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News Analysis 3 Nov 2020 - 3 min read

More agility, less bureaucracy: former Publicis exec Sarah Keith to lead indie shop Paykel Media

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

Sarah Keith: “Often in [global groups] there is a lot of bureaucracy and reporting lines that can hinder how quickly an agency can bring a strategy to life for a brand. When you consider that speed some clients are moving at, that is a problem."

Former Publicis Media Exchange MD, Sarah Keith, has been hired to lead Australian independent agency Paykel Media. Now she's seeking partners to help drive bespoke solutions - particularly within e-commerce, as well as production and content. Meanwhile, she's looking forward to greater agility with less bureaucracy.

What you need to know:
  • Sarah Keith joins Australian independent agency Paykel Media with immediate effect.
  • The former Publicis media executive takes over as managing director. Founder Tony Paykel stepped down in March.
  • Paykel Media was acquired by corporate trading, asset management and media business Active International in February 2019.
  • Keith told Mi3 the two businesses will continue to operate independently.
  • Paykel now seeks “partnership opportunities” across e-commerce, production and content creation in bid to broaden offer.
  • Keith thinks those partnerships may prove more suitable approach than expanding headcount from 21 staff or acquiring smaller specialists
  • Flags focus on alternative media channels for clients, looking beyond “TV, Facebook and Google” on the plan.


Trading on agility

Australian independent media agency Paykel Media has named Sarah Keith as Managing Director, effective immediately.

The former Publicis Media Exchange MD is responsible for the agency’s operations in Sydney and Melbourne, after founder Tony Paykel stepped down from the position in March following the acquisition of the business in 2019 by Active International.

Keith will report to Group Managing Director, Cameron Swan, and work closely with Paykel Media Chief Operating Officer, Caroline Doran.

Keith left Publicis in July as part of a wider leadership shuffle by Publicis Groupe boss Michael Rebelo. She has previously held held senior positions at Network 10, Fairfax Media, Fox Sports, SBS, Austereo and Channel 4 in the UK.

Keith told Mi3 Keith she was attracted to working for an organisation free from the “normal bureaucracy” of larger agencies, and where agility is baked in.

“There’s no doubt clients are looking for not just expertise but also the responsiveness from agency partners. That’s where being part of an independent business has its advantages,” Keith says.

“Often in [global groups] there is a lot of bureaucracy and reporting lines that can hinder how quickly an agency can bring a strategy to life for a brand. When you consider that speed some clients are moving at, that is a problem.

“To work without that constraint and have better control over a brand’s strategy, direction and work, was an extremely attractive option.”


Different tack

Keith will lead a team of 21 across key clients including Mitsubishi Electric, skincare and beauty brand Natio and homeware retailer Décor.

She says a major part of her new role will be “optimising alternative media” for clients.

“Bigger agencies often use TV, plus Facebook and Google to lead a media strategy but there are alternative channels that many clients don’t use as much to drive results,” Keith says.

“As we work with local brands and SMEs, there’s a lot more scope to activate those clients across regional media, both TV and radio, alongside more outdoor and smaller digital channels.”

Keith says having fewer “locked-in trading terms” with major media owners is another benefit, arguing that it gives the agency greater opportunity to explore alternatives.

“Some of those long-term trading deals can limit how a brand moves between media channels - now it’s all about chasing audiences as quickly as they move between mediums,” Keith says.

However, she says it is all about striking the right balance.

“The combination of close, long-standing relationships with Australia’s biggest media owners and publishers with an upfront, results-focused media approach is very powerful and the right fundamentals for the agency to succeed.”


Seeking partnerships

Now in its second year of ownership under Active International, Keith says Paykel Media continues to “completely separately”.

While clients can access Active’s extended services, including asset management, remarketing and corporate trading, she insists the intention is not fill both buckets.

“We remain dedicated to our primary client objectives and while there is the ability to take advantage of the wider Active business, we won’t be hard selling or pushing clients into those solutions if it’s not the right fit,” says Keith.

“Our focus is on expanding our offering and developing greater capabilities that suit the changing demands of the brands we work with and those we will pitch for.”

Keith says this doesn’t mean Paykel will be going on an acquisition run of its own, but it will look to develop “mutually beneficial” arrangements with external partners.

The intention of these deals will be to provide new and existing clients with access to “high-demand services”, with Keith pointing to e-commerce, production and content creation as key areas of growth.

“Paykel Media will maintain its focus on providing specialised media services but also recognises that there are growing opportunities to partner with other specialists to deliver a more comprehensive offering,” Keith says.

“We’ll look to find similar independent providers who can help establish these solutions, particularly around e-commerce, as the ongoing digital disruption continues to force clients to re-evaluate their business strategies.”

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Josh McDonnell

Senior Writer

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