With Maile Carnegie jumping ship the biggest advertising platform in Australia is left without a leader. Alex Hayes looks at potential candidates to fill the role.
A couple of years ago it was fashionable amongst digital publishers to describe Google as the ‘Death Star’ – a force capable of destroying the traditional media in Australia by sucking up the majority of dollars in search and display advertising.
Unfortunately for journalists looking to capitalise on the SEO potential that trend has died away – mainly with the demise of the ill-fated publishers’ advertising exchange – but the dominance of Google has very much not dwindled.
So it’s unsurprising yesterday’s news that Maile Carnegie was leaving Google after nearly three years in the job will set the hares running with speculation of who will take the top spot.
What does Google Australia and NZ managing director actually do?
The fact the digital giant has rapidly taken over quite a lot of the Darling Island real estate once used by legacy media company Fairfax Media shows quite how rapidly fortunes have reversed in the market.
Rumour has it ‘Googlers’ had to be banned from taking their scooters in the lift, as they were annoying some of the old school sensibilities of Fairfax staffers by whacking their shins with them. It didn’t stop Google from buying up a couple of monorail carriages to decorate the offices with.
At last count there were more than 1,200 Google employees in Australia. Most of these are actually engineers, the people who are busy working building Google’s product suite like Maps, Docs and assorted projects which we may never see.
They, and the team powering much of Google’s programmatic AdSense offering (the display ads you see on websites that follow you around the web), do not report into the local MD, but people in Asia Pacific and the US HQ.
That leaves a few hundred who sell around search and a select few of Google’s other products that do report in locally.
So first and foremost the position is about making Google’s direct sales team hum.
Maile Carnegie speaking at The Australian Digital Marketing Forum last year
Given that Carnegie’s appointment was a huge surprise for many. Rather than a battle-hardened digital salesperson known to the agencies in market the company opted for a marketer who had been in Singapore with Procter and Gamble, having spent her entire career in marketing for the FMCG company.
It wasn’t a great start for her either, with her first public appearance coming at the Agency Symposium, a gathering for agency heads, where the takeout message seemed to be she did not yet have a secretary, a fact she mentioned several times in the speech.
Similarly rumours around the industry suggest she was perhaps more of a hindrance than a help in some of the early meetings with clients she injected herself into.
However, she did acquit herself well in was the other important aspect of the role – advocacy and lobbying.
Indeed many were impressed with her performances before the Senate Tax Committee, fielding some pretty hairy questions from senators on why a multi-billion dollar business was paying just $7m in tax in 2014 on ‘profits’ of $46m (bear in mind most of Google’s billing locally goes straight to its Singapore or Ireland hubs to avoid those pesky tax requirements).
Now for comparison Standard Media Index listed Google as having media agency revenues of $455.4m in financial year 2014, up from $366m the year before.
And when you then factor in the direct revenues the company is understood to be clearing well north of $2bn of Australia’s ad revenues and it is keen to take even more from the local market, meaning the next MD may well be someone with more sales leadership experience.
It’s hard to know whether the powers that be at Google will look locally or internationally for the next boss, but one thing is for certain there are no shortages of good female contenders for it.
Here’s a few characters who may be in the frame:
Jane Huxley – The Pandora boss is one of the most respected digital operators in the country, and has done a good job in lifting awareness for the streaming ‘radio’ platform locally.
Prior to that she led Fairfax’s digital operations for five years, and has a heritage with companies like Microsoft and Vodafone, giving her a grounding in software and mobile.
First Googler: Vale
Kate Vale – The original Australian Googler – Vale was the first hire by the search giant in the region, literally launching it from her living room in 2002 selling its ad solutions.
As the company expanded she held other senior roles including head of Youtube locally when it launched. For the last four years she’s been leading the expansion of music streaming service Spotify, which has slowly built its profile.
