The IMAA on its all-male board, challenging the big globals, and ‘giving back’ to indies

A new industry body for independent media agencies has launched: Independent Media Agencies of Australia (IMAA). While its mission attracted widespread support, the composition of its all-male leadership team also drew criticism. Mumbrella's Brittney Rigby learns why the committee's lack of gender balance "sits absolutely fine" with the inaugural chair, and whether there are plans to ensure the annually rotating committee is more representative in the future.

“Look, we all know that this industry is a bit of a boys’ club.” I’ve just asked Meg Gossert, who has run Multi Media Buying and Planning Services for more than 30 years, how she feels about the all-male inaugural management committee of Independent Media Agencies of Australia (IMAA).

When the new industry body launched a fortnight ago, the photo of the management team accompanying the announcement immediately drew attention. Despite 61% of media agency staff being women, a number of whom run independent agencies, there wasn’t one in sight.

The photo of the inaugural committee (L-R): Dan O’Brien, Sam Buchanan, Dominic Pearman, Nick Behr and Ant Colreavy

So how did it happen?

Last May, 12 independent media agency representatives were invited by radio business Nova to a two-day function in the Blue Mountains’ Wolgan Valley.

“Everyone really got along well and we shared stories and shared where we all came from and it was an opportunity to all be in the one room and all have a voice. Nova really wanted to find out how they can work better with independents and what resources we can use,” says Sandbox Media’s Ant Colreavy, a committee member on the board’s first iteration (it will rotate annually).

Colreavy’s Sandbox has been in the market for 10 years

Colreavy recalls that Nova CEO Cath O’Connor told him: “You get along really well and you don’t see each other so much as competitors. Why don’t you just get together and start an industry [body]?”

And so Dominic Pearman of Pearman Media, who would become the IMAA’s first chair, sent around an email to the 12 attendees, four of whom were women – “there was a few girls and they were asked as well,” Colreavy tells me – and four men volunteered.

I ask Pearman how having an all-male leadership team sits with him.

“It sits absolutely fine with me,” he says immediately.

Pearman is the body’s first chair

“The leadership team, as I said, was a volunteer situation of the 12 people who went to Wolgan Valley. And of those 12 people, four were females, so 33% were female, and it was just those other four males that responded. You can only work with the volunteers that respond.

“We’d all been talking to each other at that event. So once you’ve got five, how many more people do you need? Probably Mumbrella was the only one who’s questioned the all-male leadership team, and we were aware of that too by the way, before the launch. I note that Mumbrella is started by two males.”

I suggest that choosing a business partner may be different to establishing a body with a purpose to reflect and represent the industry. Pearman agrees that he’d “dearly love” for the board’s diversity to improve over time, “but as I say, we’re dealing with volunteers. You can’t force people to volunteer to give up their time”.

“I think you need to understand, you can only work with people who put their hands up,” he says. “If one of the four women who were at the initial event put their hands up and we turned around and said no, then we’d absolutely be open for criticism for not being representative.”

Women are much more likely to be primary carers and perform the majority of unpaid work like childcare, cleaning and cooking. Perhaps that small sample size of four women were not in a position to volunteer this year, or were affected by the self-promotion gender gap, which means women are less likely to self-nominate for promotions or awards or opportunities such as this one?

“I can tell you for sure that Meg Gossert, Angie Smith [managing director of Mediasmiths], Virginia Hyland [founder of Hyland Media], Annie Dunne [managing partner of Above Trading] and Lesley Sweeney [CEO of Sweeney Advertising], I’m not sure about Jacquie Alley [chief operating officer at The Media Store], I doubt they would have any of those issues you’ve suggested,” Pearman says.

“They’re women who can be very forthright.”

Virginia Hyland_SportsMS 2018_Close-up

Hyland has run her agency for 15 years

Colreavy agrees: “The good thing is we’re rotating the board every 12 months, so the fact that we’ve got the Virginia Hylands of the world and the Megs [Gossert] … there’s a lot of great women who have been in the industry for a long time who will be able to, hopefully, put up their hand to take over the board.”

Hyland says it’s a brave decision to be involved in these initiatives, but more cultural consideration is needed.

“In the future, there needs to probably be more consideration around what that diverse scenario looks like. And I don’t think that’s just a gender thing. I think that’s a cultural issue,” Hyland says.

“But I will say kudos to the five that actually jumped on. It was their idea … and it’s a very brave decision. Sitting on the MFA [Media Federation of Australia board] for four years, I know the time it takes away from my agency to do things for the greater good.”

Smith, who founded Mediasmiths 13 years ago, isn’t as bothered by the line-up.

