven’t had the foundations. It’s just, you’re expected to become an account director and you’re expected to become a general manager, and you’re expected to do this and that. Whereas now, there are so many different paths and I think-

Anathea:

It’s exciting.

David:

It is. I’m sort of answering my own question, but I’m agreeing in the sense that being able to communicate that to a new graduate coming in, or a person who has been in a couple of years and is really sick of looking at Excel spreadsheets is massively important to help this, to build that. I hate the term “next generation,” but it is what it is, the next generation of people coming through.

Anathea:

And I think that one of the ways you do that, and everybody’s saying this — I’m always so loathe to say some of these things, because everybody’s saying exactly the same things, and here I go again.

As we come out of being stuck inside our homes and we’ve got more flexibility to come back into the office and there’s that ongoing debate about, is it better to be in the office, is it better to be working from home?

And I hear out there people saying, “Oh, it’s just the bosses that want people back in the offices because they want to watch them and make sure they’re doing everything that they need to be.” We know we don’t need to do that anymore because we’ve seen it, work gets done, absolutely. And we had incredible work done from when there weren’t people watching over.

But I will maintain that there is so much that happens inside a shared space. And in our instance, that’s the office, inside a shared space that helps people develop and learn and grow. Whether it’s the osmosis of being able to see … you talk about helping young folks to see where their career could go, simply by being in the office and seeing a really broad array of people in different roles at different ages, at different levels of seniority — that helps you to see a bit of a roadmap.

We have these things called office hours where folks can come and just ask members of the SLT different questions. And honestly, the most popular ones have been our finance lead because people want to know how this business works. And I was joking with him on Friday, I was saying it wasn’t people just wanting to know about how to fill in their expense forms, was it?

He said, no, “It’s, people want to know how things work.” And so, they see that, but there’s also the other learning from each other. And I think that just being able to lean over to someone and say, “Hey, I think I’m doing this wrong, can you help me?” Without making it a big deal without involving-

David:

Without scheduling a video conference.

Anathea:

Exactly. And again, everyone’s saying this, but I’m seeing and feeling such energy when folks are in the office. It almost feels a little bit like the days before a big event in that there’s kind of this sense of excitement. And once people come back into the office, they tend to come more and more.

Now, I see the downsides as much as anyone. And for me, it’s the commute, that extra sort of hour and a half, two hours, that has to come from something. And you don’t want it to come from exercise because you’ve been used to that. You don’t want it to come from spending time doing the things that you are interested in doing.

But I do think that there is 100% an energy and a learning opportunity in a really fun way when you are back in the office. And I’m really pleased to see how many young people are embracing that and saying, “It’s great fun. Feels really good to be back doing this.”

David:

I think for the younger people particularly, without wanting to sound-

Anathea:

I know we do, don’t we?

David:

Condescending. But I think a lot of people forget, certainly when I was in my mid-twenties, I lived in a flat share. I didn’t have my own house with my own office and my own … the conditions weren’t right. Technology, notwithstanding, the conditions weren’t right for me to work from home in that regard.

And so, I think that’s really important if nothing else. But the learning thing, yeah, there is no substitute for having people sitting next to you and being able to sort of osmosis, as you say, it’s actually quite a powerful thing. And-

Anathea:

For sure.

David:

It’s good that you say that people are sort of enjoying coming back and even if it’s a sort of a novelty value, to some extent after so long away, it’s good that there’s energy, coming back into your office, certainly.

Anathea:

Loving it.

David:

There was one other area that I wanted to unpack in your previous commentary on the workload side. I think it’s a two-way street. The workloads are high. But a lot of that can be driven by client demands and it can be driven by commercial agreements in the sense that you’ve literally not been paid enough to put the resource on the business that you need.

Without wanting to sound … we’re not pointing fingers here, and it’s not just about money. But what part can your clients play, what can you do as a partnership to make sure that there’s a more mutually equitable way of working that’s going to get the best out of your team for them at the end of the day?

Anathea:

Yeah. And there’s a few things and it’s really important. I was having this conversation with someone really recently. I know of instances where people have said that’s a … and I’m not talking about UM clients here. I’m talking broadly across my career where people have said “That’s a really tough client to work on, but I love the agency that I’m working on, and I know that I’ll work really hard and I’ll get through it and it will do great things for my CV.”

I don’t know of any instances where people have been like, I love working on the client, but I don’t like working inside the agency. But I do know that where it works the best is where someone’s like “I really enjoy working on that client. And I love working in this agency.”

And that 100% does come down to partnership between the agency and the client. And there are so many things that we can do together and that we try to do. And I’m really proud of some of my clients who lean in really hard to this.

