Mark Carnegie-backed sales house Inception Digital liquidated

inception digitalMedia sales house Inception Digital has been liquidated, leaving dozens of stunned staff looking for new jobs and publishers hunting new sales partners.

The company was founded by current head of digital for the NRL Rebekah Horne and managing director Jade Harley in 2011, with serial investor Mark Carnegie the largest shareholder after sinking $1m into the business through one of his investment vehicles.


Founder: Rebekah Horne

It had been one of the country’s biggest independent sales houses, representing a number of big accounts including The Guardian Australia and Mashable’s local presence, as well as The New Daily and Inception Digital.

However, it is thought the company struggled for business after losing The Guardian in a phased transition to an in-house model last year, while US publisher Mashable took its sales in-house when it hired Philip Mackertich as its first local sales director in March. 

Inception also “merged” with fashion and lifestyle magazine Oyster in May 2014. It is unclear whether Oyster has also been liquidated, but calls to the magazine went unanswered today.

Last month Inception quietly closed its office in Melbourne.

Media sales houses are generally used by smaller publishers to give them a presence amongst bigger media agencies, which may otherwise not have the scope to include them in media plans.

Liquidators Restructuring Solutions have been appointed to look at the future of the company. It is unclear whether staff have been paid or whether money is owed to external creditors, including publishers it worked with. A creditors’ meeting is set to be called in the next few days.inception digital liquidation notice

The New Daily publisher Paul Hamra told Mumbrella Inception accounted for around 15% of its revenues, with an in-house team already in place. He added they had already moved to appoint another sales house to represent it to agencies, and that he would expect any monies owed to be paid by the company.

The Carousel has said it will be taking advertising in house.

Largest shareholder: Mark Carnegie

Largest shareholder: Mark Carnegie

According to ASIC documents Mark Carnegie’s company owns the largest number of shares in the business, with 499, although he ceased to be a director of the business last August.

Horne holds 251 shares and Harley 250. Commercial director Burbidge holds 56 shares in the business, the same as another investor, Alice Alexander.

Carnegie’s other media investments include a stake in ad agency Banjo and Macquarie Radio Network, both alongside former adman John Singleton.

Managing director Jade Harley

Managing director Jade Harley

Calls to the Inception Digital offices went unanswered, while Horne and Harley did not respond despite repeated attempts to contact them. Carnegie hung up when asked about Inception Digital.

The company launched in mysterious fashion in 2011 with Horne, who had just begun a digital role with radio group DMG, at the time keen to downplay her role despite being listed as managing director. The former Network Ten head of digital has since added the title of founder and non-executive director of Inception to her LinkedIn profile.

Guardian Australia managing director, Ian McClelland, told Mumbrella while the publisher had a good relationship with Inception’s team it had made the move to an in-house model for several reasons.

“We just got to a size (in revenue) where it didn’t make sense to have an external sales house any more. Plus sales suddenly became very holistic (campaigns being a mixture of direct/programmatic/content/activation/research),” he said.

“Inception Digital did an amazing job for us in our first couple of years. They performed really well and were a delight to work with. Jade Harley and Guy Burbidge, in particular, are exceptional media professionals and I have a lot of respect for them – they’ll both do well, whatever they go on to next.

“I guess the ‘network’ model doesn’t work anymore with the advance of DSPs and a shift to content. Perhaps they didn’t transition their business fast enough.”

Those sentiments were echoed by The New Daily publisher, Paul Hamra, when announcing the deal with Inception last August.

“Traditional display can be done through programmatic,” he said. “So having a traditional displays sales network, we’re better having an algorithm.”


Burbidge: “Innovative solutions”

At the time Inception’s Burbidge admitted to Mumbrella it was moving away from traditional display advertising, adding: “We’re just trying to find more innovative solutions for advertisers outside of the traditional display format.

“By that I mean we’re looking at content solutions that cover traditional editorial, video creation, creation of infographics, basically anything that’s not a traditional banner.”


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