What media agencies can learn from Clive Palmer

Maxus Rob PardiniIn this guest post, Maxus’s Rob Pardini argues that smaller agencies need to find ways of differentiating themselves on things other than price. 

Clive Palmer has grabbed widespread media attention lately, with one sensationalist allegation after another.

Earlier this week, he claimed the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is corrupt and biased, even though, at the time, tally room results suggested he was poised to win the lower house seat of Fairfax.

Just a couple of weeks ago, he alleged that Wendi Deng, ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch, is a Chinese spy.

The assertion was particularly colourful given he mispronounced her name.

It is tempting to write-off Clive Palmer as a buffoon. His populist rhetoric is hollow and there aremore holes in his policies than in Swiss cheese. Amongst many contradictions, he is rebuilding theTitanic in China, despite frequently ranting about the need to support Australian jobs and industry.

However, given he has amassed a $795 million fortune (according to Forbes magazine), he is almost certainly no fool.

Political commentators have generally attributed Clive Palmer’s political success to his “larger-thanlife” persona. He now has 23,064 Twitter followers, up 38% in just the last three months, though this still reflects a niche following compared to Tony Abbott’s 254,900 followers.

Clive Palmer has recognised that politics in Australia is a sea of vanilla, and that a new political party will fade into obscurity unless it separates itself decisively from its competition.

By being provocative, Clive Palmer has secured widespread media coverage and driven awareness that the party he leads stands for radically lower taxes and a pro-business agenda.

The downside is that his confrontational approach has alienated the overwhelming majority of the voting public.

However, the Palmer United Party was never going to secure widespread support at the recent election anyway.

Clive Palmer United Party poster

The parallel between the Australian political landscape and media agency scene is that the latter, like the former, is a sea of plain vanilla.

Anybody who picked up the last Mumbrella Media Agency Review would surely have found it a nauseating read; the self-assessment submissions by most agencies were strikingly similar.

Pulling media agencies apart is often like separating canned sardines; they look and smell more-or-less the same. This results in agencies competing on price and ability to execute.

Only established agencies which leverage scale can compete successfully on these terms.

Whilst Clive Palmer has shaken up the political scene, the media agency landscape has become less differentiated over recent years.

Boutique agencies now distinguish themselves primarily by what they say, as opposed to what they deliver.

Of the once-specialist channel planning agencies, Match now offers media buying whilst Naked has evolved into a creative shop.

Bohemia launched with a data-meets-strategy positioning, but given larger competitor agencies are investing millions of dollars in proprietary data annually, whether it can genuinely deliver more insightful and effective data-driven strategies remains to be seen.

What media agencies, particularly new agencies, can learn from Clive Palmer is that if you can appeal to 15% of the market through bold differentiation, you have the potential to gain traction far more quickly than if you go head-to-head against your peers with a “me too” offering.

You will also position yourself to compete on something other than price.

Even the most successful, established agencies struggle to pick up more than 15% of potential clientele in any given market, therefore adopting a positioning which will alienate many, in order to appeal to a few, is actually a lower risk strategy than it appears.

In time, maybe Clive Palmer will have a punt at starting a media agency.

Rob Pardini is the APAC head of data and analytics for media agency Maxus.


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