Optus’ new roster: Why these agencies? Where are the brands headed? What does it mean for a new CMO? The impact for Telstra

Yesterday afternoon saw Optus reveal one of the biggest agency reshuffles in recent memory.

Two agencies have lost their biggest client. Others face a battle for every piece of work. And the winners are now gearing up for hiring sprees.

The make-up of the roster, which also covers sister brand Virgin Mobile, sends significant signals about the future direction of marketing in the country – and Optus’s ambitions as a media owner in its own right.

optus yes

In this special report, Mumbrella’s editorial team – Tim Burrowes, Simon Canning, Nic Christensen, Alex Hayes, Suzan Ryan and Miranda Ward – analyse the key issues raised across the fields of advertising, media, PR and marketing.

Questions (click a link to go straight to the relevant section):

  1. Why such a big roster?  
  2. What does it mean for M&C Saatchi? 
  3. What does Big Red offer? 
  4. Is Emotive setting the standard?  
  5. Why With Collective? 
  6. Who are AKQA? 
  7. Why The Works? 
  8. What does Whybin\TBWA offer Virgin?
  9. What does Eleven PR’s appointment say? 
  10. What does this do for UM?
  11. Is the Virgin Mobile brand needed? 
  12. What does Thrive’s appointment say of Optus’ PR needs? 
  13. What now for vanquished Ogilvy?
  14. How big a blow is it to Havas Worldwide?
  15. What will a new Optus CMO be walking into? 
  16. Where is Optus going? 
  17. Will Starcom miss the Optus business?
  18. How should Telstra respond?

1. What does it mean when one of Australia’s biggest advertisers builds a roster of eight agencies?

Optus has just completed one of the larger rosters we’ve seen in the Australian market. Picking and choosing from a range of agency talent is a luxury increasingly being enjoyed by the bigger brands in market.

How will it work for Optus? It’s likely each agency on the new roster will have a delegated area of speciality, with opportunities to scrap it out for crossover and special projects.

M&C Saatchi looks like the brand agency, Big Red the retail bods, Emotive are obviously content, With Collective’s speciality is that all-important data piece whilst The Works will be all about CRM. AKQA is the wildcard – and will likely have a floating brief to come in and cause chaos for any and all on this list – but more on them later.

What it will mean is opportunities to win, and lose, pitches for various projects for everyone on the roster. For those agencies with an eye on expanding their position it’s a golden opportunity, but for those feeling less ambitious it will mean a lot of client maintenance work.

In many ways it is likely to ape the methods used by the likes of Telstra and Qantas. Telstra uses The Monkeys as its lead brand agency then taps into the likes of R/GA for digital and social and so on down the chain, with DDB, CHE, Clemenger and Lavender all contributing as well.

Whether it works or not comes down to the marketers involved. Most agencies will play nicely if a marketer sets firm boundaries. It’s when there’s doubt or too much latitude given that it spells disaster. Equally, agencies can become jaded if they feel they’re in a dog fight all the time, and reluctant to play nicely with the others.


Strategy appears to be the most immediate area of conflict – whilst M&C Saatchi’s RE division has been named for the brand strategy and development business that won’t stop others from pushing their own barrows in that space.

Ultimately, of course, a big roster – and one comprised of some best-in-class agencies – serves to stop competitors from tapping into that expertise. If Telstra or Vodafone had been looking at any of these agencies they’re now firmly off the table.

2. No longer the lead creative agency for Optus, how does the future look for M&C Saatchi?

M&C Saatchi Logo-2015For M&C Saatchi, it’s the win you have when you’re actually having a loss. The agency first  found its way on to the Optus business in 2003, the beneficiary of an audacious move by George Patterson Bates which dumped Optus in order to jump into bed with rival, Telstra.

Optus was mid-pitch, rumoured to be pushing Patts hard on price, so senior Patts’ executives went to Telstra with the suggestion that the agency could help the Telco. Telstra put them on the roster and, in a rare move, the agency fired the client. Hours after the brand was dumped by the agency, Optus announced it had awarded the business to M&C.

Since that day the agency has reigned as the lead on the business, handling a series of reviews with ease, little troubled by the smaller agencies which have come and gone on projects along the way.

But this time it’s different. No longer the lead agency, M&C Saatchi is just one of many at the beck and call of the brand. Internally the move is being positioned as ‘not significant’ with the agency still working on the “good stuff”.

Jaimes Leggett, M&C Saatchi CEO

Jaimes Leggett, M&C Saatchi CEO

In reality, it will now be working on the business with a reduced retainer and operate in an environment of constantly pitching for the work. M&C might initially surrender the ‘grunt work’ of retail to Big Red, removing one of the great burdens of a huge account like Optus that chews through staff mercilessly, but the agencies now on the roster represent a broad selection of abilities and Optus is expected to handle them as a company of equals, with any one agency considered capable of handling any part of the business.

