NSW Gov media tender leaves indies fuming, as FOI finds international consultants responsible for criteria

The Independent Media Agencies Australia (IMAA) has doubled down on its Freedom of Information request to the NSW Government, as it challenges the state’s expression of interest (EOI) for its $73 million master media agency account, representing all buying and planning for government departments.

The NSW Government revealed the names of two firms involved in the advisory board that developed the requirements, however industry figures believe the government is “hiding behind words” as it continues to stand by the terms set out in the EOI, and that there was further collusion with international companies to lock out local businesses from the process.

Independent media agencies have expressed concerns that this could lead to a major under-servicing of smaller government departments, as Australian-owned, local businesses don’t meet the criteria, with the government contradicting itself in engaging international firms for local work.

IMAA representatives

The resolution of the GIPA Act request revealed the names of two external firms involved in the advisory panel in developing the EOI, those being Ebiquity, an international pitch and media investment analysis firm, and OCM, a procurement specialist.

It has been suggested that while only these two firms were named, this highlights the issue independent agencies are raising, that a major international firm is consulting on how the NSW Government should engage businesses at a local level.

The rest of the panel were not included as the resolution found to “consider only the names of the external parties to be within scope of this request”. The response read: “I have therefore removed the rest of the email as it contains information that was not part of the request.”

IMAA’s Sam Buchanan

In email correspondence seen by Mumbrella, the formal FOI request, made under the Governmental Information Public Access Act 2009 (GIPA Act) stated that “the IMAA is seeking the names and external government organisations and individuals that advised the NSW Government on their recent tender Customer Service / Media Agency Services EOI – CDT 2848”, in which it is believed there were representatives from international holding companies present, with the EOI written to block indies out, according to a Mumbrella source.

The wording of the request made by the IMAA’s Sam Buchanan was later amended to: “I would like the names of all external individuals and/or companies that advised the NSW Government on the recent tender – CDT 2848.”

The published EOI states that the government is seeking to “engage a single media agency supplier or panel of agencies from one media agency holding group” to provide its media services, with this, essentially locking out the possibility of an independent agencies having the capabilities to fulfil the requirements.

A Mumbrella source said: “It (the EOI) was clearly written in mind so that it blocked all the indies, and it’s widely speculated within the industry that they were in consultation in some capacity with the holding companies to make sure this was the outcome.”

The source suggested that local executives from the international holding groups were part of a working group or were involved within the process. This claim is unverified however.

The NSW Government is currently serviced by five agencies, with Atomic 212 being the only local independent agency, alongside GroupM’s Wavemaker, Havas’ Havas Media, Omnicom’s OMD and IPG Mediabrands’ agency UM.

Atomic 212’s Claire Fenner

Mumbrella understands that Atomic 212 declined to pitch for the business, due to the conditions presented, with Nunn Media and Affinity also rejecting the opportunity to bid for the business, the former citing it as a “waste of time”. Affinity joined the IMAA recently, while Nunn Media and Atomic 212 are not members of the body.

Managing director and partner at Atomic 212, Claire Fenner told Mumbrella that the agency has enjoyed working with NSW Police, Rural Fire Service, Sydney Opera House, and Australian Museum and other departments as part of the NSW Government contract, but it has been disappointing to see the criteria for the tender not “realistically allow ourselves, or any Australian independent agency, to qualify”.

“We would have loved to have had a realistic opportunity to tender to retain the existing partnerships we have in place,” said Fenner.

Matt Nunn, owner Nunn Media, one of Australia’s largest media agencies said that it chose not to pitch for the NSW account, based on its experience pitching for the Victorian Government master media account, eventually won by OMD.

“The state government in Victoria preaches ‘deal with local Victorian businesses’. We’re the largest Victorian and the largest Australian independent media agency, and I believe we’re very capable of completing that account, yet it goes to an international based business. So I just think it’s a massive contradiction in principal.”

