Behind the scenes of Perth's media agency market

Josh McDonnell
By Josh McDonnell | 22 October 2019

Perth, one of the most isolated cities in the world, can often be overlooked. However if you're in the world of media, marketing and advertising, that would be a poor decision. 

With a population of over two million, the city that was once laden with Maserati's, high priced housing and large amounts of disposable income, has since had to fight to keep its economy going.

Despite this, the adland to the west has continued to push through these difficult times, relying on its "swiss army knife" employees, nimble operational structures and disciplined use of advertising dollars.

Considered to be a “hyper-local”, yet creative, innovative and an entrepreneurial city, AdNews spoke to some of the city’s top agency “Perthanalities” to find out what makes the WA capital an unignorable market.

What makes Perth unique, other than its location on the west coast, is its media landscape. The likes of Seven and Nine hold strong ties in the city, driving a local content strategy built around news and events capabilities.

Radio is considered highly valuable with 6PR dominating the AM, while SCA’s two station offering helps lead the pack in FM.

Nova is known for its breakfast success, while ARN is in the midst of a turnaround following the return of well-known, local radio personality, Gary Roberts.

Out of Home is not without a presence and has been on a steady incline over the last decade with more valuable static and digital sights popping up throughout the city.

The publishing side of town is primarily dominated by Seven West’s The West Australia, a paper who’s roots in the city are so well established it is considered one of the primary voices in Perth.

However, where the city really differs from the rest of Australia is in its agency landscape. While all the primary holding groups are there, the operating models differ, with plenty of media, creative, full-service and independent offerings available.

Initiative Perth managing director Luke O’Sullivan says even with the ownership of a holding group, in his case IPG Mediabrands, the overall structure of the agency differs substantially from Mediabrands’ East Coast operations.

The holding group’s diversified services such as Cadreon for programmatic, or Reprise for search, are offered through Initiative Perth as part of a total expertise. “For WA clients, this plays to our strength of keeping everything under the one roof,” O’Sullivan says.

“We're in a sweet spot, in that we get the benefits of first-class national tools, tech, systems and the infrastructure that a network provides, but we have the autonomy to calibrate for this market.”

He says the ability to have programmatic, social, digital and a raft of other specialist services in-house and “all in Initiative blue” has contributed to the agency’s significant growth over the past two years.

Since taking over the role in 2017, from now Nine Perth head Clive Bingwa, O’Sullivan says the agency has grown in size by roughly 40%.

“We've got best in market resources at the back end to really drive our growth, so we don’t need to constantly access Sydney or Melbourne for support,” O’Sullivan says.

“These services are tangible to our clients and they get the right strategic advice working hand in glove with our team locally. That's also been part of the success we all wanted to drive in the past 12 months.”

Mediabrands aren’t the only holding group player in the market with a different agency approach. Arguably the biggest agency in the city is WPP’s The Brand Agency, headed up by long-time chairman and CEO Steve Harris.

Unlike its usual structure, WPP is without some of its best-known media and creative brands, instead utilising an integrated full-service offering through The Brand Agency.

Harris says the business has made a name for itself by constantly find ways to work everything from traditional advertising, to services that sit outside the usual agency portfolio.

“We’ve always pushed hard into everything that was not traditional advertising and we had some successes and failures along that journey, but it basically set up the diversified offering that we have today,” he says.

“What that has done for us in a sometimes-challenging market is it's given us a much deeper penetration with clients, so instead of going somewhere different for media, creative, design, web development, search and production, clients have us as their one-stop-shop.”

Harris says in most instances they handle 100% of a clients “advertising demands” and on average would look after at least 75%.

He believes Perth’s smaller market size is reflective in marketing teams and budgets and has led to clients looking for greater efficiencies when handling agency relationships.

“If you're spending tens of millions of dollars and your agency spends $5 million or $6 million or $7 million plus and you've got a marketing team of 25 or 30 people, you can afford to be spreading it around a bit and managing it with different specialists, but the budgets of your Perth clients tend to be smaller and you tend to have a smaller marketing team,” Harris says.

“There's a massive level of efficiency. Instead of going into six meetings for everything that you want, go to one meeting and you eliminate all that wheel spin of having four or five different ad agencies competing for your dollar.

