‘No one is picking up the phone’: the cracks in government’s master media agency model

Smaller Victorian Government offices are reportedly having trouble getting someone to answer their calls, amid claims the master media agency’s bandwidth is consumed servicing bigger parts of the account.

One independent media agency executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity to prevent damage to commercial relationships, said their business is servicing three government-linked clients that fall under the state’s Master Agency Media Services (MAMS) contracts.

The state’s current MAMS provider is Omnicom’s agency OMD. However, the executive said independent agencies’ services are often called upon by smaller branches of the government because the official agency of record doesn’t have sufficient capacity. 

The Victorian Government media account was estimated to be worth around $100 million in 2021

The independent agencies would be enlisted to service the ‘orphans’, essentially parts of the business or government contracts that don’t have significant billings. 

“I know for a fact that they [OMD] are a great agency and they do great work, but they’re stretched beyond capacity, working on the bigger divisions of the government.

“The clients I’ve picked up – no one would answer their phone. They ring and ask for such and such, but no one would return their calls. And if they do, they’ll say we’ll call you back in a couple of days, or be briefed and nothing would come forward.”

“It’s like being a customer at the deli, there are a ton of people. You make eye contact with the person behind the counter, and they point to the person beside you. 

“And you just think: ‘F**k it, I’m going to the butcher next door.'”

And that’s where independent agencies enter the picture. 

According to the Victorian Government’s 2021-2022 advertising report, the top three advertisers by campaign expenditure were the Department of Health ($35,210,928), Visit Victoria ($13,828,545) and the Department of Education and Training ($9,876,235).

In comparison, the source said the annual marketing budget for each government client they have is “a couple of hundred thousand”.

The source said there are other indie agencies with similar small contracts with government clients. However, the billing portion of these clients is understood to be around 5-10% of the entire master media account. 

“It’s not massive, and a lot of these contracts are based on a relationship between the marketer and the agency.”

“We’re not out there touting for it. It’s generally just a phone call from the clients going: ‘We need help because we’re not getting what we need.'”

OMD declined to comment.

A NSW-based independent agency executive said different state governments would have different arrangements with their media account, and it really comes down to what buying services are included in the contract.

However, they said they wouldn’t be surprised if the same arrangement with independent agencies is happening in different states.

“There are always smaller arms of organisations, whether in government or business, that will go: ‘[We’re] not loving what we’re getting either in media or creative’, and want to do their own thing.”

Finally time for a spending mandate?

The issue, it seems, again comes down to the sole provider requirement that has been much-discussed in the industry. 

When the Victorian Government’s media buying account went to pitch in 2022, the expression of interest (EOI) did not specify that it was looking for one single agency. However, it had worked with a single-agency model for a number of years prior

Both the NSW Government (whose media buying tender finished last year) and the Queensland Government (whose tender just opened up for another review) had requested to be serviced by a single supplier or advertising network. 

Interestingly, the state governments don’t seem quite as focused on the issue when it comes to creative tenders.

Sam Buchanan

The chief executive of Independent Media Agencies of Australia (IMAA), Sam Buchanan, has been fiercely advocating for a spending mandate from state governments with independent media agencies. 

He told Mumbrella that no one deserves a “free kick” when it comes to commercial contracts, but right now, indies are not even “invited to the dance floor.” 

“It’s lazy policy,” Buchanan said. “We don’t think it’s unreasonable, that when Australian politicians stand up and say ‘we support Australian business’, they actually have to back it up with actions.”

“Because what these governments forget is that it’s not their money in question – it’s taxpayers’ money. And I think Australians would want the taxpayers’ money to support our own economy.”

Buchanan clarified that IMAA is not asking to cut everyone else completely out of business. “We’re not asking for everything to go through Australia, you know. We’re not insane,” he said. 

But he said that when one conglomerate just “gobbles up” all the government media business in the state, all the indies who are trying their best to “get bums on seats” will hurt.

52% of all digital dollars traded in Australia can be traced to independent media agencies, according to Buchanan, as well as 41% of traditional media spend.

Apart from supporting the economy, he emphasised the diversity of thoughts as a clear advantage of working with independent media agencies. “We’re not held to any group deals or any kind of pre-negotiated deals. We will work hard to put the right campaign in the right places and the right channels without any kind of bias.”

“When it’s your own business, your own name on the front door of the building, and your own house on the line, there’s a different level of care and passion that comes into the work to make sure the campaign is successful.

“These days, the playing field has been levelled between indies and holdcos. We all use the same tools and we all use the same billing systems.

“At the end of the day, Australian businesses should support Australian businesses, full stop.”


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