Our industry needs a sea change, or risks losing talent to regional Australia

If you're not on the ground in Sydney's Surry Hills or Melbourne's Richmond, you're not even considered by agencies that call themselves 'innovative' and 'trendsetters', argues Nicola Swankie, a freelancer who moved to the Sunshine Coast last year. And unless the industry undergoes a sea change of its own, it risks losing top talent to thriving regional hubs.

I’m one of the swarm of people who have left the metropolitan hubs of Sydney and Melbourne, in search of somewhere more affordable, more family friendly, and involving a commute that’s less than two hours.

Having spent a combined 10 years in Australia’s two biggest capital cities, I moved to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast last year, and every week hear of an old colleague who has similarly relocated to the creative mecca that is Byron Bay (or the Central Coast, Surf Coast, Gold Coast or Tasmania). Many of us have had enough of the pressure and costs of city living, resorting to building our own, different kind of lifestyle.

My new home, the Sunshine Coast, is a good insight into the innovative thinking of regional Australian cities. In a few years, Maroochydore will have the fastest data connection to Asia on the east coast, as well as a connected Smart CBD. Companies like Youi and Huddle have set up shop here, and I’m positive that, over the next five years, many others will follow suit. But, until then, I’m making good use of my regional airport, flying in and out of contract roles and working remotely most of the time.

However, while I’ve had positive experiences, many agencies have found it difficult to adjust to me not physically being in the building for the full day. In fact, if you aren’t on the ground in Surry Hills or Richmond, you aren’t even considered.

As an industry, we are the creatives, the innovators, the early adopters, the ones who spot trends and help our clients stay ahead of them. The numbers show people want to (and are) going remote (and our industry is certainly not immune), supported by the technology that’s there and that works.

And yet.

Our creative, innovative, early adopting, trendsetting industry still has a culture of physical meetings, pitch ‘war-rooms’, and late night agency dinners.

It’s interesting that two agencies that have successfully adopted fully remote cultures (therefore allowing those in regional areas to work with and for them) are led by women who also live outside of the main city areas. Quiip offers around-the-clock social and community management solutions, empowering remote employees to work entirely in the cloud. And The Remarkables Group, for which I have recently freelanced for, has adapted their operating model to connect brands with influencers living all over Australia, using tech like Google Meet, Zoom, Slack and Basecamp to coordinate marketing teams across country Victoria, Perth, the Gold Coast and Canberra while still working closely with clients and colleagues in Melbourne and Sydney.

Examples like this prove that shifting your culture is possible. And it works. Diversifying away from city centres to create regional CBDs is healthy and necessary.

And if our industry continues to fail at accommodating employees located outside of Sydney and Melbourne? It will suffer from brain drain. Experienced talent will leave town and turn their skills into new startups (which the thriving regions are eager to support), join corporates embracing regional opportunities, or begin new careers in new industries.

Our industry needs a sea change of its own.

Nicola Swankie is a freelance social media strategist working remotely from the Sunshine Coast


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.