Australia ‘seriously underperforms’ creatively and it’s ‘not good enough’: Nick Garrett

The CEO of Clemenger BBDO for Melbourne and Sydney, Nick Garrett, has hit out at Australia’s creative output and urged the industry to do better.

“This is an amazing country [but] we seriously fucking underperform creatively,” he said in Mumbrella’s Wheel of Truth session where industry leaders were urged to speak honestly about the challenges the industry is really facing.

Garrett (fourth from left) being honest at Mumbrella360

“We’re doing our best work for small clients on small projects and it’s not good enough…. You look at [the industry’s] work. It’s short-term. It’s unimaginative. It’s not disruptive. It’s not standing out. And it’s not doing enough societally, and it should have a greater impact commercially. And if you’re really, really interesting, you’ll have a commercial impact,” he said.

He told the audience there wasn’t an excuse for the poor output, as Australia faced fewer barriers to entry than some of our international counterparts.

“Australia needs to do more brilliant work. We’re a reasonably small country with a small workforce, with small barriers to get to great work…… Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were like 20 things in the industry next year that we’re all giddy with excitement, because they were so good? But there aren’t right now,” he said.

James Greet, who departed Cummins & Partners late last year, agreed – contending that the industry had somewhat lost its way.

Part of the issue, he said, was perhaps that Australia had had it too good, for too long.

Richard Reid (Wheel Spinner), Kim Portrate, Kieran Moore, Brent Smart, Nick Garrett and James Greet play Mumbrella360’s Wheel of Truth

“Inherently we were born in a creative, pioneering environment. [Fast-forward 60,000 years] and no-one’s still figured out how we created a boomerang.

“In our latter years, we sort of innovated through necessity more than anything else. You look at the businesses that we created…. But then somewhere we got really lazy. And it is just good enough. And I think the last 10 years, not just in the creative sort of industries, but industry at large, somewhere we’ve just got really, really lazy because [of the perception that] the sun is shining, we’re digging heaps of money out of the ground and we don’t have to worry about the future,” he said.

The contentment could be dangerous, he said, because creatives and business leaders are at their best when their backs are against the wall and the country is in danger of sliding down the economic growth scale.

Brent Smart – who worked in agencies before going client-side as CMO of insurance giant IAG – said in his previous life, he was constantly frustrated by clients who said no to good ideas.

“For me, the whole reason I went client side was I got sick of running agencies and asking clients to do things that they should have been doing, and they kept saying ‘no’. So I’m like, ‘Well what if I could be the guy that says yes?’

“So the motivation for me [moving client side] was all about making that happen. Honestly. That is why I did it…. I find myself at an insurance company. I was really worried it would be the most restrictive, constrained environment for a guy like me – look at me – but it’s so liberating for me to be a CMO, and to be able to actually make stuff happen. I’ve never been more excited,” he said.

He contended, however, that the problem wasn’t actually isolated to Australia.

“I just find [the assertion that Australia is underperforming] really surprising, especially from you [Garrett]. You won 52 Lions at Cannes last year. Australia was third in the world at Cannes. I don’t know if it’s an Australian problem. I worked in America for eight years – Jesus, the amount of shit that comes out of that country. I don’t know if it’s an Australian thing. I actually think that at our best, Australia is, we can take on the world and we can have these [incredible campaigns] – like Graham and like the lamb work, and [do great and amazing work].”

Former travel marketer come CEO of industry body ThinkTV Kim Portrate said part of the issue was the self-importance of the industry.

“Accountants don’t sit around waxing lyrically about whether they’re a force for good or a force for bad. I think we’ve got our head up our arses, and what we should be thinking about is ‘Are we what we’ve got on the tin?’…. I don’t think anybody is sitting around worrying about whether [our output] is good or bad, I think they’re worried about whether [it] work[s].”


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