Welcome to advertising Brisneyland

Josh McDonnell
By Josh McDonnell | 31 October 2019
Getty Images/iStockphoto

This first appeared in the AdNews October 2019 magazine. Support AdNews by subscribing here.

AdNews spoke to the major players in Brisbane to find out why everyone is chanting “Viva BrisVegas”

If you ask anyone working in the Brisbane media market, it becomes clear it’s a town filled with passionate professionals.

Speaking to AdNews, VMLY&R Brisbane Managing Director Adam Kennedy says there is a perception of the city that “doesn’t chime at all with reality”. When he joined the creative shop back in 2017 he recalls comments such as “career suicide” and “there’s nothing up there” dominating the conversation. However, he says this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“A lot of what my Sydney and Melbourne advertising ‘friends’ would tell me is that moving to Brisbane was career suicide and because I had only ever worked in capital cities, I gave it too much credence at the time,” Kennedy says.

“The more I scratched underneath the skin and talked to people in the agencies and clients up here, and actually bothered to look at the work that was happening, that concept was just rubbish to be frank.”

Kennedy is not alone. Nine Director of Sales, TV and former Brisbane TV sales boss Richard Hunwick says anyone who suggests that spending time in the market is “career suicide” doesn’t understand the valuable role it plays.

Hunwick says there are multiple benefits to working in Brisbane, which has a long history of establishing and developing some of Australia’s top talent.

“There is great opportunity to get up there, to develop yourself and to engage and involve yourself at the most senior level in terms of combinations of class and agencies,” he says.

“Potentially in Sydney and Melbourne, you don’t get to because there’s too many people sitting in the way. So, you can learn your trade in that market at a significantly senior level and then parley that into something else.”

More than a big country town
Seven Brisbane Sales Director Todd Dickinson says Brisbane is a “unique market” for business, as it acts as a testing ground for a lot of sales strategies.

Similar to Nine, Seven has all of its sales teams integrated across its entire portfolio of brands, meaning sales, publishing and digital all sit across the same team.

He says there are also differences in the way the market engages with television, with Seven seeing a more male skewed viewership compared to other markets.

Dickinson says this is, in part, due to a very sport-centric audience, which has led to a different sales approach for the network.

“We’re a bit out of proportion in targeting males than most markets which has been interesting. That’s where sport comes into play a lot up here, and why the likes of brands such as Isuzu have a strong presence here,” he says.

Quantcast Head of Queensland Aimee Gossage likens the city to a sleepy giant, with a huge opportunity but still hindered by some of the larger national clients “sceptical of investing big”.

While there are still large national brands housed within the confines of the river city, including Super Retail Group, Amart, Auto & General, Flight Centre, Domino's and more, the consensus is brands could be doing more.

Gossage says that it is more of a case of brands conducting risk-averse, small tests that are usually done over long periods of time.

“I’d love to say Brisbane is completely independent of the happenings in Sydney and Melbourne, but realistically trends and decisions out of the two big cities still tend to have an impact on us,” Gossage says.

“However, there’s recently been an uprising, as more and more people who are wanting to challenge the status quo push to expand Brisbane’s small (but mighty) market.”

Some of this can be partly attributed to the movement of high-profile brands such as Suncorp moving its accounts out of the market.

The highly-publicised move by the national insurance brand last year, which saw OMD appointed to Suncorp’s $70 million media, has left the city divided.

Suncorp’s decision has been labelled “extremely frustrating”, “disappointing” and “a real blow” to the city.

Nine Brisbane Director of Sales Rebecca Lawrie says the market has seen some major clients move out but it also has stories of clients returning or moving up to be serviced out of Brisbane.

Even though everyone in the industry acknowledged that it is difficult when big brands decide to relocate, which can lead to wider issues, particularly in smaller agency landscape, it does follow a cyclical nature.

However, Lawrie adds that the industry in Brisbane is beginning to make strides in ensuring that changes are made to retain strong national brand presences in the city.

“No one wants to see a client move out of market. We pride ourselves on our work and local connection with partners and clients,” she says.

“It’s a challenge that unfortunately will never go away. As a media community, I hope we can continue to band together and demonstrate that Brisbane offers a depth of talent, strategic thinking, innovation and creativity that rivals the southern states."