“I believe that the potential face of it will change and there’ll be more diversity in terms of male, female, colour, gender, sex, all that sort of stuff,” she adds.

“So it sits fine with me, I think they’re more than capable and have got a big job to do in terms of setting it up.”

Would she be interested in an IMAA leadership role in the future?

“Yeah, absolutely. I’m young, I’ve got energy, but I’m also a busy woman, right. I’m running my agency, I have four children,” she says. “So I’d have to look at where things were at in my life as to whether I could take on a leadership role and what that entailed as well.”

Smith would be interested in an IMAA leadership role in future

All three women emphasise the importance of the IMAA’s role, and their appreciation it exists.

“I’ve always been a champion of indies, and the important role that we play in challenging the big globals,” Hyland says.

“We’re not confined to dealing with media in a certain way. And we can champion clients and try to get them closer to their customers without being skewed towards what media we should be buying and what we should be doing. Or even from a technology perspective, skewing towards Adobe or skewing towards Salesforce or whoever that technology partner may be, we can look at the market agnostically with freedom to actually decide what is the best way forward to drive success for clients.”

As an outgoing director of the MFA, Hyland ensured that an independent must always be on the board.

“And that independent can’t be a 50% owned independent. It has to be a indie that’s actually 100% owned and that wasn’t in place,” she explains.

“So what that meant was that when I left, when we went out to election, that someone from maybe an Ikon who was owned by WPP could take that seat, and then there’d be no independent voice on the board. So that was my parting meeting and everyone voted that an indie should always be on the board of the MFA.”

Hyland’s MFA successor is This is Flow’s Jimmy Hyett, whose election was announced a few days after the IMAA launched. MFA CEO Sophie Madden noted at the time that she’s “proud of the diversity of the MFA board, including an equal split of men and women, reflecting our industry’s strong gender equality scorecard”.

The IMAA and MFA may collaborate down the track. But for now, the new body provides independents with specific advocacy and support, complementing the MFA’s broader focus.

“[The IMAA] will allow us to be more prominent in clients’ minds and advertisers minds that we are an option, and a really good one at that,” Smith says.

“We don’t get the chance to go to a lot of big industry events, whether that’s because we just don’t have time or we can’t afford it or whatever that may be. But I think this body is that opportunity to come together as agencies, and with the media vendors as well, because they’re really backing us and they’re really behind us.”

And membership confers not just a sense of community, Gossert argues, but signals credibility: “There’s certainly qualifications that we have to comply with to become members of that association, and I know that there are agencies that won’t be invited to be members due to the ethical nature of their conduct.”


For Colreavy, “it’s more about giving back to the industry that I got set up in 10 years ago, and I got help from other indies as well when I was starting out.”

In New South Wales alone, there are 58 independents, Pearman says. The leadership team reached out to agencies within that pool to land its 20 founding members, with a number of other agencies wanting to join since the IMAA’s launch. By the end of the year, he thinks 30 to 40 agencies will be on board.

That expansion is critical, according to Hyland. Because despite her agency’s award wins and shortlist appearances, independents still aren’t top of mind for clients.

“I could probably count on one hand the amount of times we’ve been invited as an agency to be part of a pitch,” she notes.

“So for me, it’s really making people stop and think, ‘Actually, do we have enough diversity on the pitch list? Or do we have a lot of very similar agencies offering similar things?'”

And what of the leadership team’s diversity? I ask Colreavy and Pearman whether next year’s committee will comprise the first five people to volunteer again, or if a recruitment process will be in place, involving approaching women and curating a representative team.

“Good question. We haven’t actually got to that stage. I’d imagine we do definitely want a representative body of the people we represent,” Pearman says.

“But because it’s volunteer, you’ve got to wait for people to volunteer. If nobody volunteered… but I’m sure they will.”

Colreavy thinks it’s a bit early to say, adding: “Seeing as it’s year one and we haven’t looked at the process of setting up the board for next time … I don’t believe we’ve set a criteria of how we can select the next five.

“I’m new to the whole process of putting panels together, but it’s become a topic I guess in the media about this, so yeah I guess we’d look at diversity.”

Hyland has an idea.

“What would be great is to have a formal invitation to every single member of the IMAA, and that every member has to submit a reason why they want to be part of the IMAA and what they’ll bring to the IMAA to help it grow and to foster talent,” she proposes.

“Then you look at those submissions, and decide from that actually who is going to bring the best opportunity forward, but also make sure that they encourage women or people from different races to also make a play and that if they’re not getting enough diversity in those submissions, that they go out, and they find some more diversity to make sure that everyone’s heard and that the right decision is made.”


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.