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Deep Dive 7 Dec 2021 - 7 min read

Mi3’s Top 20 media and agency stories for 2021 - pitching, poaching, in-housing, 'eating the young'

By Paul McIntyre, Brendan Coyne & Sam Buckingham-Jones

GroupM's Christian Juhl, Pedestrian Group's Matt Rowley, GroupM ANZ CEO Aimee Buchanan and S4 Capital's Sir Martin Sorrell drove some of the most-read media and agency stories of 2021.

Pitching, poaching, reinventing the model, Mi3’s most read media and agency stories show the symbiotic relationship – and rival factions – in unadulterated form. Following Mi3’s top marketing stories of 2021, here’s the content and themes around agencies and media owners that grabbed industry's attention over the last 12 months. News Corp’s Michael Miller and Pippa Leary, Snap’s Danny Bass, Pedestrian’s Matt Rowley and Nine’s Hugh Marks on the publisher side, with GroupM’s Christian Juhl and Aimee Buchanan, S4’s Sir Martin Sorrell, Huge’s Mat Baxter and Mediabrands' Mark Coad among the agency bosses making the big news.

Yes, plenty of sugar in the Media & Agencies section of Mi3's 2021 Most Read list. The Toyota and L'Oreal pitches landed large, as did the appointments of Aimee Buchanan to GroupM and Danny Bass to Snapchat. And there's some big picture thinking from Christian Juhl, Mat Baxter, Matt Rowley, Mark Coad and others. Dig in. 


This is probably the highest-profile communication piece in the country.

John O’Neill, QMS CEO

QMS breaks silence on City of Sydney street furniture blue print to rival world’s best cities

The QMS City of Sydney rollout is now well underway, but early in 2021 looked some way off delivery. CEO John O’Neill took to the mic to talk up the “highest-profile communication piece in the country” as the firm builds a network to rival that of, London, Paris, Berlin and Barcelona.


We've simplified our product and breadth of portfolio ... and I think addressed the perception that we’ve got great assets but [were] not always easy to transact with.

Michael Miller, News Corp Australia Executive Chairman

News Corp boss Michael Miller says ‘we probably had too many products’; ex-Nine digital exec Pippa Leary hired to clean-up for ‘fewer, bigger, better’

In a rare mea culpa, News Corp’s Executive Chairman Michael Miller admitted an unwieldy product list was putting off blue chip brands. So he hired one-time foe Pippa Leary to clean it up. “Fewer, bigger, better” is the mantra with e-commerce and affiliate marketing programs positioned as key money makers.


You find yourself in a mix that you can't fix. You're going to be forced into making a decision: 'What do I think is best for the business,' and making a call on that. For me, that is at least three days a week in the office.

Matt Rowley, CEO, Pedestrian Group

The new angst: Hybrid working for some, too flexible for others; fears for culture and careers, while burnout risk rises

Pedestrian Group chief Matt Rowley wrote that remote working risks younger staff missing out on opportunities and experiences and may ultimately harm their careers (his piece is number three in this list). It sparked some debate as agencies, publishers and brands grappled with post-Covid working and shifting staff priorities amid an emerging talent crunch. Former OMD CEO Aimee Buchanan, AFL Media GM Sarah Wyse, The Hallway CEO Jules Hall and The Brand Institute CEO Karl Treacher weighed in.


We are excited to have landed on TBWA as the new lead creative agency to join our existing agency panel. It was a collaborative and considered decision that we believe sets us up well for the future.

NAB Chief Marketing Officer Suzana Ristevski

NAB appoints TBWA to creative account, ends 15-year relationship with Clemenger BBDO

The end of a 15-year relationship between NAB and Clemenger BBDO also marked the beginning of a relationship for the bank with creative shop TBWA. ANZ had previously swapped TBWA for Special Group, sparking the shake-up.


Without question, programmatic offers us the opportunity to gain access to the $9.5bn that's currently being invested in digital online channels.

Cassandra Cameron, Revenue and Strategy GM, JCDecaux

DOOH or die: JCDecaux eyes digital duopoly’s lunch with programmatic push, Adobe data deal

The out of home market wants a bigger slice of digital ad budgets – and thinks programmatic is the way to get it. JCDecaux is pushing hard to gain early momentum. It's targeting 50x growth within three years.


The Media i Awards not only recognise the professionalism and excellence of sales teams and individuals, but this year the results they achieved for clients in collaboration with media agencies against what has been an incredibly difficult backdrop.

