Dennis Merchant

27 November 2012

Dennis Merchant started the first independent media buying company in Australia in 1974. Only someone of his stature could break the nexus between the media and the big agencies that so disadvantaged smaller agencies.

Merchant had been in major agencies for 16 years, much of that time in media departments of agencies such as Jackson Wain and Young & Rubicam. He was respected and trusted by the media.

When he left Y&R he set up a consultancy that could, in effect, be the full-time media department of agencies that couldn't afford one. He would make bookings on behalf of accredited agencies so they would still receive their ten percent commission and he would receive a portion of that. The Media Council announced initially that they would not accept bookings from Merchant because he was not accredited. But behind the scenes almost all the media did business with him from the start. Ultimately common sense prevailed and his consultancy was accredited. This was a godsend for smaller agencies.

They were taking a battering from the large multinationals who could employ the best talent and resources for their media departments, and who convinced clients that their buying clout meant better rates with the media. Did they buy better? No, said Merchant, and the media were glad of the change. "They had no love for the big agencies," he said, "they were sick and tired of being beaten around the head.

Whenever agencies made claims they could buy better, that put the pressure back on the media. Another agency would complain to the media, 'That agency's saying they're buying the best but you told us the same thing, so what's going on?'"

His pioneering efforts helped smaller agencies but ultimately led to media independents becoming a fact of life for agencies of all sizes, and direct clients.