Paykel Media’s new MD Sarah Keith on how indies can offer greater transparency, and why price isn’t everything

Paykel Media entered a new era this year when founder Tony Paykel stepped down as managing director, with Sarah Keith taking over. Mumbrella's Zanda Wilson spoke with Keith about her plans for the independent agency.

When Sarah Keith was named as Paykel Media’s new managing director and the successor to Tony Paykel, she immediately flagged the importance of going beyond what’s expected from an independent media agency.

Her appointment comes almost two years after Paykel Media was bought by barter company Active International, but speaking with Mumbrella, Keith stresses that Paykel is still independent and that indies are still crucial for the sector.

Major independent media agency players have historically been acquired but the large holding groups. The most recent of which was Hyland Media, run by Virginia Hyland, who’s agency is now part of Havas Media while Hyland herself is now the CEO of the agency.

Before that, another leading media agency, Match Media, led by John Preston, was acquired by Publicis Group in 2014 and became Blue449 in 2016.

Sarah Keith and Caroline Doran (Chief Operating Officer, Paykel Media)

Despite multiple prominent, independent media agencies being bought up by larger holding groups, Keith says indies remain important because they can build a level of trust with clients that larger agencies can’t often match.

“I’d like to think that there will be a role for independent agencies going forward because ultimately everybody wants choice in a different type of services,” she says.

“And for me, one of the most important things is the client sees that you, in a pitch situation or handover, are going to take their hard-earned dollars and use them in a way that’s actually going to work for their business.

“For clients, trust matters, and so much of what we do is building client-focused relationships based on trust.”

But there’s no doubt it’s a tough gig going up against big media agencies owned by major holding companies who have the financial clout and capacity to buy in bulk.

When asked how she intends to keep Paykel Media competitive, she stresses “price isn’t everything.

“We buy pretty competitively for our clients, because we’ve got longstanding relationships with major owners.

“We haven’t got the type of clients who set goals globally that potentially don’t make sense. So we’re looking at a range of metrics, not just price.”

Transparency around media agencies has been a heavily debated topic for several years now, but Keith thinks its easier to be transparent as an indie. “I think it’s absolutely vital,” she adds.

“It’s almost like the number one thing for the right clients that an independent can offer, in comparison to buying groups.

“The interesting thing is I would imagine a lot of our clients wouldn’t, if you spoke to them, be concerned about transparency.

“It’s not an issue for them because they’ve been there and had strong, long-standing relationships with trusted partners.”

Looking into the next year, Keith says Paykel’s priorities will include “building out our relationships with our media owners, content providers and tech partners.

“I think it’s really, easy sometimes for tech partners to overlook smaller agencies. Tech partners of content providers are very much interested in your size to size for access.

“I’d like to think that they will start thinking about helping those small businesses grow with a much more hands-on white glove service.”

She will also be investing in building out the depth of the agency itself.

“Often with the smaller agencies and smaller clients, it’s very much about traditional media campaigns or quite basic digital,” Keith says.

The former Publicis Media Exchange MD has already begun moving to increase strategy capability for clients. “I think it’s really important that small to medium-sized clients get a much higher quality of strategic work,” she says.

“And to that end, my first appointment has been Dan Hojnik to a new chief strategy role.”


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