It’s a position M&C is unused to working from and collaboration will be seen as a huge part of the new structure, introducing new levels of politics between agency and client.

Much of the speculation about M&C will also focus on the retail work and how much flows to Big Red, with one scenario suggesting anything between 20 and 40 jobs at M&C could be on the line.

Creatively, M&C has always been saddled with the ‘Yes’ moniker that George Patterson used to launch Optus as the challenger brand in the newly deregulated market, but later moved to give the brand character when it introduced the animals theme shortly after winning the business. Within two years the creatures had developer voices and personalities, and animals became the mainstay of the brand, giving Optus a clear and consistent creative position.

There were also more adventurous moves, such as the highly-regarded 2013 ad, Whale Song.


However, by 2013 it was being acknowledged that the animals “were running the zoo” and the brand began to pull back on their use.

Last year, M&C launched an ambitious campaign to “own the beach” with its award-winning Clever Buoy project, but while the innovation was well received it failed to create the stronger foundation expected of it.


3.What does the presence on the roster of adland’s most populist creative Ted Horton say about the strategy for Optus?



The Australian communications industry grants first-name-only status to very few creatives. Ted is one of them.

Results-focused and seemingly uninterested in getting accolades for the work, so long as it works for the client, Horton has one of the industry’s longest established track records of success.

He also has little time for novelty for the sake of it, telling clients: “If you want something new, that costs extra”.

For more than five years, Horton has been leading Coles’ creative work. It’s no coincidence that over the same period, the supermarket has outplayed its rival, Woolworths, although the marketing team is at least equally responsible.

While the big red hand and Status Quo-fronted ‘Down, Down’ was derided as annoying by the public and cheesy by many industry insiders, the value message got through to customers.

The industry expectation will be that now Ted is on the roster he’ll gradually take the work from M&C Saatchi.

M&C staff internally have been led to expect that they’ll continue to work on the glamorous brand stuff while Big Red handles the high-turnover material, but outsiders might see this as only the beginning.

Many will see a similar pattern to how DDB lost Coles to Horton in 2010 after both initially worked on the business together.
It was an issue Horton tackled during his rare ‘Planet Advertising’ on-stage appearance at last year’s Mumbrella360, arguing that this was misunderstood.

Horton told the audience he was approached by Coles to work on a project and offered to collaborate with the incumbent DDB, who bore him no ill will when the account later moved across.

Horton makes no secret of his respect for M&C Saatchi’s creative partner Tom McFarlane, which will may make him even more reluctant to appear to want snatch the whole business.

Apart from Coles, Big Red’s other major clients include Jetstar, Bupa and Renault.

And Horton credits much of his results-focused approach to experience gained by helping Liberal Prime Minister John Howard get elected, pointing out that in an election you either win or lose.


The appointment of Horton sends signals about the marketing strategy for Optus, which seems likely to be more populist, as you would expect for a major telco. It’s hard to believe that a Ted Horton ad would feature the likes of comedian Josh Thomas, whose M&C work for Optus in 2014 seemed to have little impact on the brand’s fortunes.


One question is whether Horton will be spread too thin. His voice and fingerprints are all over Coles’ marketing. Keeping that plate spinning and doing the same for Optus as well will be a challenge, given the size of both.

Up to now, with only a Melbourne office, the industry will wonder whether it is now time for Big Red to launch a Sydney operation to service the Macquarie Park-based Optus.

4. In less than a year, content marketing agency Emotive has become one of the most talked about in the market, thanks mainly to its work for Optus. What does the example of its new model mean to the wider market?

If marketing is all about the story then there’s none more compelling in the Australian market right now than Emotive’s. Founded just 11 months ago with the unusual backing of investment from APN News & Media, the agency has enjoyed a meteoric rise.

So far it has delivered on its promise to “inject emotion into content creation and guaranteeing that this content will be consumed by the right audience”.

As with many agencies, Emotive’s reputation was forged with one campaign: Ricky Gervais’ anti-ads for Optus, initially pushing its Netflix deals.


That campaign emerged not from the marketing divisions of Optus but rather the social media team, who put the mechanics for what was probably the most audacious and unexpected piece of marketing in Australia in 2015 into play.

emotiveThe fact it kicked off as an entirely social and digital campaign and is now running out on TV and cinema is testament to that.

Small wonder the work won the grand prix at Mumbrella’s BEfest-branded entertainment awards.

Optus saw the power of its social channels and realised it could do what so many brands struggle to do – tell its own stories in its own way on its own platforms – just by entertaining the masses with some simple, funny, branded entertainment.

The fact they abandoned TV in favour of digital is testament to Emotive’s model – to create shareable content and promise to make it spread as fast as possible. The fact it is a small-ish, multi-skilled team means the agency is nimble and able to turn around ideas quickly without sacrificing production and brand values.

