Think 2014 was disruptive? You ain’t seen nothing yet

alexAs we come to the end of the year Mumbrella editor Alex Hayes looks back at some of the big themes from 2014, and how they will affect the industry in 2015.

It’s been just over a year since I took over from Tim in the hot seat looking after the day to day business of the Mumbrella website.

It’s been a steep learning curve. But then it feels like everyone in the industry has been on a similar learning trajectory too.

Coming from B&T I knew the industry and the main players pretty well, but there’s nothing that quite prepares you for the sheer amount of audience engagement and feedback we get here. If we do something well, it’s great to get the praise. If we stuff up, we very soon know about it. But as I write this I’d definitely like to think our account is looking positive.

There’s been a lot of big yarns to be had this year, some weren’t predictable (who saw the Packer-Gyngell Bondi brawl coming?) and some which have been staring the industry in the face for many years, but have had a blind eye turned to them.

Yes, I’m talking about Cannes.

In my time as a journalist I’ve never been involved in a story which has involved so much careful research, so much rigour, time and effort, and been as divisive.

Even now at Christmas parties six months after the fact, I’ve been bumping into people who’ve had a lot to say about it both ways. There’s certain people who would have preferred we never asked the question around the Aussie print ads (we only looked at one category) entered in the world’s biggest creative awards show.

Some argued it was a waste of time, these sort of things had been happening for years and were common practice. Others took the view it was about time someone called it out, and actually asked some hard questions about what was being entered and winning awards.

My perspective on the situation is quite straightforward. Cannes is an awards show about commercial creativity, not an advertising art award. Putting a piece of work which was never intended to drive results up against another which had a positive effect on the client’s business whilst being brilliantly creative is hugely unfair.

At a time when every agency boss I meet bemoans how busy their staff are and how slim their margins are becoming, it is surprising this practice is still going on.

And the Lance Armstrong defence of ‘other people were doing it so why shouldn’t we’ simply doesn’t wash. At the end of the day it’s up to you to decide what you want the future of this industry to be like. We can carry on in the same old manner, or industry leaders conspicuously absent when questions were asked earlier this year can use the affair as a catalyst to drive change in the only place they can, their own backyards.

The Lions are not the only awards to be affected with the issue, but they are the biggest, and the ones that end up deciding the scale of people’s pay rises.

It was interesting to note print entries to Spikes just a couple of months later were down by three-quarters on last year, and you can rest assured that while we may not be in the Cotes d’Azure this year, we’ll be keeping a very close eye on what’s happening at the world’s biggest creative show.

Media agencies have also come under the spotlight these last few weeks, with the emergence of issues around TV campaign reporting at Mediacom.

Transparency has been something of a buzzword for media agencies for the past few years, and it really looks good on those constantly evolving agency mottos and mantras. But what is transparency?

It’s unfair to judge what has happened at Mediacom until we’ve seen the auditor’s reports, and we’ve been very careful to report only fact and not rush to throw out opinion or the swirl of industry conjecture doing the rounds.

However, there’s a lot more questions thrown up by this for the whole industry, which we know has had more than a few other agencies, and marketers, looking more closely at their own house.

But out of adversity Mediacom has a great opportunity to lead the wider industry down a new path, but to do that there needs to be an open dialogue. Problems around staffing levels, experience and ultimately remuneration models are all inherent in this issue.

The last of these is perhaps the most important – are clients prepared to pay enough for this expert service they’re employing to execute some pretty sensitive business plans to enable agencies to make decent margins to allow them to be truly transparent?

Marketers are butting up against their own issues. The digital divide is becoming ever more apparent, and you can’t help but wonder if some of Australia’s most iconic brands are still too hamstrung beyond their marketing departments to compete on the international playing field they, like it or not, are in. It’s no longer enough to catch up, you’ve got to be actively looking ahead all the time.

Uber has shown how easy it is for innovative business practices to come in and disrupt a pretty cosy arrangement, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are many traditional sectors ripe for the picking for enterprising people who think differently.

Equally there’s absolutely no reason it can’t be the established leaders in their fields that actually do the innovating, but a lot of them have to change fast to do this.

The TV industry in Australia is one facing the challenge of outside forces. For a long time it’s been easy for them to control what is shown where and when. Now consumers are fighting back by refusing to wait for international content, or pay for a big subscription.

Now the industry, the same one which struggles to agree on nearly anything, has been told to get a code together.  So rights holders like Village Roadshow are being asked to collaborate with internet service providers (ISPs) like iiNet, which has demonstrated it’s against sharing customer information with anyone unless they are compelled to by a court.

Whoever blinks first is set to lose, and it’s going to be an interesting four months at the beginning of next year to see how they negotiate that problem.

That’s not to mention the challenge coming from streaming services. Netflix will be here by March (officially), and while it might be a pale imitation of its US version you can guarantee the rumoured $30m media blitz they’re going to throw at consumers is going to make people evaluate their options.

I’m certain both Stan and Presto will still be growing by the end of next year, but the recent struggle to find funding does beg the question of how long Quickflix has left in it.

Whilst Ten will probably end up with Discovery and Foxtel as dance partners the rest of the big media companies are going to be forced to wait their turn before pairing off. My hunch is we will see the reach rule legislation changed around the middle of next year, paving the way for a lot of merger and acquisition activity.

In the current climate it’s an essential move for securing a strong media future for local players. Whilst some fear the concentration of ‘traditional’ media into the hands of a few, especially at a time when the ABC is being stripped back of its journalistic resources.

But you really only have to look at the impact some of the online players like The Guardian have made, as well as the reach of international players not officially launched in Australia, to see the diminishing power of the media.

It’s not an ideal situation, but without enough scale I fear we might see the razor thin operating margins of some of these players become too tight, with one or two serious casualties along the way, at a great price to plurality and competition.

I can’t end this note without saying a big thanks to my team, Nic Christensen, Miranda Ward and Steve Jones, who’ve worked tirelessly and gone above and beyond the call of duty many times to break the important stories first and fairly.

This year’s been a massive learning curve for all of us, and next year will be too. Thanks also for your support and contributions this year. Stick around, 2015 promises to be fun.

Alex Hayes is editor of Mumbrella


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.