Charles Parry-Okeden, Media i CEO

Sales guns: Finalists for the 2021 Media i Awards announced – full list here

The finalists in this year’s Media i Awards were widely shared on social media. And with good reason. Few sales teams in history have had to deliver the goods in a global pandemic – not to mention every other challenge that comes with media. A poll of 2,000 agency pros picked the long list, a roll call of Australia's best media sales pros.



Agencies shouldn’t be asked to be a bank…This is the new, very bad behaviour that has crept into agency reviews in Australia and around the world.

Mat Baxter, former Initiative Global Chair now CEO at Huge

‘Agencies are not banks’ warns Initiative global Chair Mat Baxter as Westpac, Arnott’s marketers link pitch problems to bad tender briefs and process; poor engagement with procurement

Mat Baxter has never been afraid to say what he thinks, blasting brands for mistreatment of agencies, for all their talk of partnerships and respect. Agencies are not banks, said Baxter and 120-day payment terms constitute “very bad behaviour”. Likewise, brands “abuse the pitch process” by asking agencies to plan detailed, year-long strategies. Something has to give, said Baxter, and he was not convinced industry efforts and guidelines were going to do it.


Putting advertising on Stan doesn’t make sense and it can easily become a move that confuses our consumer.

Hugh Marks, Former Nine CEO

Hugh Marks on a 'no ads' 9Now subscription service, combined streaming and BVOD content deals and why consumers ‘aren’t silly enough’ to fall for Google’s current campaign

A few months before exiting Nine, Hugh Marks was on the front foot about streaming platform Stan’s performance. Its CEO, Mike Sneesby, was later named his successor in the top job. Stan’s revenues jumped 54 per cent in the 12 months to June 2020, and Marks was confident Stan wouldn’t go down the ad funded route. Meanwhile, he had a pop at Google's counteroffensive to the news media bargaining code. 


It is anticompetitive, and frankly un-Australian. We have the Premier claiming that her number one priority is to support Australian businesses. Well, this tender will see all of the money for media go overseas.

Media agency boss

‘Anticompetitive, un-Australian’: Independent media agencies livid as NSW Government precludes them from $73m media tender, multinational holding groups favoured

The NSW government account is a big one and it seems the Customer Service department wants a big company to handle it, precluding independent agencies by specifying that the wining bidder would have to handle the lot, effectively ruling out Australian-owned agencies and leaving the way clear for multinational holdcos. The indies were furious, questioning how the tender complies with NSW procurement rules. The answer remains elusive.


It is with a heavy heart that I leave my OMD friends and family. I have loved every step of the journey with this team and I am proud of what we have built and achieved together.

Former OMD CEO Aimee Buchanan

The big switch: GroupM names OMD boss Aimee Buchanan as new CEO

GroupM finally landed their top target, taking the head off a key rival in the process. Aimee Buchanan is now in the driving seat at WPP's media investment arm and will go head to head with her former employers at Omnicom.


Conditions are perfect for in-housing. The world is screwed and clients are looking for new solutions.

Leif Stromnes, MD Strategy & Innovation, DDB

Australia 'ripe' for in-housing: DDB isn't worried while WPP claims clients flocking back to the fold. Can it really save advertising from mediocrity?

Forget the in-housing v external agency debate, the reality is more complex. Justin Rickets, CEO at WPP’s Hogarth, reckons the future is “onsite, offsite, offshore”. The current crop of in-housing might be at an end, he said early in the year. DDB’s Leif Stromnes said the key to the debate is quality – crap content will never drive growth.


High salaries are being tossed around and others are being promoted two or three years before they are ready. It’s worrying from a sustainability point of view – either these people grow into the roles … or they get burnt out.

Mark Coad, Mediabrands CEO

Mediabrands CEO Mark Coad: Media agencies must stop eating their young or face the consequences, restructure and automate for post-Covid world

Rampant poaching and salary bumps for the industry’s top talent risk having an unintended negative impact: Some people may be given too much responsibility too soon and buckle under pressure they weren’t ready for. Mediabrands boss Mark Coad says it could be a ticking time bomb, but he’s hoping for the best. Time will tell.


I am very happy to be joining the team at Snap at such an exciting time.

Former GroupM CIO Danny Bass on his new role as ANZ Director at Snapchat

Snapchat hires Danny Bass for ANZ lead, Kathryn Carter takes on APAC

Where key industry players like former Mediabrands CEO and GroupM CIO Danny Bass go, attention follows, and his move to Snapchat in September leading revenue ambitions in the ANZ region was keenly watched. Snapchat claims to reach 90 per cent of 13- to 24-year-olds, and it is pushing into CSR initiatives locally. 2022 will be a big year for the platform.


We’re looking for people who want to buy into our approach, we’re not looking for people who want to sell out. If you want to sell out, go talk to Accenture or go and talk to the holding companies with an earnout.