Given the success of the campaign – anecdotally, it’s Optus’ highest-achieving in terms of ROI for many a moon – and on the local and international awards scene, Emotive’s inclusion was very far from a surprise.

Given the agency was behind Virgin’s previous campaign, the one starring Entourage’s Kevin Dillon in a mock audition, it was hardly surprising to see they’re being expected to sprinkle their magic on that brand as well.


After all, shareable content can be a pretty cost-efficient way of spreading your message and Virgin is no stranger to that social sharing piece – look at the success of Fair Go Bro.

And that poses a challenge to the 30-second TV agencies on the roster; when Ricky Gervais went mainstream it ended up dominating Optus’ marketing to the end of the year – a time when others were scrapping for their place on the roster.

Expect to see more of the same in the coming years – freeing up some of that pesky TV budget to spend on the talent.

It appears Emotive may be adland’s current hot-shop, and as with all things hot, the real trick will be proving they are a long burner and not just a flash in the pan. You get the feeling with the talent they are assembling, and being marshalled by Simon Joyce, that shouldn’t be a problem.

5. New breed agency With Collective won places on both the Optus and Virgin Mobile rosters thanks to its ethos of fusing data with creativity. Is this the formula that all advertisers now need?

WithCollectiveEvery client wants more from their data, and as a telco Optus has a lot of it on its clients.

Every agency want to merge data and creativity. What makes With Collective different from others is that it’s managed to nail the data side and is now working on the creative aspect.

And it’s yet another independent agency on the roster. It was founded by Dominique Hind in 2010 after she departed Leo Burnett, then went quietly about building a solid reputation with its clients. Along the way her husband, Justin, joined as a partner and the agency continued to build its client list, including data and Frequent Flyer work on Qantas, culminating in December with a place among three agencies on its revamped roster. It’s been a big month.


Coll joined With Collective in July

While its data chops made With a favourite for a spot on at least one of the two rosters the presence of Steve Coll, the creative behind some of Virgin Mobile’s most memorable recent campaigns, including Fair Go Bro, put them over the top.
Coll, one of the most respected creatives in Australia, joined With last July as creative partner.

The challenge for this agency will be fusing its data nous with the media prowess of Coll to produce for Optus not just ROI but attention-grabbing ROI.

It will be interesting to see what they can achieve if they’re given briefs with Emotive to really pick and segment the audience properly.

Their biggest roster competitor looks to be AKQA, and the two agencies could be scrapping it out for some of the interesting tech opportunities that arise.

But the fact With has a spot on both rosters suggests Singtel has a master plan for the agency’s remit.

6. With WPP’s digital behemoth AKQA on the roster will the brand finally open an office in Australia?

AKQA-Logo.svg-1When R/GA landed a spot on the Qantas roster a few years ago the phrase many people used for the appointment was ‘star-fucking’. The idea being that Qantas fancied having a big-name US agency on the roster for ‘special projects’ work.

So is the AKQA appointment also ‘star-fucking’? Well, it would seem they are the classic agency without portfolio, being drafted in for super-special projects Optus hasn’t decided on yet. One function for an agency like this is keeping others on their toes.

The parallels with R/GA are pretty clear. The agency doesn’t have an office in Australia but has been rumoured to be opening here for some time. AKQA was founded in 1994 in London by Ajaz Ahmed and James Hilton and now employs more than 2,000 people globally, with offices in North and South America, Europe and Asia. It was bought by WPP in 2012.

AKQA services global clients Nike, Rolls Royce and Google, and has a tonne of telco experience from working with Verizon in the US.

Nike + Fuelband

It describes its offering as: “The imaginative application of art and science to create beautiful ideas, products and services”.

Basically it takes all the unsexy back end stuff and creates something interesting for consumers, from apps to websites and products like its recent re-imagining of the Nike Fuelband. User Experience on steroids.

It’s won dozens of Agency of the Year and creative awards over the years and runs a Cannes Lions event every year called ‘Future Lions’, looking for the best new talent.

What is not clear is whether this will be enough to get AKQA to open a full office in Australia. It is feasible it could service the account from itsSan Francisco office, although not having boots on the ground would make it tougher to adapt to the local market. Another option could be to rebadge one of the local WPP/STW agencies in Australia, such as DT, as an AKQA office, something which may deliver that business a shot in the arm.

R/GA found its place on to the Qantas roster in 2012 and, four years on, is still working with the brand. Exactly what it does for them is anyone’s guess; it’s not the sexy PR’able stuff, that’s for sure. It has an Australian presence of more than five staff and works with brands including Telstra and Red Bull here.

