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‘We’re becoming a publisher’ says Tourism Australia CMO as agency creates newsroom

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 12.17.43 PMTourism Australia is adding a ‘newsroom’ to its marketing armoury with outgoing marketing chief Nick Baker saying brands will become Australia’s new publishers as media owners currently “do not pay enough attention or respect to their lead journalists”.

Chief marketing officer Nick Baker said the organisation will gradually build a team of writers for the division in a move to create and develop more of its own content.

He told Mumbrella it was in keeping with Tourism Australia’s “philosophy” of shifting its marketing from paid media to “owned and earned” channels. An editor has already been recruited to oversee the operation, with former Weber Shandwick content services direcor Andres Lopez-Varela joining in October.

The creation of the newsroom came as Baker admitted the relationship between Tourism Australia and its media and creative agencies – OMD and BBDO – was changing amid the agency’s strategy, saying while both are “integral” to TA’s planning, they must evolve with the changing times.

“We want  to be partners with them and recognise the strengths they bring, but it can’t just be about buying media and creating ads anymore,” he said. “I need their skills but not necessarily in the old form.”

The addition of the newsroom dovetails with the launch this week of a beta version of TA’s new website that will feature a deeper variety of consumer-focused content. While content will be written and curated by its in-house marketing staff, among the short term intentions is for the agency to work with media companies and commission journalists to write content.

“Rather than us write articles, there are thousands of journalists who are writing really good pieces using the craft of journalism,” he said. “Not stuff from companies or PR releases but well thought out stories and articles from people who have learned their craft over many years.

“Too many brands try to write their own stuff and often they have their PR people do it which doesn’t necessarily come out the best way.”

Baker said TA will approach media firms with the aim of buying professionally produced work written by their journalists. “I think it could be a big revenue stream for media owners and publishers,” he said.

“This is a really new and interesting area that has yet to be explored.”

Baker said he could see a time where its newsroom will be staffed by journalists, and suggested brands will effectively become publishers as they increasingly market through their own channels.

“Initially we will work on a contract basis but if this starts doing well and we get a lot of traction then absolutely we’ll start employing journalists properly,” he said. “We do have a small network [of journalists] we use but it will increase massively over the next two years.

“I think the new publishers, the new media owners, will be brands. There is definitely a role for brands to become publishers but if you are going to do that you have got to have people who can write.

“It may be inflamatory but I don’t think media owners pay enough attention or respect to their lead journalists and reporters and figureheads. If you accept the notion that people want to receive information from trusted sources, then you want to know it’s from the key people.

“They should be like football teams which builds its team around star players.”

Baker said TA will also step up its social engagement by featuring content from social channels on the new version of its website, while additional video content will be loaded.

Meanwhile, the agency will use its army of Instagram followers to provide content, some of which is will commission and pay for. The new images on the home page of its new site have all been shot by its social media fans, Baker said.

But he rejected suggestions TA was turning its back on high profile TV ads, arguing they still have a role to play in the marketing mix.

“Whether they will be made as often is debatable but I can’t see a time when that beautifully shot TVC won’t feature. But if you spend that money on them they must also play elsewhere, not just on TV,” he said.

With the shift to own and earned channels, Baker conceded the need for agencies has diminished. But he insisted they still have a role to play.

“We have outlined our strategy to our agencies and asked them how will they respond,” he said. “We have told them you have to think of a different way of doing things.

“They have the relationships with all the major magazines and media owners so maybe they could become the broker for us, and we still need to buy media around what we do. If we produce a piece of content there is no point sticking it on Youtube and hope it does well.

“You have to have things that point to it, so they have got to help us buy media that tells that story in the right places. It just might not be in normal kind of media, it might be in different places and they have to find that.

“We are challenging them. I need their skills but it’s not necessarily in the old form.”

Baker added: “Our agencies are very positive. They understand it and they are thinking about it and I don’t think I am the only person asking it. There are a lot of forward thinking clients now that are asking these questions.”

TV branded content will also form part of Tourism Australia’s marketing strategy with the agency currently talking with networks in Australia and overseas over the broadcast of three one-hour documentaries based around its Restaurant Australia campaign.

Camera crews filmed the experiences of Neil Perry, Peter Gilmore and Ben Shewry as they prepared dinner for 80 of the world’s leading food writers at MONA in Tasmania.

“We’ll be selling the films into the networks and we have someone working on the distribution,” Baker said. “In some markets we’ll be happy to give it away just to get airplay because ultimately if I give it to the broadcaster I don’t have to pay for media to get it out there.”

Steve Jones

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