Dickinson says the movement of clients out of Brisbane has certainly be acknowledged by the market, with the likes of the Brisbane Advertising Association working closely with the industry to create strategies designed to improve the situation.

He says there is an incorrect view of national brands being “big fish in a small pond”, adding that there are multiple smaller brands that lay the foundations for Brisbane’s strong market.

“From a TV perspective, we’re a traditional low-priced market; a discounter, certainly, in the TV world. And I know for a fact that no business of any size loses out on what they pay in rate, regardless of ‘how big of a brand you are’,” Dickson says.

“There are strong clients here that sometimes go unnoticed, the same can be said for agencies who are putting out really strong work.”

Zenith Brisbane General Manager Warwick Taylor says it’s important to note that these moves are often driven by changes in client structure and the location of senior marketing people, not because of the performance of the agency or issues with the market’s ability to service these clients.

He says Zenith works with several interstate partners who choose to place their media through Brisbane as they feel it provides greater value based on the size of their media spend.

“There are still many national brands that choose to be based here and receive great service, thinking and innovation from their agency and media partners,” Taylor says.

“Brisbane is also a market of opportunity with plenty of new and emerging clients and agencies providing opportunities for growth.”

OMD Group Managing Director Kenny Stewart says the issue is having a “damaging impact” on the city, describing the problem as a catch-22.

According to his estimates, 12% of the market have exited the state over the past 24 months, including the likes of Michael Hill, Shine Lawyers, Air Asia and Etihad.

“It’s a real shame [some clients] don’t appreciate that they are likely disadvantaged by being a small(er) fish in much bigger ponds,” Stewart says.

“It’s also a shame that they can’t seem to attract their marketing talent into Queensland. Other sectors seem to have no problem with enticing migration. It’s a catch-22 too – if they are going because they believe that they well get better service and capabilities in the south, it is only denuding the Queensland industry’s ability to develop and retain top talent.”

Stewart says it is important that the market remains focused on ensuring that Queensland-based businesses feel they can justly retain their marketing operation locally.

He says the big challenge is convincing clients that they are not losing out capability-wise by staying in the state.

“Equally, they should be encouraging marketing talent to appreciate that they don’t necessarily need to be in the Big Smoke for their careers to prosper and for their families to flourish north of the Tweed,” Stewart says.

Agencies, relationships and output
A transactional city and another built on long-term handshake agreements, Brisbane is known for being “nimble and less cut-throat” with relationships built on comradery ahead of coin.

Speaking to multiple agencies and media sales executives, a common thread that comes through is a different relationship dynamic than other markets.

Indie shop BCM partner and former Y&R boss Phil McDonald says long-standing relationships, a smaller market and less client movement set Brisbane apart as a more transparent and honest place to operate.

He says from an agency perspective, the landscape and overall dynamic is very different from the other markets he has worked in.

“There seems to be just a more up and down honesty about what goes on and how business is done, and there’s a good sense of comradery in the industry as well,” he says.

“If you’ve got the clients, then it’s wonderful that there’s less turnover of clients and you can keep your clients.

“If you haven’t got the clients and you try winning new ones, it’s quite frustrating because there may not be the large-scale pitch opportunities if you’re looking to grow your agency, whether that’s creative or media. It’s horses for courses really.”

Ikon, one of the largest agencies operating in the area, Brisbane Agency Director Adam Hickey says the city has a heritage of humbleness and of getting on with the job.

He says vanity strategy, unfounded assumptions and adherence to lazy norms “don’t get much chat” in Brisbane.

“Here it’s about sustainable relationships built off an agreed understanding that to have impact we need equal part insight, resourcefulness and accountability across all parties,” he says.

“We have a foundation of mutual respect, curiosity for 'what if…' and the courage to see ideas through and at all times a passion for our client’s business – these mutual values across the marketplace mean we all get along pretty well.”

SCA Head of Agency Radio Sales Brisbane Hamish Rose agrees, adding that from a media owner perspective, agencies are more willing to facilitate the conversation directly between client and publisher.

He says there is an emerging collaborative attitude, whereby agencies are helping promote the view of media owners being partners, rather than a threat to their operations.

“I don’t know whether that’s a trend across the country but what I am noticing in that space is agencies are opening the doors to more client conversations,” Rose says.

“They are viewing publishers as partners and not trying to shelter their clients; not seeing us as a threat that we’re going to cut them out or anything like that which was an old mindset years ago.”