While some may see this appointment as Optus saying local agencies can’t cut the mustard in terms of this kind of work, that isn’t necessarily the case. More likely is that Optus is looking for an X Factor, an agency to bring an outside opinion and draw on the expertise of a global network.

7. After making it onto the Optus roster, plucky North Sydney agency The Works isn’t so little any more. What’s been the secret of the unassuming ad agency’s growth?

Kevin Macmillan


The once little agency that could has done it again, finding a way to cement itself of the roster of a big brand by the simple act of delivering the goods.

We say once little because the North Sydney outfit now has more than 80 staff and a good chunk of the Woolworths account to boot. Not insignificant.

And Optus is a brand which the agency understands perhaps more than most. Founder and creative partner Kevin Macmillan was there at the very beginning, working at George Patterson Bates when the agency launched the telco into the newly deregulated Australian market.

the worksSince the agency was founded in 2002 it has built its credibility from the direct marketing space to melding creativity with the emerging discipline of data, keeping the business on a slow but steady growth path.

Last year it won the direct marketing account from M&C giving it a new foothold in the business and the agency has continued to grow its share that saw it cruise through the recent review.

8. Creative agency Whybin\TBWA has won Virgin Mobile. Is the agency, which suffered a major blow when its ECDs defected a year ago, on the way back?

Hawes and McCreadie replaced

Hawes and McCreadie replaced Bowman and Burton

In September 2014 Whybin\TBWA lost its creative team – two of the most highly-regarded and awarded creatives in Australia.

Executive creative directors Dave Bowman and Matty Burton were poached by Special Group with Whybin\TBWA then looking to BBH London to replace the dynamic duo.

Gary McCreadie and Wesley Hawes returned to the agency where they had briefly worked in 2009.

This is the first real big win for Whybins’ new ECD team and it puts the agency back on the competitive landscape after a relatively quiet 12 months.

Of course the agency has had wins in the past year, picking up Foxtel and Seven’s joint venture streaming service Presto, last June and getting a place on the Foxtel roster alongside ClemengerBBDO last month, but grabbing a high-profile telco account is just what the agency needed to remind the market that it is still an important player in the game.

Whybins may also be the only agency in Australia that can list both Telstra and Virgin Mobile as clients as Eleven PR works on both accounts.

Having fallen off Agency of the Year awards lists last year after a strong 2014 which saw them pick up an AdNews’ Ad Network of the Year award and make the shortlist at the Mumbrella Awards for Creative Agency of the Year – if the agency can follow up and produce interesting work it could be back on the local awards radar.

But there has been enough decent work recently to get the agency on the pitch list.

Whybin\TBWA’s work for David Jones has been solid, with the retailer’s spring/summer campaign featuring Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns proving innovative for the retail sector.

The agency’s work for Presto showcased its ability to get big name celebrities across the line, with Naomi Watts fronting the campaign.


Paul Bradbury is also another tick in the agency’s favour. The fact he is now regional CEO of the entire group and overlooks Virgin Mobile’s newest PR agency Eleven PR is also handy given the telco’s strategy to more closely align its communications and marketing strategies.

Bradbury has been with the agency for almost 10 years and CEO since August 2010.

He’s been a constant and his client focus would also have proven an attractive point for Virgin Mobile.

For Whybins clients, the agency picking up Virgin Mobile could be seen as both a boon and a potential conflict.

For Presto it could mean more streamlined creative messaging when it comes to promoting the streaming services’ tie-up with Virgin Mobile which sees customers who are signed up to Presto receive extra data each month. Virgin, of course, has used Emotive to spruik this tie-up in the past.


It is the Foxtel win that makes the creative agency’s appointment intriguing, with a potential conflict arising given that Virgin’s sister telco, Optus, has media aspirations that potentially challenge Telstra (which owns half of Foxtel).

Furthermore, if Virgin Mobile decides to promote Stan in the future, or Netflix, this could be a conflict for Presto and place Whybins in a sticky situation.

9. With the Virgin Mobile PR account given to Whybins’ sister agency Eleven, the brand will be one of the few in the country with an integrated creative and public relations agency approach. What does this signal?

Virgin Mobile has a history of fairly integrated campaigns, with One Green Bean and Havas Worldwide having worked together on many successful previous campaigns, including Fair Go Bro and Game of Phones.


The strategy kicked off with the award-winning Warren campaign, produced in 2004 by creative agency, Host.

That was a reality-style dating ad featuring Warren who was looking for love and encouraging Virgin Mobile customers to text him, promoting the telco’s 5c texts between its customers.

Given that rich history it’s not surprising that Virgin Mobile wanted to further this strategy by appointing a PR agency with close ties to a creative agency, and the Eleven PR and Whybin\TBWA relationship and proximity (being based in the same office) offered this.

Eleven PR’s was part of the GAYtms campaign for ANZ Bank showing the agency group has a history of success in this kind of PR-led work. And Virgin Mobile is surely looking to tap into the creative team behind the award-winning work.


