Tourism Australia's new pitching process raises eyebrows

By Ruby Derrick | 27 November 2023

Tourism Australia’s competitive tender for its integrated global creative and digital services has taken a different approach that has divided industry insiders. 

The national tourism marketing body moved to a panel model for creative and digital agency providers.

Industry insiders say the pitching process previously was a simple creative and media agency shoot out. It's now a single agency per discipline versus multiple options. 

The current brand work is with creative agency M&C Saatchi. 

Industry insiders say this new model means Tourism Australia will have multiple agencies to choose from within a panel.

That could mean a mix of independents and multinationals or just one multinational holding company with the option to choose agencies from within the group. 

Tourism Australia noted that this evolved, bespoke approach would respond to future opportunities and challenges. 

However, some have questioned the approach.

Simon Hadfield, executive partner at DMCG Global, told AdNews the model might make sense for specialist agencies outside of the core creative and media communication needs.

But if Tourism Australia isn't looking to appoint "lead" agencies, then it raises some alarm bells, he said.

You need business partners who know your brand, the intricacies of what can and can’t be done and agencies who don’t need to continually pitch for projects,” he said. 

Pitching is a punish and puts added unnecessary pressure on agencies, believes Hadfield.  

If they’re forced to do this you lose all continuity of agency staff, intel and overall agency commitment as they can’t forecast revenue and manage the basics of a business. Great work comes from a monogamous relationship,” he said. 

Sam Buchanan, CEO of industry body Independent Media Agencies of Australia, welcomes the move by Tourism Australia. 

“For a panel that should be truly representative of our industry, which means indie media agencies should have a presence,” he said. 

Buchanan said the IMAA has clearly seen that various state and federal government models for their master media accounts have not worked. 

So this approach ensures a level playing field and we hope it's the beginning of the new normal for government-owned bodies,” he said.  

Anthony Gregorio, partner at Tumbleturn Marketing Advisory, said as per the RFP, Tourism Australia is looking for “increased diversity of creative responses to briefs; and a stronger focus on integrated multi-channel creative development by agencies. 

Clearly in their view this is best achieved by a panel approach to their comms,” he said.  

Gregorio, who previously headed Saatchi & Saatchi Australia as CEO and prior to that was CEO of Havas Creative Group ANZ, believes this model can lead to greater diversity of thinking and create some healthy tension between agencies to push the quality of the work.  

The watch-out, he says, which is a big one -- and one that Tourism Australia has also alluded to in its RFP -- is making sure there is a strong, transparent and consistent process that drives the engagement across a multi-agency structure. 

The process is also crucial to deliver the integrated multi-channel approach. A ‘big idea’ is only valuable for comms if it’s ‘connected’ across the whole marketing ecosystem,” said Gregorio. 

And, in the case of TA, there’s a huge amount of cultural nuance across all markets and audiences they will need to take into account. The other watch out is this ‘all you can eat buffet’ approach to having a panel of agencies to choose from, comes at a premium. You need to be a larger client for the benefits to make sense. 

The benefit of this specific approach is getting a range of specialists to fuel better insights and work across the entire OESP ecosystem, notes Gregorio. 

He says that, when done correctly, with a clear process and importantly the correct oversight and incentives for all agencies to work collaboratively together, it can have a multiplier effect on efficacy.  

What some clients don’t always appreciate is that it usually requires more resource to make this model work well. Making sure you know what model works best for your organisation, and how you want to work, is key in finding the right solution,” he said. 

If this could be the new "norm" for government accounts, Gregorio says that most governments run some type of panel approach for marketing and creative services (media is usually aligned into one supplier).  

The federal government, a few years ago, moved to a panel approach where a small number of agencies could work across all government advertising accounts (this excludes the ADF and semi-govt authorities like Tourism Australia that can run their own process)," he said. 

Apart from the time savings of pitching every project, said Gregorio, it also allows for a build-up of knowledge and increased understanding of the issues relating to a specific department.  

Agencies get security of activity; government still get competition.  

The benefits are clear, but this approach doesn’t work for everyone. The TA (Tourism Australia) model is quite specific and aligned to the way they want to work,” he said. 

Gregorio would advise any client that it’s best to first understand what the issues are in their marketing team that they need to solve. 

“Including barriers to getting better work out, how you want to work, existing resource and likely requirementsetc- before determininthe best agency model.  

Getting your own house in order and being clear on what you want to achieve is the first step to getting it right. 

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