Kennedy at VMLY&R says that while agencies obviously compete, there is an element of closeness that is driven by a collective desire to succeed and grow the market.

As far as agency make-up goes, the city is like any other, made up of the key holding group players, while also maintaining a thriving indie scene, such as BCM, Media Merchants, BJF Media, Rumble and more.

Kennedy says as a result of this highly competitive but “tight knit” setting, agencies and clients have far more in-depth and upfront conversations, often trusting each other with a greater level of transparency.

“You’re never going to get a shock conversation. We get those things out on the table really early and it allows us to constantly be working on those relationships and responding to client needs so that you aren’t caught on the back foot,” Kennedy says.

“The tough conversations between agency relationship definitely happen and more often than not, they happen in the right way.”

Rose says he sees this happening from a media owner side as well.

“You can really have very detailed, open conversations with the agencies. They’re happy to have that conversation and not just, ‘flick me through your rates and we’ll see how we go’,” he says.

“It feels like the majority of agencies really want to get the best value and the best benefit for the clients and so they’re happy to have open conversations in detail around what they need, or what their client needs, to make the campaign successful.”

The talent dilemma
There is rarely a situation in media where everyone agrees, unless you are talking about the topic of talent in Brisbane.
Overwhelmingly leaders from all ends of the industry in Brisbane agree that more needs to be done to ensure the acquisition, retention and development of the city’s talent.

“One area I think we need to focus on is how to attract and retain talent, especially at that level where people have 3-5 years’ experience,” Zenith’s Taylor says.

“Like every market, we do a great job of developing people who are entering the industry and learning their craft, but inevitably we will lose some to interstate and overseas as they seek to broaden their life or career experience.

“Yet we don’t seem to be attracting back as much talent from interstate and overseas. So, we need to find a way of showcasing the opportunities a career in Brisbane can offer to people in the industry – because the lifestyle sells itself.”

JCDecaux Brisbane Sales Director Lauren Tyler agrees, adding that Brisbane plays host to an incredible pool of media talent with industry-leading ideas, client service levels and working relationships.

She says Brisbane should leverage these advantages in order to retain and grow the advertiser base in Queensland.

Gossage at Quantcast says when it comes to lifestyle, Brisbane is an appealing proposition, however companies are still “lagging behind” in terms of making flexible working arrangements an “attainable reality”.

The point of lifestyle is one that comes up often, with many executives once again pushing the point that there is a serious misconception around what it is like.

Kennedy at VMLY&R says the idea that it is an informal and overly laid-back environment is completely wrong, adding that he has found the community to be the exact opposite.

“While there is some truth to being informal, that doesn’t mean people aren’t professional. Up here people are more passionate than most and are driven by a common goal of producing the best work possible,” he says.

Dickinson at Seven Brisbane says the same, adding that there most certainly is a great lifestyle appeal that goes missing in a conversation full of false facts and portrayals.

“As far as luring people, I think there are more and more people who are actually really keen to come to this market and I think it’s driven by the economic challenges that exist in other markets,” he says.

“The appeal of Brisbane is certainly how much it’s growing and what the city is starting to offer in the way of culture and things to do, etc. It’s a great lure for young people in the market to come and start a life up here, and there are heaps of people doing it.

“We’ve just got to make sure the jobs are up here in our industry to lure them.”

As the issue continues to get more attention, so too does the solution, with the Brisbane Advertising Association, agencies and owners, all shining more light on the appeal of the city, not just from a professional point of view but from a personal one too.

McDonald at BCM and others share two thoughts on a solution. First, beat the chest of Brisbane, highlight the amazing work that is being done and make sure that it gets the right amount of attention it deserves.

The second is to stop comparing itself to those in the same city and continue to prove why it stands alongside Sydney and Melbourne as one of Australia’s leading markets.

“I’d like to see Brisbane media and creative agencies stop comparing themselves to each other and start comparing and competing against great agencies anywhere,” McDonald says.

“Brisbane just needs to keep pushing itself up to do that because if we all do that, we’ll bring everyone with us, which changes perceptions of the market from a talent point of view and from a client point of view.

“Leaving us all to sit back and acknowledge the world-class work this city has proven it is more than capable of.” 

This first appeared in the AdNews October 2019 magazine. Support AdNews by subscribing here.

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