It also signals the growing importance of the owned and earned channel for Virgin Mobile, and a more closely integrated communications and marketing strategy is a smart, cost-efficient choice for a smaller telco.

Gone are the days that PR is just about media relations.

With much smaller budgets than big sister Optus, Virgin Mobile will be hoping to grab more of the millennial market with its news-worthy campaigns and will look to move back to the Warren and Fair Go Bro strategy of generating chatter with interesting and unique PR-driven marketing campaigns.

Virgin will be looking to deliver big results for as little money as possible, potentially using more of the budget on talent as it has done in the past with the likes of its Jane Lynch campaign and the more recent Kevin Dillion work created by Emotive.


Of course, it’s a strategy that doesn’t necessarily work as well for bigger corporate brands, hence Optus opting for a more traditional separate PR and communications strategy to its marketing strategy.

For One Green Bean, the loss will be disappointing but not earth shattering.

The PR agency will be on the hunt for a suitable client replacement and with a strong leadership team in place – Carl Ratcliff and Claire Salvetti joined the agency last year as CEO and managing partner respectively – coupled with a strong creative record One Green Bean will easily be on pitch lists this year. It’ll be down to their pitching capability to see how quickly they secure a new client.

10. The new management at UM has had their first big win, taking the media account for both Optus and Virgin Mobile. Why is UM so hard for other agencies to beat?

This is the win the UM’s new leadership wanted.



The appointment cements former CEO Mat Baxter’s legacy at UM and serves as a final feather in his cap, just months after he was promoted to New York.

More significantly it also gives important momentum to UM’s new leadership Ross Raeburn (who replaced Baxter) and Danny Bass who has just arrived as IPG Mediabrands CEO, after six months of gardening leave following his defection from GroupM.

The appointment has ramifications on multiple levels.

UM already has a close working relationship with Ted Horton’s creative agency Big Red – the big surprise in the Optus roster – due to their work on Coles.

The Optus marketer who was key to UM’s appointment was Corin Dimopolous who previously worked closely with the agency when he headed News Corp Australia’s marketing.

UMBut the most significant part of the appointment is that it is an endorsement by a major brand of UM’s new “Creative Connections Agency” positioning, less than a year after Baxter buried “The Big Boutique”, in favour of moving his agency to a role as “strategic advisors” rather than pure media buyers.

When Mumbrella revealed the shift in strategy many in the industry failed to look past the headline about how “Media agencies aren’t our competitors” and instead took that to mean that UM was not a media buying agency, simply because it chose to cite the likes of Soap (digital creative agency), RG/A (digital) and One Green Bean (public relations) as the agencies it was gunning for.

In reality what Baxter was doing with Creative Connections was acknowledging a simple reality: the de-siloing of media.

This Optus roster is proof of that – a big brand putting more emphasis on owned and earned media. Baxter knew with the growth of programmatic and the wider challenges to agency revenue will force media agencies to move up the value chain to being strategic advisors, or else find themselves increasingly commoditised.

Critics will argue there is an element of BS with all media agency positionings, but the idea of reorganising a media agency away from traditional paid channels towards earned and owned media is interesting. It is significant that Optus bought into it.

In recent years, UM’s continuous winning streak ended and it was faced with some significant losses. It won the likes of Coca-Cola (a client it subsequently won big awards for) but it also lost Microsoft, Mastercard, Brown Forman and most significantly Federal Government.



The Optus win fills a major gap in the client roster of Australia’s fourth biggest media agency and gives Raeburn (the former boss of Soap, one of the agencies Baxter cited) a new platform to continue redefining an agency that has for many years set the agenda for its rivals.

People often ask what it is that makes UM so impressive on the new business/pitching front. I part it was that Baxter was “the best showman in town”, but he also had an impressive team around him with the likes of Stef Burford, Sev Griffiths and David Haddad.

Raeburn has been quite upfront with the market that he is not Baxter and that is no bad thing. His challenge will be the work – turning Optus into the killer client case study for the Creative Connections positioning and showing the market how a media agency can redefine itself as a strategic advisor that can work across owned, earned and paid media.

11. There’s a school of thought that says the best number of brands is one. Does Optus still need Virgin Mobile as its secondary brand?

Virgin_MobileIt’s something of an accident of history that Optus also owns Virgin Mobile.

It was founded as a joint venture by Virgin entrepreneur Richard Branson in 2000.

Globally, Virgin has done fantastically well over the years by positioning itself as a disruptive challenger brand and expanding by finding local partners in whichever industry sector it moves into. That was a great fit to launch into the market and Optus took full ownership of the brand in 2006.

The logic of the dual-brand strategy was that Virgin could aim at a younger segment of the market and fight harder on price, leaving Optus to go head-to-head with Telstra on its offering.

