Creativity a commercial decision at Telstra, not ‘vanity or ego’ led says CMO Brent Smart

Six months into his blockbuster switch to what he calls “one of Australia’s truly iconic brands”, Brent Smart is amazed at the speed the company works at.

He told the Mumbrellacast this week that “despite being massive”, he’s been impressed with how quickly it’s been able to get three pieces of work to market in such a short time.

Green and Smart on this week’s Mumbrellacast

Those include its black ops-style security spot,  Kayo work, and this week’s relatable home internet piece, all coming via an agency Smart is all too familiar with, The Monkeys.

The big job at Telstra

Smart is pretty clear on what a marketers job is, especially in a world with more content in it than there has ever been: find distinctiveness, and cut through.

“When I look at big brands in this country, I think a lot of them look and feel the same. I’m always trying to find a distinctive way of going to market so that we can really stand apart from other big brands in this country.

“It’s not just being distinctive and cutting through our own category, but really being a leading brand in Australia and in Australian culture, and I think that’s the job.”

Having 100 percent awareness across the market helps, he said, suggesting there is now an opportunity to evolve Telstra’s brand “in terms of personality and tone of voice”.

“Ultimately I think we want Telstra to be a really likable, really approachable, big brand. That’s sometimes challenging when you’re a really big brand, so we’re trying to bring that to the personality and you see that coming through the work that we’re doing at the moment.

Doing ‘great work’, and Telstra’s desire for growth

Speaking alongside Smart, CEO of The Monkeys and ANZ president at Accenture Song, Mark Green, said there’s no surprise that great CMOs and great agencies “get to great work”.

“If you look at Brent’s history, he’s always been associated with great creative work that has an impact in the market, and I think if you’ve got that ambition, it comes through wherever you are.”

Both acknowledged the work of Smart’s predecessor, Jeremy Nicholas, who is now the brand’s digital channels executive, as Smart added how much of a bonus it is to have a marketer running its digital operations.

“[Smart] is adding his own particular kind of style to the relationship as well, and we love that kind of ambition, and we want to match it, and beat it,” said Green.

Smart insisted doing “great work” isn’t “an ego thing or a vanity thing”, rather it’s a commercial decision, as he said highly creative work has been proven “time and time again” to be more effective.

“So it’s really a commercial decision to do great work, and that’s why I’m so focused on it and why I think it’s so critical to what we do as marketers.”

Telstra is in a strong position, with its main competitor Optus still hurting from its data breach in 2022, which coincided with Smart’s arrival at the brand. He said all the brand health measures are looking “really good”, with the work Nicholas has done alongside The Monkeys providing a great foundation to springboard off.

“I certainly felt with all the leadership I met at Telstra, and I’m certainly feeling it every day working there, there’s an absolute desire to do work that is going to grow the business, and ultimately be one of Australia’s favorite brands.”

Listen to the full discussion with Smart and Green below from the 21.38 mark. 


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