“Essentially, as much as they're all trying to play nice around the table, they're essentially trying to slit each other's throats and steal the revenue.”

There is also the tandem and collaborative approach that comes with agencies including Marketforce and OMD, Omnicom’s creative and media output in Perth.

Marketforce CEO Adam Marshall sees things in a similar fashion to O’Sullivan, pointing out that while the agency can lean on

OMD WA for local media assistance, as well as the larger network, there is still a level of autonomy that comes with operating in Perth.

He says there is a lot more “centralisation” in the city, which is needed due to the different market challenges and local issues that play a role in day-to-day relationships.

“In other markets, the ability at a local level to make key decisions and influence your own destiny is limited to a degree,” Marshall says.

“Whereas, here we have so much autonomy and support. The network is more about okay, well that's your plan, go and do it, tell us what you need to support you, but very much you know your market, you know your people, you know your clients, you define your own destiny and run with it. And how often do you get that opportunity in this industry?”

Marshall says the relationship between OMD WA and Marketforce is also different from other markets, in that a large majority of each agency’s client base is separate from one another.

He says most of the agency’s tier one clients use third party media agencies outside of the group, meaning that there is less of a full-service offering and more of “when and where necessary” approach.

“For us, we try and have a bet each way in as much as for the OMD brand, for the Marketforce brand and then for our content brand Flare - each of them we see as champions within their respective fields,” he says.

“We don’t prohibit clients from working across one, two or three of those businesses, it's just a question of saying what's relevant across these different services for that client

“Yes there is the ability to offer full service but it's not how we necessarily go to market but if a client wants that one-stop-shop solution, we feel that we've got the best in each of those Working more closely together, is the structure found in the walls of 303 MullenLowe Perth, run by managing director duo of Todd Baker and René Migliore.

Positioned themselves as a full-service agency, Baker says the agency’s strength is in finding and growing integrated clients through the line.

Migliore adds that the agency remains dedicated to the right mix of creativity, which has been at the heart of the 303 history, as well as the growing media output as part of Mediahub but says MullenLowe is also focused on finding more data-led solution for clients.

Part of tackling this has been appointing former Carat Perth exec Michael Corry to launch MullenLowe Profero in Perth. As GM of Profero, Corry will lead digital strategy, ramping up the agency’s digital, data, analytics, search and online media capabilities.

“With Profero, MullenLowe Perth offers clients the option of a single trusted partner to help deliver customer-centric digital experiences, underpinned by the data and analytics needed to effectively target, activate and optimise communications and transactions, across all channels and platforms.” Corry commented.

Baker adds “That’s where we are starting to make strong in-roads, by acting as the partners that can guide all of this from a strategic, creative and integrated angle.”

However, it is not just the big names that are making waves in Perth’s river, as a thriving indie scene continues to grow, which includes Longreach Media, run by former Seven West Media WA CEO John Driscoll and ex-OMD WA managing director Angela Nutton.

For this duo, it’s about “going back to basics”. Nutton says where the agency has seen its biggest success is not getting caught up by whatever “shiny new object” has people talking, but by looking into the core of a business and identifying the “real business problem”.

“Clients just want someone that will answer their business problems and help them solve it because they're struggling a little bit,” Nutton says.

“They want the truth. They want straight talk. They don't want acronyms. They want someone that will help them with their business and from that perspective.

“Clients really just want to go back to basics. When I say basics, they just want people to look at their business problem and help them solve it rather than trying to traverse the shiny objects of data and tech. And that’s where we’ve had the greatest success, becoming trusted advisors in an evolving landscape.”

Nutton says the agency has prided itself on its honest approach, going so far as to even say to clients that media spending wasn’t what they needed.

She says because of the size of budgets in Perth, misspending even the slightest amount of their media dollars can lead to far more damaging results than might take place on the east coast.

“We've had a couple of clients come to asking advice and we've looked at their business model and where their issues are and actually said you don't need to be spending money right now on marketing and advertising, you need to go and look at your distribution network or whatever,” she says.

“We don't get paid for that but if we go and spend their money anyway, they're not going to be able to have a great solution at the end of the day and that means we're not going to be in business with them for very long.”

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