In the early days of the brand, Host, the sister agency of PR agency One Green Bean, won global awards for its ads promoting 5c texts through the dating antics of loveable loser Warren.

There were other successes with the likes of Fair Go Bro, which had a cultural impact, but in the past couple of years Virgin Mobile has subsided in the public consciousness.

The challenge of the Optus-Virgin strategy is that it can be an inefficient distraction to run more than one brand in the same market. Consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier often argues that “the best number of brands is one”.

Although Virgin Mobile has always made PR and sponsorship a major part of its strategy, recent years has seen it turn away from TV advertising, raising questions that this was, in reality, budgetary rather than strategic.

One factor may have been what appears to have been a reduced marketing spend. Another was the move upstairs of talented CMO David Scribner, which inevitably took him off the marketing beat.

Then there’s the evolution of Optus. To remain important to owners Singtel, in the future, Virgin Mobile is going to need to answer one key question: In 2016, what is Virgin Mobile actually for?

12. The sophisticated creative roster of best-of-breed agencies contrasts with the somewhat vanilla choice of conventional PR agency Thrive, last year. Is Optus less serious about its PR needs than its marketing?

Thrive PRWhile Virgin Mobile went for a PR agency with creative agency connections, Optus went for a solid, bread-and-butter style PR agency whuch has media relations at its heart.

The appointment of Thrive PR over the likes of One Green Bean and incumbent Fuel Communications makes it clear that, for Optus, public relations is the vanilla of communications and marketing disciplines.

Considering the rest of the agency’s roster: M&C Saatchi; Big Red; The Works; AKQA; With Collective, and Emotive, the Thrive PR appointment is almost dull.

With a traditional PR offering of media relations, communications strategy and ambassadors, Thrive PR’s appointment is clear – Optus isn’t interested in spicing up the public relations element of its marketing and communications offering but rather ensuring it has a team capable of picking up the phone to talk to journalists.

In fact, Optus’ director of corporate communications, Melissa Favero, said when the agency was appointed late last year: “Thrive stood out throughout the pitch process for the team’s creativity, ability to execute intelligent and far-reaching campaigns and strong media relationships”.

However, with Emotive on the list and their record for strong social campaigns with the Ricky Gervais work, it could be argued the telco has interesting, creative shareable campaigns already in the bag and it’ll be up to the traditional PR agency to get the campaign the right kind of attention.


The combination of Emotive’s strong social skills and a traditional PR offering could be unbeatable; the remaining question is how well the two will work together for the benefit of Optus?

13. Ogilvy is a shadow of the agency it was in its Singleton Ogilvy & Mather days. And with this new deal it has missed out once again. What will it take to get the agency back on track?

OgiilvyThe announcement of the new Optus roster can only be classed as a major blow to Ogilvy. Already underperforming in the Australian market, industry speculation was high that the agency would emerge with a large chunk of the Optus account after winning the the Optus Business account. It didn’t.

With parent STW Group having had a horror year and WPP finally making a takeover move after more than a decade sitting on the share roster, Ogilvy is meant to be a revenue engine for the group, instead it has failed to maintain traction with local clients, leaving it largely as a hosting house for internationally-aligned business.

While brands such as Coca-Cola, KFC and BP use the agency, it has just a smattering of local businesses, led by its successful work for AAMI.


Sister STW agency DT also helped to service Ogilvy’s slice of the business, rebuilding the Optus business portal using a template system that allowed the telco to drop in content, so the failure to win and their absence from the finalised roster is actually a double blow to the Ogilvy group.

An Optus win would have added credibility to the Ogilvy brand locally, but having seen Vodafone swiftly pass through its grasp the failure to join the Optus roster after having its foot in the door will be seen as an opportunity missed.

Ogilvy is far from a house of international brands but given the positive vibe that appeared to accompany its pitch for the Optus business, a major rethink for the agency is likely to be on the cards.

14. Havas missed out on the roster while former ECD Steve Coll’s new outfit With Collective made it on to the list. So what is future of Havas?

The parting of the ways of Virgin Mobile and Havas Worldwide brings to an end one of the more fruitful client/agency partnerships of the past few years.

Havas (then Euro RSCG) came on to the roster in 2012 in a stealthy way with a ‘project’ with One Green Bean, which turned out to be the Fair Go Bro campaign, starring Brad Pitt’s brother, Doug.

That campaign won kudos from the industry and, most importantly, the public, who went along with the idea of giving the brother of a Hollywood legend the superstar treatment himself.


Where Havas succeeded on that campaign and in the subsequent Game of Phones campaign was its collaboration with One Green Bean, creating ideas that were compelling but also eminently sharable for potential customers. In other words, relatively cheap in terms of media spend.

