The Marketer: Meat & Livestock Australia, cleaving, the brave way

By Rosie Baker | 16 November 2015
Andrew Howie.

This article first appeared in AdNews in-print. Click here to subscribe to the AdNews magazine or read the iPad edition here.


Wearing the mantles of Marketing Team of the Year and Advertiser of the Year are testament to Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) backing brave ideas. Rosie Baker talks with Andrew Howie on leading the vanguard and loving what you do.

Andrew Howie is not like most marketers. Anyone that’s dealt with him will know that. He spent eight years in agencies in roles with Host, Clemenger, and Publicis Mojo, before moving client side with Meat & Livestock Australia. Howie’s upfront, frank and always game to let his hair down. He holds agency relationships in obsessively high esteem, cares deeply about great work and thinks effectiveness is like a drug.

Howie believes pitches are madness, that marketers should respect their agencies and not overstep into agency territory and that marketers are often too afraid to be brave. His marketing department was named the Media Federation of Australia (MFA) Marketing Team of the Year at the 2015 awards this month.

Just a few weeks earlier, MLA was named the inaugural Advertiser of the Year at the Effies. Howie’s approach is clearly on point and he was this month promoted to group marketing manager to oversee all domestic marketing across consumer and trade.

He might be in the hot seat for now, but MLA has a longstanding culture of respecting the power of marketing. Howie follows in the footsteps of the late David Thomason who led MLA’s marketing for 12 years, during which Dancing Butchers, ‘Red meat feels good’ with Sam Neill, and the Sam Kekovich Australia Day for Lamb campaigns gained momentum.

“I wasn’t at MLA when this happened, but someone made the decision that marketing shouldn’t be a cost centre, it should be seen as an investment. The day that happened was the day that marketing became great,” Howie says. Brave ideas and backing bold creative are key to what makes the brand tick, he adds. It’s something that seems to have always come naturally to MLA, but elsewhere across the industry seems to be lacking.

“There’s not enough great work in the market, and there won’t ever be,” Howie says. “David Ogilvy talked about clients getting the work they deserve – and I always look at that as ‘good clients get good work’. For marketers that aspire to make great work, they should aspire to be great clients.

“What makes a great client is up for debate but it comes down to value – not price. As we’re not a big spender, to get value for our members, we need to be brave. I think the challenge facing the industry is risk aversion. It’s very real and ultimately it’s people trying to protect their jobs. “MLA has a culture of trying new things and being prepared to back great thinking. That’s a culture that’s been built over a long time and has become entrenched.”

As a discipline, marketing needs more businesses and boards to view it in this way, and more marketers need to be proud of what they do to raise the profile of the discipline within the boardroom. “Enjoy what you’re doing and it shines through in what you do. If you hate something you’ll never do it well,” Howie says.

“I look forward to coming into work and I’m very proud of the job I do, and I recognise the honour that is associated with the job I have. I think it’s a personality thing – and I think that I’ve probably broken a lot of bones at a young age – possibly out of bravery, possibly out of stupidity – that carried through to making a few mistakes when I was a young advertiser, but I think taking risks is important, as is understanding the impact of that on the business.”

Howie speaks highly and passionately about the power of MLA’s relationships with agency partners. BMF has been its creative agency for 15 years and UM, its media agency for 10. Last year, when the government moved its account out of UM, MLA negotiated a split from the government’s central advertising roster to continue working with the agency.

Howie is outspoken about the damaging impact relentless pitching is having on the industry, but believes they are a “necessary evil”. It also took on The Monkeys and One Green Bean a year ago following a pitch process and is clear about the role of both client and agency in the relationship.

“Just because you’re having a problem with your boyfriend – you don’t put it out to pitch and invite three other guys in. When you put analogies on these things, it’s madness,” he says. “[Something is wrong] if you can’t sit down with your partner and have a frank conversation about changing something. Every time clients go through a pitch, we expect to get the same level of value at a lower price, so we’re driving a commodity and devaluing what we output.

“Clients have to be very clear and concise in briefings, give objectives and positive feedback, but ultimately to have minimal touch in the creative process. A lot of great work ends up on the floor because clients believe their role is to be overly forceful in this process. Most clients aren’t creative people, that’s why we have agencies. That’s not to say we should be hands-off and let agencies run rogue, but great work has proven to be effective. The way to get ROI boils down to that.”

MLA is one of the most recognisable and respected advertisers in the country, but the not-for-profit organisation is funded by levies all Australian farmers pay the government - $5 per head of livestock, $3.66 of which is invested back into marketing. But it’s not just a marketing organisation. It carries out trade marketing for retailers and food service industries, provides R&D, policy and education for farmers and promotes Australian meat overseas.

That budget constraint is one reason Howie believes MLA has always punched above its weight in terms of marketing effectiveness and creativity. The Australia Day campaign this year delivered a media ROI of $2.76 for every $1 and saw a 34% sales uplift in the week prior to the public holiday. Those numbers would make any client happy and shows MLA’s brave approach is working.

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