Meet The Team - Avenue C's emphasis on experience

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 1 February 2024
L to R: Will Chapman, Daniel Cutrone, Melissa Mullins, Hugo Cutrone.

When Avenue C was founded back in 2017, it was with a very deliberate ethos – hiring people with 10 or more years experience.

Hugo Cutrone - one of the four managing partners along with Daniel Cutrone, Melissa Mullins and Will Chapman - says this ensures that the media agency has a team of both passionate and experienced people that love what they do.

“The hardest thing when it comes to recruiting people is finding those willing to get their hands dirty again and really want to be back on the tools, so you need to look for craft specialists and that's where that passion really comes from,” he says.

“We'll have a book of people that we talk to on a regular basis. There are some roles and there's some places where you can actually hide, but there's nowhere to really hide when you're in amongst a group of media specialists.

“That means that that benchmark will become a high-performance environment. We're more like a consultancy where we need people to operate at a certain level and that's what our clients pay for and we never compromise on that model.”

Cutrone says that for every single role within the business, Avenue C is talking to around about five to six different candidates at any point in time.

“What's really unique about us that was different from all the other businesses that we've worked for in the past is that early on, we made a conscious decision to start to hire people before we actually needed them in the role for that specific client - so much so that in our first year, just as we started to pay ourselves a salary, we ended up taking a pay cut to hire the next person because they were right,” he says.

With six recent business wins under their belt – the likes of Appliances Online, Audika and Aussie Home Loans among them - while also counting companies like Marley Spoon and Hipages as existing clients, Hugo Cutrone says that a key differentiator for Avenue C is the building of a deliberately different agency structure.

“We don't have the same team structure [as our competitors], we don't have a waterfall process with work, we don't have departments where it goes into strategy and then digital sees it when it's time to execute - we work more like a collective,” he tells AdNews.

“We have a collective group of specialists – across digital, planning, strategy and investment - and that team works on that client's business. Another thing we don't hire is ‘suits’, because ultimately, we have media specialists and that team of four work on that client from start through to finish, but that means that no job is too big or too small.

“It is a unique positioning, but it attracts a certain person who's willing to constantly be in a high performance environment."

Daniel Cutrone says that such a hiring strategy has revealed that the right candidate not only needs to have that strong level of experience, but they also need to love media on a deep level.

“What we've found is that in market, there comes a time that you do get promoted across your years of experience and you’re out of touch from the craft that you honed your skills on,” he says.

“In a holding group, you do start to be promoted to be more of a people manager than a craft specialist and what we've found attracts people to Avenue C is that they actually get to go back to that craft specialty, that area that actually loved to do when they first joined the business and joined our industry.”

Hugo Cutrone says that unlike other agencies in the space, they use little programmatic on certain channels – something like display, for instance – instead focusing its use in more effective, ROI-driven areas.

“We're not saying no to programmatic; we do programmatic when it comes to something like native because it's actually really efficient, but we just want all of our media dollars to be going to an outcome and if I have to then shave off budgets for different tech providers, and I'm only putting 70 cents in the dollar towards outcome, how can that be more efficient than putting the whole dollar into a media outcome?” he tells AdNews.

“When it comes to out of home, we 100% use programmatic for certain strategic reasons, like time targeting for a QSR if you want to really get the audience on the drive home, but we do know that there's an inflated cost for that timetable, so it's really just an assessment of the benefit versus the costs.

“When it comes to video, or BVOD, there's evidence that a programmatic buy can actually help you manage your frequency, so we just need to assess what is the best solution at each point for each brief.”

Cutrone said when it comes to the likes of display, agencies can, through Google or Facebook, get access to both a lot of inventory and a lot of reach.

“From a performance point of view, we can do a similar thing with less display programmatic activity,” he says.

“There needs to be a really super strategic reason to do programmatic. We don't treat it like it's a channel. and that's the big difference. Sometimes people treat programmatic like a channel - the channel is video or its display or it's out of home.”

Looking ahead to what 2024 holds - now with close to 25 team members and around $80 million in billings - Melissa Mullins says one thing to look forward to is the new office the team just moved into in North Sydney.

“We've got a beautiful new space which means that we can work more strongly together as a collective,” she says.

Will Chapman says that due to the industry going through a turbulent time from a macro standpoint, he and Hugo Cutrone have had to lean in more to individual client’s business, because clients are having a more difficult job internally to meet their investment and continue their marketing activities.

“For the next little while, we're very much getting more and more entrenched, and having conversations with the CEOs and CFOs and helping all of those business cases to actually show them the benefits of long-term media and marketing, because one of the first things that gets pulled in these times is media investment and also creative works,” he tells AdNews.”

Cutrone does say, however, that there are clients where he has recommended that they pull their media budget, whether for the next six or 12 months, and while that obviously affects Avenue C’s short-term ability for revenue, it's a long-term game with clients that the agency is focusing on.

“What you need to assess is for each client, what is the benefit and where's the best place for them to be invested in that budget?” he says.

“Sometimes, it is media, and when it is we wholeheartedly put our hand on our chest and say this is the right thing to do, but when it's not, we need to be able to say the same thing.”



Mark Zala

Mark Zala, Digital Director 

What do you think sets Avenue C apart? 

