‘Pretty disgraceful as pitches go’: Insiders slam Kia’s ‘disingenuous’ media pitch

In September last year, Kia Australia consolidated its approximately $34 million in media spend with Advertising Associates, concluding a competitive pitch process that has since become the subject of heavy scrutiny by many involved.

According to insiders, the pitch for Kia Australia’s media account first appeared to be a genuine approach to market by the client. However, sources have told Mumbrella that they felt the integrity of the pitch process came into question at its completion, with multiple insiders alleging that the appointment of Advertising Associates was influenced by a pre-existing personal relationship between two senior executives at Kia Australia and Advertising Associates.

When these allegations were raised by multiple independent sources, it was within our editorial mission to investigate the situation further.

Through this investigation, the information that has been brought before Mumbrella has left the impression that there are many questions about the media pitch process run by Kia Australia in 2023 that remain to be answered. Mumbrella has put these questions to Kia Australia and Advertising Associates.

In a statement sent to Mumbrella, a spokesperson for Advertising Associates said: “As your questions relate to a competitive pitch which is commercial in confidence, you should direct your questions to Kia, who ran the pitch”.

Kia Australia issued the following statement: “Kia Australia ran a competitive pitch last year that was conducted in the stringent process of any tender of this nature, including full financial and benchmarking audits. One of our incumbent agency’s won the pitch based on their presentation and we are satisfied with the process that took place and the outcome. So much so, our digital performance is already achieving double digit increases in results.”

Neither Advertising Associates nor Kia Australia responded to Mumbrella’s questions regarding the alleged personal relationship between two senior executives, or the other allegations contained in this article.

Sources have confirmed that the timeline for the pitch commenced in mid-2023, when Kia Australia sought to combine its digital and above the line (ATL) media accounts.

Mumbrella understands these accounts had been separated in 2020 when the automotive brand moved the latter from incumbent Havas Media Network to Advertising Associates without a formal pitch. This switch came just three years after Havas first won the account during Kia Australia’s 2017 media pitch, which aligned with a long-standing global relationship between Havas and Kia’s parent company, Hyundai Motor Group. The global relationship between Havas and Hyundai Motor Group was last reaffirmed in 2022 when the agency was reappointed as the Korean automotive group’s global media agency of record.

By July 2023, Mumbrella understands the shortlist for Kia Australia’s most recent media pitch was completed, not long after the automotive brand’s appointment of a new CEO in June. Over the next two months, the incumbents, Advertising Associates and Havas Media Network, would compete against three other shortlisted agencies for the brand’s sizeable consolidated media account.

Insiders told Mumbrella that after what had otherwise seemed like a standard pitching process, the eventual appointment of Advertising Associates was viewed as a controversial decision as the indie agency allegedly did not have the capability to effectively service the digital media portion of the account.

A number of sources close to the pitch spoke to Mumbrella about their experiences, but have chosen to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions. These sources claim that the process was ‘disingenuous’ from the start, describing alleged instances where they were misled by the client about the intentions of the pitch, and each agencies’ chances of success. There were also accusations of gas lighting.

“It was pretty disgraceful as pitches go,” said one agency leader. “We’ve all been involved in bad ones before, but the way that they behaved during the process… they should be working in Hollywood, not working in marketing.”

Mumbrella is not suggesting that everyone involved in the process behaved improperly.

This leader, and others, described a pleasant and encouraging experience with the Kia Australia executive team during the pitch process, and only came to understand the alleged inconsistencies of their behaviour once the winning agency was named.

Multiple agency leaders confirmed that their confidence in the process was bolstered by Kia Australia’s engagement of an independent pitch consultant. Unfortunately, their impression changed after the pitch consultant removed themselves from the project before completion, due to the client’s alleged disregard for the formal selection criteria.

According to multiple insiders, an agency other than Advertising Associates had emerged as the clear winner based on this criteria, but Kia Australia allegedly chose to override the outcome and appoint Advertising Associates.

Upon its appointment, Advertising Associates looked to hire a number of new digital roles as it prepared to take on the service of Kia Australia’s digital account. The agency has also since launched a new Sydney office.

“Our Advertising Associates team is growing and we are hiring across both Melbourne and Sydney markets. If you or someone you know is looking for a new and exciting digital opportunity we would love to hear from you!” wrote the agency’s director, Brett Carty, on a LinkedIn post in October 2023.

“Our Advertising Associates team continues to grow in 2024. We are #hiring for multiple roles across our Sydney team. If you or someone you know is looking for a new and exciting digital opportunity to work with the innovative Kia Australia Pty Ltd, then we would love to hear from you!” wrote head of digital, Matt Soulsby, in a separate LinkedIn post in January 2024, linking a job posting for an SEM executive role.

This role, and another job advertisement for a programmatic manager, were active on Advertising Associate’s company LinkedIn page until at least 13 February 2024. Another advertisement for a programmatic manager remains live.

Mumbrella understands Advertising Associates allegedly poached two staff members from Havas Media Network’s Sydney-based Kia Australia service team, with other employees of Havas said to have been offered roles.

Mumbrella understands that this is unlikely to be an isolated incident in the Australian advertising landscape. If you have concerns and ideas about our industry and how it can continue to be better, we welcome your contributions, tips and testimonies to be directed to our editor, via We will honour all requests for anonymity.


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