But things haven’t been the same for the past couple years. Personnel changes on both sides – notably chief marketing officer David Scribner landing the CEO role at Virgin – as well as a strategic shift from parent company Singtel for the brand, has seen its marketing cut off at the knees, comparatively.

HavasHavas has also suffered a fair bit of churn – respected ECD Steve Coll left first for Droga5 and then With Collective, digital gun Jay Morgan left for J. Walter Thompson and, most recently, MD Alex Carr joined BWM Dentsu.

The agency has been reasonably quiet since picking up Defence Force Recruiting from GPY&R Melbourne in December 2013. It’s a massive client, which places a great strain on any agency, and at the time saw Havas swell its ranks to handle the business, which is not as creatively adventurous as it once was.

While the loss of Virgin probably won’t mean a lot of job losses it is a blow for Havas as it had been one of its more creatively interesting clients.

The Havas Village model – placing Havas Worldwide with Havas Media and PR agency, the Red Agency – should be tempting for clients but it is yet to gain traction in this market. However, the group now has a new reason to go out on an aggressive new business quest from the creative as well as the media end, which might translate into something interesting bubbling up in the next six months.

The group could certainly do with a win.

15. What will the new Optus marketing director be walking into?

Even with no chief marketing officer in place, Optus has remained an aggressive player in the marketing and sponsorship stakes which suggests the brand is being guided from the very top by CEO Allen Lew.

Vicki Brady


The pitch for Optus looked set to stall when top marketer Vicky Brady decamped to Telstra but the long-running review continued unabated, and when a new CMO arrives there will be much set in concrete already – not always the most popular position for an incoming executive keen to put their own stamp on the business.

Yet they will have what is arguably a best-in-breed team of agencies, each of which has created eye-catching and award-winning work.

At the same time Optus has shown a level of agility, commitment and aggression rarely seen in Australia in a company of its size. This week’s decision to leap in and take over the Dick Smith sponsorship of the Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League was an example of how Optus is now thinking – securing a 2.5 year deal in just 24 hours.

Last year it stunned broadcasters (particularly Fox Sports) when it came over the top and bid successfully for the broadcast rights to the English Premier League, setting itself up as a serious media player in its own right; no longer just a telco.

Any suggestion the move was a one-off was put to rest just days later when Optus announced it had signed up as the mobile partner with Cricket Australia offering free access o live matches on mobile devices for its customers, and giving it access to CA’s archive including extended highlights of international game.

The brand has also been aggressive in social. It’s off-the-wall approach to the latest brand campaign from Emotive, with Ricky Gervais, has fed social media channels – even its staff interactions on social have won plaudits.


Under Lew’s guidance, Optus is proving a brand to watch. The incoming CMO might arrive to see much in place but no shortage of opportunity to make the brand even more dynamic.

16. Optus has arguably become Australia’s brand to watch, not least because of its ambitions to be a media player. What’s the plan?

Cricket-Australia-Logo-2003-234x323At this stage the precise media strategy being put in place by Optus is unclear but what we do know is that they are not just focusing on landline and mobile networks – the traditional telco infrastructure – but are investing heavily in major sporting properties.

First it picked up the mobile streaming rights to the cricket last October in a three year deal that was aimed offering its customers unmetered live local and international streams.

Just 10 days later it stunned the market by securing a multimillion dollar deal for the English Premier League in a move that clearly signalled to the market that Optus wasn’t just dipping its toe in the water with sports – it was going all the way in, head first.

Allen Lew Optus CEO


“No telco has ever talked about content from the perspective of broadcasting rights that are exclusive and linking it directly to that particular telco, so in that sense we are game-changing,” Optus CEO Allen Lew, told Mumbrella in November.

When trying to understand the Optus strategy it’s important to take a look at how both the media and telecommunications landscape is aligning.

Amid the subscription video on demand (SVOD) battle between Netflix, Stan and Presto there has been a broader splitting of the telco battlefield into two increasingly distinct camps.

On one side you have those aligned with News Corp Australia – Foxtel, Network Ten and Telstra (a 50 per cent shareholder in Foxtel) and Seven West Media which is a shareholder in Presto.

On the other side you have everyone who isn’t team News Corp. This sees the likes of Fairfax Media and Nine Entertainment Co (which co-own Stan) together with telcos Optus, iiNet and Dodo. They are working with the FetchTV which is seeking to grow its subscriber base to challenge Foxtel dominance in the pay-TV market.

As the number two telco Optus is a key player in the alliance and in the wake of the EPL decision it appears quite willing to buy key content properties with a view to using them to lure consumers into moving across to them and increasingly challenging Australia’s biggest telco Telstra.

There is still much more to play out in this space and you can expect that Telstra/Foxtel/News Corp etc. will not take this lying down.

