The need for more global approaches in Aussie agencies

Victoria Jaeger
By Victoria Jaeger | 26 June 2020
Tori Jaeger

Victoria Jaeger, client operations manager, Wavemaker Adelaide

The global media agency is one hell of a beast. They’re at the pointy end of innovation, they spark changes in media evolution at an unprecedented scale, and their inherent size allows them a level of data sophistication beyond the reach of their local counterparts. But at a time when rhetoric around the benefits of smaller, full service, independents is strong, what is the true value of a global media agency, and what benefits does that bring to an advertiser?

The key is in the first word: Global. In an economic environment rife with hiring freezes, redundancies and uncertainty, agencies need to look internally for support and innovative ideas now more than ever, and it’s here that some of the benefits of a global support system emerge. Global networks have always been able to tap into talent around the globe, and often do in pitches, but it’s been easier to do and much more prevalent in the past 3 months. But it’s not just important now. It won’t evaporate with the introduction of a COVID vaccine and the resulting lift on hiring freezes. A cornerstone of the global media agency should be a global approach to media, meaning the full utilisation of their talent across the globe to trigger real change at a local level consistently, and across all levels of the organisation.

Let’s begin with the biggest "buzzword" of them all. The one guaranteed to land you an HD in any Uni assignment and distinguish you as a forward-thinking leader of future generations. You guessed it: Diversity. But here’s the fun tip; it’s not just a buzzword. It’s a life-vest, a loaded pistol and a golden shield all rolled into one, and global media agencies could be doing a lot more to harness it. Recent research from Purdue University (2020) concludes that a workplace with varying races, religions and cultural backgrounds lead to greater innovation, reduced employee turnover and other competitive advantages, yet according to research conducted by the Media Foundation of Australia in 2019, 77% of Australian agency workers are still Caucasian. Whilst the same report indicates we’re seeing a positive shift in cultural diversity year on year, agency figures are yet to reflect Australia’s increasingly diverse population, which if you ask me, is at our detriment given in 2020 clients are cluey enough to want to reach more than just Australian-born Caucasian grocery buyers aged 25-54.

The frustrating thing about the cultural gap in agency land is that every resource required to fill it is already available. They have the extensive network of global talent, one click video conferencing, and the world’s population has never been more effective at remote working; if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t need to be face-to-face to be part of a working team. According to a 2019 survey by Buffer, 99% of 2,500 respondents indicated that they would like to be able to work remotely at least some of the time, or for the rest of their career. It thus makes perfect sense for Australian agencies to reach out to their international network to source new talent, bring diverse experience into new business pitches and inspire their local talent to think outside our own borders. Granted that elements such as time-zones can create logistical challenges when it comes to implementation, but in the words of WPP AUNZ CEO Jens Monsees, it’s time to find ways, not excuses.

Having established the value of cultural diversity in global agencies, we now need to create effective international connections. Sure, we have branded PowerPoint templates that filter down from the same global high council, as well as a consistent mission statement from market to market, but is this enough? Ask your standard Aussie media analyst to reach out to your Manila office for some tips on post reporting in the luxury retail category and I bet they’ll think you’re mad. International communication as a rule, is enacted at a senior level, which creates a communication barrier apparent at junior to mid levels where most of the planning and reporting is completed. Media agencies need to arm their people on the ground with the ability to reach out internationally with ease, and without fear of rebuttal.

Programs like Wavemaker’s Globetrotter Program are a step in the right direction. This professional exchange program sends individuals of all levels to their choice of office anywhere in the world, with a mission to create long-term international connections that consistently bring mutual benefit to both markets. In late 2019 Wavemaker Australia’s connection to Dusseldorf helped them to win a pitch for a large South Australian client, and ongoing communication and sharing has allowed them to reach out for category insights to offer each other support on upcoming pitches between countries. By researching Germany’s history of skills shortages in the trade category and cross-referencing with 2019 reports from the German Institute of Economic research, it was possible to identify parallels between markets and leverage existing insights along with actual results to benefit the local pitch proposal. Remember, there is no shortage of talent who have lived and breathed the campaign you’re about to start planning from scratch. Research the category, isolate markets with the most to offer and implement programs such a Wavemaker’s Globetrotters to make reaching out as easy as hollering at the guy sitting across from you.

To wrap it up, let’s finish with a riddle: What do you get when you mix local knowledge with category insights from the other side of the world, a diverse network of talent and a unified approach to international collaboration? The answer is diverse client solutions with a point of difference that’s out of reach to local full-service independents. In agency land, size no longer matters; it’s our network of talent that will drive future success and the next step in reaching our full potential is establishing these strong international connections. Think diverse, think long-term and live the advantage.

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