Qantas’ Olivia Wirth warns of ‘changing agency roster’ as airline increases focus on social


Wirth speaking at the Travel Marketing Summit

Qantas’ top marketer Olivia Wirth has warned its agency roster will continue to change and revealed that up to half of its marketing budget is now spent on digital and social channels.

While cinema and TV will continue to play a key role in high profile brand campaigns, she added that “no stone will be left unturned” in its quest to find the right digital and social platforms to reach consumers.

In a wide-ranging interview at Mumbrella’s Travel Marketing Summit in Sydney yesterday, Wirth also spoke of the “huge opportunities” of Qantas’ data marketing business Red Planet and of the airline’s on-going challenge to win the affection of the travelling public, and described the industry’s interest in Qantas’s agencies as an “obsession”.

However Qantas’ group executive for brand, marketing and corporate affairs, admitted there will be a revolving door for agencies, with the most appropriate one chosen for any given project.

She said Lawrence Creative Strategy, the company behind Qantas’s current Feels Like Home campaign, was the best agency to work on the project because of its “understanding of Australia”.

Droga 5 had previously been the airline’s lead creative agency.

“There is an obsession about it and I don’t really get it,” Wirth said when asked about its agency partners. “Yes, we work with a lot of agencies and increasingly there are a lot of agencies that are boutique. They are very good at some things and don’t focus on others.

“So yes we work with a lot of agencies from time to time. Neil Lawrence was the right person [for the Feels Like Home campaign]. We worked with him for 12 to 18 months and he was absolutely the right person. He understands Australia.

“So yes there will be a changing roster and I guess that’s life.”

Red Planet

RedPlanet QantasOn Red Planet, Qantas Loyalty’s media, analytics and research services business, Wirth said there were “huge opportunities” to work with third parties to exploit the “depth of information” Qantas holds on its loyalty members.

She denied suggestions it was taking business from media agencies, arguing that Qantas had every right to muscle in on the market.

“This is all about effective and more targeted marketing and using the analytics we have on our customers,” Wirth said.

“It’s a partnership approach and we pride ourselves on the coalition of partners we have in Qantas Loyalty. It’s unbeatable so it makes sense to work with select clients in this way. It’s a huge opportunity. We are putting our toe in the water and starting small but we believe it has huge capability.

“We think we are growing the market. There is a competitive set but why shouldn’t Qantas take some of this business?”

Digital growth

Wirth told delegates at Sydney’s Amora Hotel Jamison that 40 to 50 per cent of Qantas’s marketing budget is now ploughed into digital and social media, a pattern, she added, that many companies were following.

TV and cinema will continue to be used for brand work but “we have absolutely seen a shift” in the marketing mix, she said.

“We are trialling a lot of new activity in the digital and social space and sometimes it is activity that people will question,” she said.

Wirth gave the example of Qantas’s decision to post a two-minute advert on Facebook which “raised eyebrows” among commentators who suggested consumers on the social platform only have a 15-second attention span.

“But it wasn’t just 15 seconds people were watching for, it was many multiples of that because we had the engagement,” she said.

Qantas is active on Instagram and other social platforms

Qantas is active on Instagram and other social platforms

Wirth added: “We are looking at absolutely all platforms and trying to push the limits on what is traditional in terms of the digital space. We are trialling social advertising, we are looking at everything. No stone will be left unturned in this space for us.”

The push towards social is a far cry from 2010 when Wirth admitted the airline left social media unchecked. The lack of monitoring led to images appearing on social media of a badly damaged Qantas A380 aircraft before the airline’s head office even knew an accident had taken place.

“Social has been a steep learning curve for our business and we learned the hard way with QF32,” Wirth explained. “We didn’t have any  monitoring in place for social media….and this was a sharp reminder that we may want to do something about that.

“We have gone from being recalcitrant to being one of the first movers in this space. We have also gone from a stage of wanting to control it, which I think every business has gone through to where we are now which is about embracing it

“It’s a great platform to engage but there is good and bad. The sentiment can be appalling at some times but it can be good at others.”

‘A challenging time or Qantas’

Despite the digital and social focus, Wirth insisted high profile brand campaigns will remain part of the marketing mix, as will the airline’s search for “different ideas”, such as the recent projects to bring Ellen and the Modern Family to Australia.

She said timing was of paramount importance in launching lavish brand work as she explained the two-year gap between brand campaigns.

“You can’t launch a campaign in a void. You need to realise what the context is, what environment the business is operating in,” Wirth said.

“It has been a challenging time for Qantas. There were lots of conversations going on about some difficult issues the business was confronting, including conversations with government.

“It was not the right time to spend money on a brand campaign. It is very important that the audience is receptive and open to the type of messages that we wanted to put through.”

Asked about the on-going rift with Tourism Australia following the withdrawal of marketing support for the national tourism agency, Wirth said the airline continues to financially support tourism through partnerships with state and territory bodies.

“Yes we walked away from our formal MOU [memorandum of understanding] with Tourism Australia….but that’s not to say it won’t change in the future. We continue to work with them on key specific projects,” she said. “Qantas has been the number one supporter of tourism in Australia and it’s a commitment we have had for many years and is one that we don’t take lightly.”

Steve Jones


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.