We have one client who is an incredibly charismatic leader, and we ask her to come in and speak to the team about her brand and the vision she and her team have for the brand, which is incredibly clear and very motivating because the more they understand that, the more they realize that the part they’re doing over here contributes directly to that.

So, I think ensuring that everybody knows not just what we as an agency stand for, but what the clients they’re working on stand for, is critical. I think ensuring that we have conversations with clients around what is it that you really are asking for here?

Sure, anyone who’s worked in agencies is familiar with hearing a phone call and someone saying, “Oh yeah, sure, okay, alright, I’ll get straight onto it.” And hang up the phone. And they’re like, “Oh, they want something, it’s got to be delivered by tomorrow morning.”

What we’re not necessarily doing is saying, “I hear what you’re asking for, but why are you asking for it? What do you need to do with it? Who are the other stakeholders that need to engage with that?” Whatever it might be.

And then being able to say, “Okay, now, that I understand more fully what it is you’re asking for, this is what I can get you by tomorrow morning. Oh, okay. I can send you an email with some bullet points that outline this, that, and the other. If you want something more detailed, this is what the timeline looks like.”

Because I think that, again, we are not in the service industry, we’re in the investment industry. We’re not here just to do everything we are told to do. We are here to help our clients get the returns that they need. And in order to do that, we need to dive in a little bit deeper and we need to really challenge, is this actually going to be useful for the outcome you’re looking for?

Or is it something that you want us to do because just in case. So, we need to have those conversations with clients. We need to find out, we do this report for you every week, who reads that report? How much do you get out of that report? Are they sitting in a, I was going to say in a drawer, but no one has drawers anymore. Are they sitting in an inbox somewhere?

Let’s really interrogate that side of things. And then the other thing I’ve been talking to clients about recently, is I want every person in the agency to feel like they work on the very best account, to feel like that they have something special that no one else in the agency has.

So, I’m talking to my clients and saying, well, what do you do for your people that make them feel like that, and how do we extend that across our agency, how do we get them out into we’re talking with one client about, let’s do a day trip to the call center and have conversations with people who talk to clients.

If you are supporting your teams to trial competitors, or to engage with, mystery shopping, for example, how do we extend that across the agency, so people really understand and have that vested interest in what they do and how it contributes to that bigger picture.

It’s a wonderful … it’s certainly a challenge, but it’s a wonderful challenge to have when you have clients who want to work on that with you, and to recognize that they are almost as equal, where it’s critical that the agency attracts the right talent. It’s just as critical that the client attracts that talent as well.

David:

Yeah, you’re talking to three big bucket areas that are so important, you’re talking to motivation and the people factor, there is a real sweet spot. I know from my own experience, there’s a real sweet spot that you can get from just having a team of people that’s motivated.

I think the second bucket is visibility, having two-way visibility which feeds motivation, and then professional assertiveness, and the license, giving people the license to have. And I think that last one, that professional assertiveness piece where you are actually questioning, we’re not in the service business.

I think agencies in the past have fundamentally not taught that or not given people license within their own business to be that, to be the expert. And I think that is a really, really important skill that really needs … I still think it needs to be focused on, just in the industry in general.

I remember getting told very early on in my career by a client, a forward-thinking client, and I was, “Yes, no, the grass is blue, the sky is green. Black is white, white is black, what would you like?”

And I remember being told, and I must have been what, 24 or something, this person saying, “Look, you are the expert. Don’t forget, I’m looking to you for advice. So, you need to be more assertive than me,” and I’ll never forget that. That moment was a real teaching moment for me.

And I think the more an agency culture fosters that and trains that for that – and I don’t know what you think, but that’s really important.

Anathea:

And empowers that, I think your word, I think you’re-

David:

Giving people license, right?

Anathea:

Yes. Because what won’t work is if somebody has that conversation with a client and says, “This is what I can get you by tomorrow and da-da-da.” And then they ring me and complain. And I say, well, that, person’s terrible.

You have to empower and you have to support and in order to do that, you’re right – these things can’t happen without training, without conversation, without reassurance, without that confidence. And it’s not to suggest that we want people just blanket saying no.

David:

No, of course not.

Anathea:

It is just about understanding what is it that we’re really looking for here and how can we meet that need rather than what I call (and my team will laugh at this) the busy work. We often want to show proof of industry.

“Look how hard we work, look at these 78 slides here” and we feel that that is reflective of importance. We need to do the work, absolutely. But if it’s not contributing to the actual outcome we want, not just the proof of industry, then we don’t need to show that and we don’t need to put it decks and we don’t need to belabor the point as much as we do.