Definitely a cliché, but I love the diversity of thought that’s encouraged at Avenue C. There’s no groupthink everyone has to follow. As we are a little older than your typical agency, we can have respectful and civil dialogue with colleagues who having opposing views. And that’s not limited to media. From politics to social causes, everyone can freely share their opinions and not have to worry about being ostracised for having an unpopular view. You become more well-rounded when you can work constructively with people with different points of view. Your critical thinking skills improve as you don’t live in an echo chamber and you become more empathic. Ultimately you can be your completely authentic, uncensored self and it’s a huge reason why I love showing up to work each and every day.

What's your biggest achievement?

We know media plays a very small, albeit important role in a brand’s success. Media is just one variable in the sum of all parts. That being said, you’re just as ecstatic when your brand wins as you are gutted when they’ve suffered a loss. I’ve been lucky at Ave C to have more experiences of the former and one in particular stood out. Last year a client of ours enjoyed their best ever year of sales growth and it was so rewarding to know I played a part in that achievement. Media is never a silver bullet and I’m in awe of what brand marketers and creative agencies produce. But seeing the collaboration of brand teams, creative partners, research teams and media to coalesce as one and produce the results we did, gives you a kick that’s hard to replicate elsewhere. 

What is the biggest difference at Avenue C compared to other roles you have had? 

Well for starters, I’m allowed to bring my fur babies in the office. And YES THEY ARE MY CHILDREN!!! But there’s two massive differences between my role now to former roles. First, I now consider myself a marketer. Not a digital marketer, not a trader, not a media buyer, not a performance marketer, not a digital strategist. A marketer. Just a marketer. Rewind 4 years and I wouldn’t even had said I worked in ‘marketing’, let alone call myself a marketer. But everything we do is through the prism of a marketing lens. As a young trader cutting my teeth in big agency land, buying media was somewhat gamified. Do you pull lever A B C to achieve X Y Z outcome. Each campaign was commodified and if you delivered an arbitrary media metric, it was considered a success. Comms platform? Media strategy? I was completely oblivious to all the smart and connected work that had been done behind the scenes. It’s the polar opposite at Ave C. The person buying your campaign, is the person who reports on your campaign, is the person who helped developed the media strategy and in almost all instances the person who helped pitch for your business. 

And second, I genuinely care about business outcomes. Believe it or not, I care if Primo sells more bacon (and I’m a former vegan!) and feel a sense of pride when amaysim grow their connections. For the first time in media, I’m honestly proud about the work I do. 


Karen Shin

Karen Shin, Media Director 

What attracted you to Avenue C? 

It was like destiny knocking on my door, but with a sprinkle of good timing!  

The stars aligned during the second COVID lockdown, presenting the perfect moment to make the leap from a multinational to an independent agency. While my tenure in multinational agencies equipped me with a solid foundation in team management, there was a missing element. I missed the craft and the essence that initially attracted me to the world of media. Getting back to the hands-on aspect of the job, utilising the tools, and practicing the craft I’ve honed throughout my career became the biggest draw. I’ve always relished being hands-on, so it was an absolute no-brainer. 

Joining Avenue C felt like a long-anticipated reunion with colleagues I had admired over a decade ago, coupled with the opportunity to be part of a workplace where each team member brought over a decade of experience, forming a powerhouse team.  

What do you love about your role? 

I have the opportunity to leverage my hybrid background in client management and investment. I get to discover compelling solutions to our client's challenges while simultaneously, indulge my passion for investment and trading, allowing me to nerd out on the numbers.  

What does a typical day look like for you? 

Well, it begins with diving into our intel-sharing chat group, where we exchange updates and perspectives. After catching up on the latest, I’m ready to tackle the rest of the day, which is diverse. My schedule usually involves a mix of client and publisher meetings, interspersed with focused time for implementation recommendations, or optimising campaigns or reporting. As custodians of the account, we guide the campaign from inception to the post-reporting stage. This deep level of involvement allows me to delve into the intricacies of the campaign, ensuring a comprehensive understanding and proactive management of every aspect. 


Elena Gianni

Elena Gianni, Business Director 

What do you love most about your role?

The relationships we are able to create with our clients and partners as well as each other. There really is a special bond we build together when we all work towards a common, no bullshit goal. Many days it feels like I get to work with my extended cousins: you fight, laugh and break bread together and you roll your eyes collectively at the bad dad jokes Uncle Carlo is telling in the corner of the room at Christmas! Knowing you have a group of people that support, respect and trust you and know when to leave you to get on with your job means you can show up as your real self each day.  

What’s the biggest challenge in your role? 

Picking your battles and making sure you are continually focused on the work that will add the most value is always a challenge, especially in an industry that provides endless options for new thinking and opportunities. But when you get the balance right and see success? There is nothing like it. The wins really motivate us all to keep going and progressing. Even the losses help us to learn. Especially when you have clients and partners that back your vision.  

What excites you about 2024? 

As Vice Chair of the MFA DE&I committee, I am excited about having more tough but important conversations about how we as an industry work and how we can improve in this space. We have come a long way, but continually pushing, learning and listening will only help us to evolve. It excites me to challenge and be challenged and work alongside a raft of like-minded individuals, regardless of job title, agency or experience. I am excited to see a more representative media landscape and an agenda we all push together. 

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