Sir Martin Sorrell, Executive Chairman, S4 Capital

Sorrell admits he couldn't reengineer WPP, says holdcos must go private to survive, likes the look of Essence as S4 eyes more deals

“Never short of an opinion” when describing Sir Martin Sorrell is a classic of the genre of understatement. Paul McIntyre’s conversation with him went for more than an hour. But what an hour it is. Sorrell admits he couldn’t re-invent WPP fast enough and unleashes on the holdcos. He has big plans for S4.


Data and analytics is an ingredient, but it is a flavour enhancer, not the meal. More than ever, brands need people who can creatively interpret and creatively action the data they are drowning in.

Mat Baxter, CEO, Huge

Return of the Naked? Mat Baxter on exiting media for CX and strategy, why creativity trumps analytics and ‘boring’ consultants, and where next for IPG’s Huge

Mi3’s reaction bar down below the article is hardly a gauge of popularity, but few people generated as many reactions as Mat Baxter – a lot of people read to the bottom and felt they needed to express their view. The former Initiative Global CEO and one time UM Australia boss took the helm at IPG’s Huge in mid-2021. His thoughts on how to not be boring are worth revisiting.


After a thorough agency review, where we included both full service and specialised digital agencies, Wavemaker stood out as the best partner for our continued transformation into a beauty tech company.

L’Oréal CMO Matthijs van der Putten

L'Oreal appoints Wavemaker as new media agency, ends Carat relationship

Pitch stories are often described as “sugar hits” in the annals of Mi3 readership. The industry all reads them, but they rarely need to refer back to them. A few of the biggest account stories are the exception. L’Oreal’s year-long pitch finally ended in August, with GroupM’s Wavemaker the winner. It ended a seven-year relationship with Carat. It was a “thorough” process, the brand’s CMO Matthijs van der Putten said.


Our new specialist agency partners are best positioned to support us with innovative marketing as we enter this new exciting era.

Sean Hanley, Toyota Australia’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing

Toyota tilts $100m media and creative contracts to Publicis as carmaker prepares for electric vehicle turf war

Few relationships have been as enduring as Toyota’s with The Media Store, which the auto company purpose-built in the 1990s to service the account. No longer – after a 14-month review and pitch, Toyota handed its creative and media accounts to Publicis’ Spark Foundry and Saatchi & Saatchi. The seismic nature of this change rocketed it up the audience lists for Mi3.


If you run a business with young people in it (pretty likely in media) then there’s another reason you need to lead this charge – you owe it to them.

Matt Rowley, CEO, Pedestrian Group

Remote working and Zoom drinks will destroy young talent’s best, formative years

Matt Rowley’s piece written as part of Mi3’s industry self-reflection ‘Covid: One year on’ series was a heartfelt call for the industry to remember the fun and importance of the early years in one’s career. Covid, and calls to scrap the office, risked destroying that experience. Working from home improves efficiency, but not effectiveness – the results are not the same if people are not in a room together.


It would be unfair to say there isn’t some sadness around a major brand like Ikon leaving the Australian market… But everyone is comfortable with the new approach.

Former Ikon CEO, now AKQA CEO, Lesley Edwards

Ikon folds into AKQA Media as WPP AUNZ attempts next gen media, CX and content agency

The Ikonic (sorry) media agency created to service WPP AUNZ’s long-standing client CommBank, Ikon, was merged into AKQA Media earlier this year, and it was not without some heartache. Ikon was created in 1999 and it had been a cherished agency brand. Its impact is testament to the fact this shift was Mi3’s second most-read media and agency story of 2021.


We'll definitely make the recommendation to our clients and make sure that they know this vendor is not providing that level of assurance, and we don't know what's happening behind the scenes, that you advertise there at your own risk – and we highly recommend you don't. I have no problem doing that.

Christian Juhl, GroupM CEO

GroupM CEO Christian Juhl: We'll recommend brands pull spend from publishers and platforms that do not decarbonise; we're not planning staff cull; Aimee Buchanan's to do list

Christian Juhl is the CEO of the world’s biggest ad buying group, and what he says to the market means a lot. And in this conversation, he dropped a bombshell: We will recommend brands do not spend ad budgets with publishers and platforms that can’t show ESG progress. Juhl also spoke about then incoming ANZ CEO Aimee Buchanan, as well as the shift towards becoming a “software company”. The market is always right, and this was deemed the most must-read story in Mi3’s agencies and media arsenal this year – and for good reason. Juhl is discussing some big moves in how agencies move money, and ESG initiatives are easy to discuss, harder to do.

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