David:

No, I agree. And we’re talking so much to legacy issues here. And I think the more progressive leaders like you, that we have in the industry, the better, because I think clients need a lot of education on that side as well.

And I see this when I run pitches and when I do advisory work with clients. The legacy that exists in scopes of work or scopes of services, whereby, it’s all sort of, yes, the agency has to produce this once a week. And when you dig into it, like this is like this massive amount of work –

Anathea:

What are you using it for?

David:

Like you say, today it’s not sitting in a drawer, it’s sitting in a cloud somewhere, but it’s just gathering dust. And that takes a while, but I think it starts culturally, it starts with giving people license, which is-

Anathea:

Yeah. And conversation on both sides.

David:

Wow, we’ve almost about an hour, I can’t believe it. We’re way talkative today. Just quickly, the last topic I really wanted to get your thoughts and views on is media’s place in marketing, certainly, and we were just off … before the conversation, before this conversation started, we were just talking offline a bit about this.

Certainly, from the consultancy perspective, we’ve seen a large amount of movement or a desire for change, at least, from marketing clients coming under increased organizational pressure to deliver and become accountable, not just creatively, but commercially. And media obviously is one part of advertising, which is one part of marketing. But paradoxically, it’s the largest line item on pretty much any marketing budget.

So, it’s not insignificant by any means. So, there’s an implication there that as a media agency, you do need to take a broader organizational view and certainly a broader marketing view and work with your clients. What do you think an agency, a media agency’s place is now in marketing and what would you like it to become in terms of the way in which you interact with your clients?

Anathea:

I think we’ve been almost touching on this as we’ve had the conversation we have over the last little while, in that media’s a connection point. Media is anything that connects a brand with a consumer and a consumer with a brand. And as we said earlier, that means it’s all so vast; it’s vast and it’s evolving and changing.

So, I think that media in my view has never been a more critical part of the marketing conversation as a whole and will continue to be. And what I think that that requires is that we are having conversations throughout the spectrum with partners and I kind of liken it to coming together and going apart. We need as many of the coming together sessions and media needs to be at those right from the start.

So, that we are moving through the process in a way that’s complementary to each other. And by that, I mean, you can’t think about one element of advertising without thinking about media and how things will be amplified and where things will be amplified, and what’s the right place to reach people, not just what are you reaching them with?

We do a lot of work with clients where we’re really privileged with our fed government client, that we reach all the people with something like census, and then we might have something that reaches a really narrow group of people, but because it’s particularly critical that they get this information. So, that where you’re showing up and how you’re showing up is absolutely critical. I think clients know that and accept that.

And I would just ask that the media conversations happen frequently and early. I think that’s what we all want, isn’t it? Frequency and early so that we are working on it together. And I think that the big challenge, and we’ve touched on this as well, as media, as we recognize more and more the power of media to influence conversations and to inform people and to excite people and to educate people and to motivate people, we need to be reflective of the communities that we’re trying to educate, excite, inform, motivate, all of those things.

David:

Brings us back to the same place.

Anathea:

Brings us back to that, the more we can be reflective and be genuinely diverse, not just on paper diverse. And the more we can listen to conversations and allow people to stick up their head and say, “That doesn’t feel right. In a real-world situation, that wouldn’t be right. We wouldn’t show up in this place, and we wouldn’t show up with that message.” If we can do that, then we’re in a great place and we’ve got a hugely, hugely positive future ahead of us.

David:

Well, that is a good place. Your passion is unmistakable, I would expect nothing less from you, but I think that’s a great place to end.

There is one final question, which you have been warned is a mystery question. And I think my mystery question’s going to be earlier in the conversation, you talked about some interesting motivational factors for you when you were getting into this business. So, my question is, do you drive a convertible?

Anathea:

I did for a little while. I did, I don’t anymore. I drive a purely electric car, which is very exciting. And so, my motivation in that instance has changed, but the excitement of the industry, even though it was adjacent to where I thought I would hopefully end up, has not waned at all.

David:

Well, I think when Tesla brings out a convertible or maybe your career will be complete once you’ve got both the electric and the convertible.

Anathea:

Just going to be really clear, not a Tesla, it’s a Hyundai, IONIQ 5.

David:

I take it. I went to Mr. Musk there. I don’t know why, maybe it’s his profile.

Anathea:

Yes, maybe it is. Yes.

David:

But thank you so much, Anathea. It’s been great talking. Really, really rich conversation, and I wish you all the best, and the agency all the best, with everything that you’re trying to do.

Anathea:

Thanks, I’ve loved it.

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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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