Matt Nunn

He told Mumbrella that competing for the NSW account would be a “waste of time and effort for an independent”, however does believe that there are independents in market that could handle the account itself.

“If somebody is not capable and if there’s no independents that are capable, and they haven’t got a hundred people working for them and they haven’t done X, Y, and Z. I understand you’ve got to put it in a safe pair of hands, but I believe in both markets, there definitely are capable agency options outside of the holding companies.”

“There are many capable Australian media buying businesses that should be considered.”

Affinity CEO, Luke Brown said that diversity of thinking is essential to achieving the best outcomes, and that the government media account offers no exception.

“A mix of Australian indie and multinational media agencies would deliver the best results for the government, people of NSW and ultimately the taxpayer. This is why the terms of reference for this tender were so disappointing. It prioritised efficiency over effectiveness. We had prepared to tender, and even entered discussions to create a supergroup of larger indie agencies, but we decided to pull the pin when it became obvious our tender would have been futile given only holding groups were going to be considered.”

Minister for customer service, Victor Dominello

In a response to a letter from Kaimera CEO and founder Nick Behr, regarding the tender, the director for NSW Government brand and campaigns Isabel Scouler said “the Expression of Interest for media agency services welcomes participation from all types of media agencies operating in Australia and that NSW Government ensures that consideration is given to how Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) will be supported through this tender”.

She added: “While NSW Government intends to consolidate the contract for its media agency services in the future, the tender is open to any single supplier with the potential to successfully service the varied needs of NSW Government and that can demonstrate the ability to meet the Statement of Requirements as outlined in the EOI.”

Industry figures have suggested to Mumbrella that no independent media agency has the capability to be the “single supplier” for this account, worth $73 million in 2020 and that the government is using its wording to protect itself.

Behr questioned the rationale for removing the panel of agencies responsible for servicing the Government’s media requirements, also stating that “changing the wording doesn’t provide a genuine opportunity to Australian company’s of winning this tender”.

Affinity’s Luke Brown

The process is intended to run into 2022, and the government, in separate correspondence between Buchanan and the office of Minister for Customer Service, Victor Dominello’s office said it was following “rigorous protocols” in conducting the process.

Buchanan told Mumbrella that as of yet, there has not been an official response from Dominello in regards to the concerns put forward, despite dialogue on the matter being first raised in 2020, when Buchanan first heard about the plans.

This has also included “around 40” agencies putting forward concerns and objections to local MPs.

General manager of Yango, Luke Povee wrote to the office of MP Brad Hazzard, looking for support in amending the EOI. In response, the minister’s office said under advice from the Department of Customer Service, tenders would require “interested parties to outline their intended engagement of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and Aboriginal owned businesses as part of their service delivery”.

It also said that the proposed move from five to one single agency in 2020 is to “ensure streamlining of processes, systems, and tools; better sharing of learnings and data; cost efficiencies, and improved service and quality”. It stated “as part of the tender evaluation process a minimum of 10% weightage will be allocated to SME participation”.

The NSW Government procurement policy requires any contract valued above $3 million to allocate 10% to SMEs, which it has been suggested by industry sources, is not satisfied in this process by the EOI.

Buchanan said: “Ultimately, there’s going to be some departments that are just kind of disadvantaged. So the likes of the smaller departments won’t get the service and would just be lost in the system.”

Atomic 212’s Fenner added: “The current panel contract allows NSW Government to access a broad range of media agency capabilities to cater to each government department’s requirements which means the smaller departments aren’t neglected in the shadow of the departments with significantly larger media budgets.”

As was reported several months ago, the EOI “kick off session” was held on 23 July, with independents unaware of it at the time, and since, no meeting has been able to be organised with Dominello to discuss the process.

“It’s not about indies versus holding companies. It’s about just a fair go for allowing indies to just compete and throw their hat in the ring,” said Buchanan. “That’s what’s most disappointing. If he’s put their hat in the ring and if it’s not the right fit, then fair enough.”


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