As 2015 comes to an end Mumbrella takes a look at the people and brands which will want to remember it for a long time and those who can’t wait to forget it.
Like the adventurer who gave the business his name, Dick Smith electronics has trodden a challenging path in 2015, trying to keep the investors in the stock market happy while keeping the customers flowing through its doors.
As competition from retailing rivals kept the pressure on, the brand found itself overwhelmed with surplus stock and profit warnings saw the value of the business slip by 60 per cent.
A last minute fire sale to clear the excess got the cash registers ringing but also labelled Dick Smith as a brand in trouble.
Social media outrage over staff getting first dibs on stock didn’t help, nor did the brand’s founder taking pot shots from the sideline.
Australia’s largest retailer could not take a trick this year.
From a series of marketing mishaps that annoyed home veggie growers, to a poorly considered ANZAC memorial campaign that enraged veterans and the disastrous attempt to overhaul its loyalty scheme, Woolworths came to epitomise a brand under siege.
The brand lost a series of senior marketing executives in quick succession including former Coles marketing boss, Tony Phillips, supermarkets marketing lead Jess Gill and finally its CEO, Grant O’Brien.
While the business was battling in the aisles for the share of the FMCG market, its ill-fated push into hardware with Masters continued to struggle.
Former beer baron Gordon Cairns took on the role of chairman vowing the brand would do better with a retail repair job some have dubbed a mission impossible. To top off the Annus Horribilis, Get Up hijacked Woolies Christmas campaign to target Woolworth’s heavy investment in pubs and poker machines.
The media industry’s dirty little secret, the existence of value banks and the misreporting of audience figures to three of Mediacom’s biggest clients, emerged in late 2014, but hung over the agency in 2015 like a dark cloud.
Four months after Mumbrella revealed that a dozen staff had left the agency after an audit had uncovered the fiddling of audience figures, an official report by parent GroupM revealed the extent of the problem. Not only had audience figures been inflated, but the agency had also sold free or heavily discounted media spots given to it by networks on to clients.
The fallout was swift and wide, with Foxtel moving its account immediately.
GroupM Chairman John Steedman summed up the situation when he revealed the results of an external audit of Mediacom by EY. “I have never seen anything of this magnitude happen to me personally and so it has been incredibly difficult and stressful to deal with, but we have managed our way through it,” said Steedman.
The report was followed by the departure of Sydney MD Geoff Clarke, finance director David Reid and finally CEO Mark Pejic, leaving the agency bereft of the majority of its senior leadership team.
In October Mediacom announced GroupM New Zealand boss Sean Seamer would take on the role of Mediacom CEO, with the healing to begin.
It was the worst of possible years for the Australian Digital Media Industry Association, which called in the administrators and closed its doors after 23 years.
An early pioneer in the digital space, AIMIA ran an accredited education program and a successful awards show. Dwindling membership put financial pressure on the association and the appointment of the new CEO in November last year was not enough to stop the rot.
The awards will still take place next year, but then AIMIA will be no more.
The dream came to an end for Droga5 in 2015. The agency, launched on behalf of David Droga by David Nobay, Sudeep Gohil and Marianne Bess with high hopes and plenty of hype.
It went out not with a bang but a whimper, having once boasted a string of blue chip clients including CUB’s Victoria Bitter, Qantas, Woolworths and Telstra.
The agency struggled to sell it’s ideas to clients as time went on, while Nobay, by his own admission, lost focus and concentrated on play writing and appearing in a Woolworths branded reality show Recipe to Riches.
Massive growth after winning Woolworths became curse for the agency, and the loss of the business in 2014 signalled the beginning of the end, with observers lamenting what could have been.
Read more about the demise of the agency here: ‘A slow motion car wreck’: The unravelling of Droga5 Sydney
The Mediabrands Entourage
If your surname was Tajer, Baxter or Sintras, and you happened to work in the media buying sector in Australia, 2015 was a career defining year.
Two years after Henry Tajer moved to the US to take the IPG Mediabrands global COO role he was annointed global CEO.
Tajer tapped UM Australia CEO Mat Baxter on the shoulder to join him in New York as global chief strategy and creative officer.
Tajer also pulled of a heist on rival Starcom, convincing veteran John Sintras to jump ship and join him as president of global business development and product innovation.
Now dubbed the Entourage, the trio are set to reshape Mediabrands – when some of them finish their gardening leave.
2015 saw the German upstart reach a critical mass in Australia with Roy Morgan reporting that Aldi’s market share had grown from 3 per cent to more than 11 per cent.
While still dwarfed by Woolworths and Coles, the quirky price comparison campaigns by BMF, along with the supermarket chain’s strategy of offering weekly bargains ranging from socks to pool cleaners, has seen the number of Australians visiting Aldi each month grow to nearly 50 per cent of all shoppers.
The supermarket also won top honours at the Roy Morgan Research Customer Satisfaction Awards and even saw its $5 bottle of wine triumph at a Sydney wine competition.
David Gyngell’s retirement from the helm of Nine Entertainment company was a triumphant one, having taken a company that was on its knees when he took over in 2007 to prominence again.
Gyngell spent the intervening years rebuilding the business to the point of taking it back to the stock market after the disaster of private equity ownership. Along the way he divested the company of the publishing business and made Nine a credible competitor for to the Seven Network.
His retirement meant the departure of one of the last great characters of Australian media and the man with direct links to the birth of the medium in the country.
In an era where content is king, King Content proved it in spades. A groundbreaking $48 million deal with Isentia saw the businesses make the first major move on the content front as Isentia looked to King Content’s platforms that managed content and analytics.
Isentia CEO John Croll said the deal answered the questions its clients were asking.
“For quite some time now, Isentia has been looking at how we can work across owned, earned and paid media,” said Croll.
“Our clients are already getting a lot of information from us in this space, but they are also asking us to help with their strategy.”
The move also gave King Content an avenue to continue to grow its offer into Southeast Asia and China.
Hamish McLennan and Ten
At the start of 2015 no-one would have believed it if you had said it was going to be a good year for Ten.
Under the guidance of Hamish McLennan the network found a cadence with shows such as I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here and the canny buy of Big Bash Cricket. The Project also helped it own the millennial demographic and advertising started to build.
The business still posted a loss but the ship had finally turned.
Hamish McLennan stepped down from the arduous role of running the business, able to frame his term a success when there were times it appeared Ten was poised to collapse.
During his watch the network successfully engineered Foxtel taking a 15 per cent stake in the network and merging its sales teams with MCN.
Observers credited him with achieving the turn-a-round with very little wiggle room.
And an $8m exit also didn’t hurt McLennan’s year.