Optus clearly has ambitions in sport and possibly even the entertainment sectors, and is willing to move quickly and strategically to get what it wants, as evidenced by its move to sign a two and half year sponsorship with the Melbourne Stars BBL club in less than 24 hours.

17. With the departure of Optus, media agency Starcom will see one its biggest clients walk out of the door. What now?

Starcom MediavestAs with any major account loss the departure of Optus will hurt Starcom at a time when the agency has been quietly building momentum.

But as is increasingly the case with many big media accounts, while it was certainly Starcom’s largest account you have to wonder if it was its most profitable.

Optus’s brief in this pitch promised a media spend of $40m for Optus and $17m for Virgin Mobile – not far off the $60m that Nielsen puts it at. But it’s worth noting the last time the account was pitched and agency fees negotiated four years ago it was with a promised media spend of in excess of $100m.

Amid a revolving door of marketers at Optus in recent years this media spend never eventuated, but of course Starcom was still paid on the basis of it being a much larger client.

And of course Starcom saw one of the most profitable parts of the account, the digital and programmatic, moved in-house in 2014 after Optus’ parent Singtel bought Adconian which owns digital agency Amobee.

At the time of the pitch Mumbrella noted the lack of digital – these days one of the most profitable parts of any media buying account – would impact how lucrative a win the account might be.

Indeed this may well have been a factor in why the media agency shortlist was so short – pitting incumbent Starcom against UM and insurgent Havas Media.

It is understood that there will be no immediate redundancies at Starcom as a result of the loss, but the real question will be what the media agency does next.

Chris Nolan and Annick Perrin

Chris Nolan and Annick Perrin

Chris Nolan has been overseeing a major shift within his group as it moved to turn Starcom Mediavest into two agencies Starcom and Mediavest.

Up until late last year, this was getting some momentum with an improved product and wins with Starcom Melbourne picking up the likes of Seek.com.au and Treasury Wine Estates and Sydney winning Brown Forman.

But amid the “mediapalooza” madness it also lost Novartis in a global alignment which saw PHD take it as part of the GSK pitch in this market.

The loss of Optus poses a risk to Starcom – mainly due to the perception of a loss of momentum at a time when it is vulnerable having recently lost its Sydney MD Annick Perrin, who was credited with having really lifted the agency’s product.

You can bet both Starcom and Mediavest they will be looking at where can they quickly regain momentum through a new business win. Can they parlay their years of major telco work into picking up a competitor?

One big bet us Mediavest, which has just hired IPG Mediabrands’ Peter Butler in Melbourne, will try and turn the tables on UM by taking the Wesfarmers/Coles account – one of the biggest in Australia worth well over $200m – which is expected to pitch later this year.

It could very well be an agency defining year for both Starcom and its sister agency Mediavest.

18. For the first time in many years, Telstra faces a sustained challenge to its brand crown. How should it respond?

Jaws dropped in November when, without many people being aware they were even chasing it, Optus snatched local broadcast and digital rights to the English Premier League.

One of the Foxtel marquee properties outside of local sport, it became clear that Optus management had big ambitions. Forget about it as “just” a telco brand, from that moment, Optus became one to watch as a media player, too.

TelstraIn truth, Optus began to catch Telstra in setting the agenda back in mid-2014 when it launched generous new data plans, forcing a price war, which was good for consumers.

In other words, it began acting like a proper challenger brand.

Telstra isn’t going to be short of insight on how to keep the resurgent challenger in its place, though. Last month it announced it had hired Optus marketing boss, Vicky Brady.

The coming years will see even more competition between Optus and Telstra.

Telstra TVWhile the mobile battleground has been the key one, Optus’ new media ambitions will see it rub up against Telstra, which owns half of Foxtel and launched its streaming service, Telstra TV, in October.

The market speculates constantly about the intentions of fellow Foxtel owner, News Corp. Will News Corp one day buy out Telstra? Will Telstra buy out News Corp?

Both owners are highly committed to the asset, even if the challenge of subscription streaming services suggest its days as a cash cow are in decline.

In marketing terms, the main challenge for Telstra is that there’s not much wrong with it. Big investments have resulted in a superior product. Customer services are much improved. The marketing team is able, and there’s nothing to scare the horses about the advertising.

A fascinating piece of insight from Roy Morgan research underlined this last year.

Mobile phone customers | Source: Roy Morgan 2015

Mobile phone customers | Source: Roy Morgan 2015

An amazing 69 per cent of its eight million mobile customers are with Telstra because of its superior coverage.

Thanks to its catastrophic network breakdowns, just 15 per cent of Vodafone’s three million mobile customers are there for coverage; 36 per cent for price.

Optus sits in the middle – with 40 per cent of its 3.8m customers there for price and 25 per cent for coverage.

Which highlights just how much of a market-leader Telstra is. And it’s acting like it. Arguably, that’s all it can, or should, do.


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