Ed Harrison – The Yahoo7 chief has been steadily trying to rework the once powerhouse site back into a digital contender. The genial Englishman has a lot of history in the market and a solid sales background, coming up through JC Decaux and then leading Fairfax’s digital sales over the last 15 years.
On top of that he’s got gravitas and lobbying credentials, having been an IAB board member since 2010 and chairman since 2014.
Digital leader: Manners
Alice Manners – News that Manners is departing digital industry body IAB in the next couple of months might pique the interest of Google’s recruiters, who will probably want to move swiftly to fill the hole.
Her credentials certainly put her up there as a contender – including more than a decade in the GroupM media agency family regionally with stints as a managing director and chief operating officer for different divisions. In three years at the IAB she’s also seen a lot of change in the industry, and been an active advocate for it.
Will Easton – Another Englishman and former Googler – Easton impressed in market at his time with another super-secretive US-based tech player, Facebook. In his time as managing director of the social network in ANZ he managed to build a formidable sales team and start to parlay its reach into decent ad dollars.
He also held big roles at Google including regional mobile sales lead, and director of retail. While he’s been moved to Singapore in his latest role of managing director of emerging markets it is thought his love of the Australian lifestyle could see him lured back if Google can put together the right offer.
Jason Pellegrino – An internal candidate, many were surprised Pellegrino was passed over the last time the vacancy came up. In the last eight years at Google he’s held senior roles including head of sales and strategy and is currently the managing director of APAC sales operations and strategy, and knows the operations inside out.
Karen Stocks – Twitter’s managing director in ANZ Stocks could interest the recruiters for several reasons, not least her five years of service at Google in senior roles with sales, Youtube and product solutions.
Since joining Twitter she’s led expansion in the local operation and helped implement new ad units and models in the local market. She’s also managed to maintain a decent profile, and would be someone Google’s PR team would be comfortable putting in front of journos and audiences.
Nicole Sheffield – The well-regarded NewsLifeMedia boss has seen her name bandied around for a couple of new roles recently, not least that of Bauer Media CEO.
She was also mooted for a new role inside News Corp amid changes to the management there over the last few months, although it looks like that opportunity may now have passed. Arguably NewsLifeMedia has most successfully negotiated the transition from print to digital, with News.com.au the jewel in the crown. She’s known in market and knows print and video content. But luring prized lieutenants away from News Corp can often prove very difficult.
Mark Scott – Outgoing ABC boss Scott definitely sits in the ‘dark horse’ category for this job, but might be more suited than you might think for a man coming from a decade of helming an ad-free media player. Scott is one of the few senior media execs who genuinely gets digital, and has been key in moving the broadcaster to a digital future.
He’s also no stranger to fronting up to parliament to face some unfriendly grilling from politicians, and as a lobbyist already has some incredibly powerful connections. And let’s not forget we tipped him (tongue in cheek) for a role at Google this year.
Jo Flint – While unknown in Australia Flint has been managing director of Google Singapore for the last two years having been with Google in the region since 2009. According to Mumbrella Asia editor Robin Hicks she is “well liked and energetic” and has been a passionate spokesperson for digital in a market where it still only commands 8% of the ad spend, a fact which is a source of frustration for many in a market where traditional media still dominates.
Prior to that she had an eclectic background including heading up comms for British Airways, a marketing role for Singapore Airlines and four years in strategy for Ogilvy in the city state. Luring her away from Singapore, where her family has been settled for more than a decade, may be the tough part.
Undoubtedly there are a dozen or so other local and international names I’ve left off this list who could come in and do the job well.
For an organisation like Google it will be important to have someone they feel comfortable putting up for more public engagements, a major area where Carnegie has fallen short.
Without that engagement it’s much easier for Google’s very vocal opponents in the local media sphere to demonise the outfit for taking masses of ad dollars off shore, in the hopes of prizing away a few cents for themselves from agencies.
It’s an important role, and with a Federal Election due before the end of this year it is one the powers that be in Mountain View will want filled quickly and ably.
Alex Hayes is editor of Mumbrella