What does the Optus shake-up mean?

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 8 January 2016

The big reveal of Optus and Virgin Media’s new creative and media agency arrangements yesterday was the biggest news drop of the year so far, and it's interesting in all sorts of ways. Possibly more so creatively.

On the media side, it was all but official that UM was going to take on the account at the end of the year, and AdNews tipped the move in December. Although it was thought that the exit of Optus marketer Vicki Brady could delay things even more in the lengthy pitch process.

UM takes the account from Starcom which has been working on it for three years – not a hugely long time, but a stint that has been productive and effective with some innovative initiatives such as working with Facebook to run ads based on what news was trending daily. It's also Starcom's biggest client so it will be felt fairly hard over there. Newly appointed managing director Toby Barbour is going to have a interesting start to his tenure. 

On the flipside, the win means that Ross Raeburn's tenure as CEO of UM starts on a high. It's the first big win for the former creative agency boss who took the reins at the end of last year.

On the creative side, the introduction of a six-way roster is interesting in itself – but the names on that roster are frankly fascinating and show a cross section of the new shape of the agency landscape.

First up – the traditional shop. M&C Saatchi, while it has been upping its digital chops over the last two years and has done some famously innovative work, is the old school shop on the list. Having lead the brand for the last 12 years it's understanding of the brand and its customers will be unbeatable. But considering that M&C Saatchi has been the lead on the account for all that time, now becoming one on a roster of six, essentially slashes its remit massively. It's bound to mean something significant in terms of revenue, and will be a blow to the agency.

The data shop: With Collective is the name on everyone’s lips recently. It's an interesting shop that has been making gains, and not least because it appointed Steve Coll as partner last year. It's got a reputation as a data hot shop that really knows how to fuse that with creative.

The content kings - Emotive: It wasn't really conceivable that after Emotive's success with its Ricky Gervais social content work for Optus over the last year Emotive would be left off the list. It's been eating into the traditional account over the last year and will be wanting to prove that the Ricky campaign wasn’t a flash in the pan.

The hotshop: AKQA – globally renowned as a creative hotshop – would not be wasting its time if it didn’t have significant chunk of the Optus account to play with, and so it seems likely that it could set up shop in Australia. There's already a lot of competition in the market but a shop like AKQA could do what Droga5 failed to do locally, and fill that space for a pure hot-blooded creative shop that doesn't play by the rules.

Retail - Big Red: Or should that be Big Yellow? I had a tip that Ted Horton's Melbourne shop had won the retail work for Optus in the last week of the year but couldn't get it stood up, so while it's a bit of surprise, it makes total sense. Optus, like any retailer does a lot of tactical retail work. It's not always sexy brand stuff – but it gets the job done. Big Red, with its pedigree in doing just that for Coles is made for it.

The Works: The works was taken on by Optus earlier last year to handle the direct/loyalty side of things and has already launched its new Perks loyalty programme. The Works is having a good run and coming out with solid stuff for Optus so far.

Now to the Optus brand itself.  There are some questions about the marketing team at Optus which has had some significant changes itself over the last 12 months and seems to have consistently been in flux since the departure of former head of brand and marketing Nathan Rosenberg 18 months ago. Insiders say it's nothing short of a shambles.

Sue Bailey was put in as interim CMO, and then a restructure promoted Vicki Brady, former head of customer, to the role of managing director of marketing and products with the aim of bringing product and brand marketing closer together. She left abruptly in December to join Telstra.

But before that Andrew Branwhite head of brand, ideas and activation left after five years with the telco, and former News Corp marketeer Corin Dimopoulos joined in July as head of brand. 

This level of change can be difficult to navigate all at once, or it can be a blessing that there is less legacy to deal with and more momentum for something fresh.

Optus, always the second player in the competitive telco market has sat in Telstra's shadow due to pure scale. But now it's entering a fascinating period. It's got change all over the place. New marketers, new loyalty programmes, sports rights ownership, new creative and media partners. The brand will be one to watch over the next 12 months.


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