Skip to main content


Ex-Red Rooster CEO, now Starcom boss, talks client politics, martech silos and why advertising still works - really.

By Paul McIntyre and Josh McDonell - Mi3

9 March 2020 3min read

"Operations and marketing have got to come together but often they don’t. It’s a challenging environment for them to get that cohesion because they’ve all got their own KPIs," Nick Keenan says.

By Paul McIntyre and Josh McDonell - Mi3

9 March 2020 3min read

Well before his appointment last week as Starcom Australia CEO, Nick Keenan opened up in this Mi3 podcast on running a fast food chain for private equity owners, how a marketer-turned-CEO now views marketing and agencies, why brand owners can be as dysfunctional as agency groups and how martech is presenting the same challenges as social and search did five years ago.



After nine months without a full-time CEO, Publicis Media CEO Toby Barbour named former Red Rooster boss Nick Keenan as his replacement. In a podcast recorded as he was finishing with Red Rooster earlier this year, Keenan spoke to Mi3 on being client-side, agency relationships and the role of martech.


What you need to know:

  • The former quick service restaurant CEO says marketing is probably now more important than it’s ever been because of the opportunities that lie within data analysis and good research
  • Reflecting on his time out of media agencies since early 2015, Keenan says clients are sometimes surprisingly fragmented internally 
  • Keenan praised the role of creative agencies throughout his tenure at Red Rooster, especially the work of his now Publicis Groupe sister agency Leo Burnett - the creative agency handled digital UX design rather than a specialist digital group   
  • On the media agency side, Keenan says the issue of how agencies approach remuneration models remains the biggest challenge as the industry continues to shift to a consultancy-led offering
  • On the martech revolution, the newly minted agency CEO says it is showing increasing parallels to the difficulties that accompanied social and search five years ago - marketer resource and budgets are stretched and martech systems are often under-utilised


View from the other side

Keenan, who will start at Starcom on 16 March, has worked both client and agency side, most recently spending two years as CEO of quick-service restaurant chain, Red Rooster.

After spending five years with brand owners, the majority in the gaming and wagering sector, this is Keenan's return to the media agency sphere.

He exited as managing director of Maxus, now Wavemaker, in 2015 to its bookmaker client CrownBet (now Bet Easy following the divestment by former owner Crown Resorts) as commercial director before a stint as CEO of its subsidiary Crown Lotto.

Keenan noted that at times during his client-side experiences, things were "surprisingly fragmented".

"When it’s fragmented, it can get political.  You’ve got operational teams and marketing teams," Keenan says. "Operations and marketing have got to come together but often they don’t.  It’s a challenging environment for them to get that cohesion - because they’ve all got their own KPIs.

"One is just trying to be the engine room and doing what they do well - and the marketing team is trying to tip and fill-in that bucket and put more customers into the funnel for them."

Despite stepping up to a CEO role, Keenan says he kept close to the marketing function and over the five year period, realised just how time-poor and pressurised CMOs are in their roles.

"Firstly, the departments are incredibly stretched - particularly if you go further upstream to the C-suite.  How stretched the C-suite is, is incredible," he says.

"Looking back in and seeing what we thought was the most important, most valuable part of any marketing function and in any business function, you certainly see how little time senior management have to dedicate to evaluating your product and service."


Too many agency cooks 

Coming from a large agency group, Keenan said he tended to stick with an all-in approach when it came to partnering, avoiding building up collections of specialist agencies.

"A creative agency can give you not just your traditional formats of creative and brand strategy.  They’ve got very good at UX design for your e-commerce platforms," Keenan says. 

"If they’re doing all the other creative, they should be doing that for you to create that connective tissue into your e-commerce platform anyway - so all your digital assets have that similar look and feel."

Keenan says the moment clients start bringing in multiple parties, operations becomes very "fragmented and disjointed".

He praised the work done by creative agency Leo Burnett, which he said handled everything from creative, CX, UX, through to the design of Red Rooster's app.

That contrasts with some of the challenges he encountered with clients when last running an agency.

"Having the benefit of both sides, I saw the worst of it in 2014 with a client that had an SEO specialist, an SEM specialist, a social media marketing specialist and so-on," Keenan says.

"By the time [that was done], there were 20 people in the room to look at a brief.  Unsurprisingly, the quality of output was horrible."


Same story

While some things have changed for the better, Keenan still sees remuneration as one of the key challenges agencies are yet to overcome.

Getting appropriately paid and showing clients value of the work that they do, particularly in an environment crowded by digital and technology, remains an issue.

"There’s so much pressure on the advertising budget to go into non-traditional areas. The problem is when you’re trying 10 or 14 things, you don’t do really any of them well," Keenan says.

"The smart agencies have locked on, 'OK, here’s our core product.  This is what we do.' They’ve tried to stay as close as possible to that and get properly paid for it and they will end up being successful."


Problems with martech

Keenan says marketers have resolved some of the "migraines" that came alongside search and social, but suggests martech is now creating very similar problems, with companies lacking the ability to get their tech to work.

"A lot of these shiny new toys will get purchased and implemented but without brands having the capability internally to actually get anything out of it." 

As a result, he says marketers can often end up with tools they can't properly use.

"It gets to that because one of the most important functions now in marketing is setting up as much of a free marketing channel as possible; you need that connective tissue at every communication touchpoint from the way advertising works, the e-commerce platforms that you’ve set up, and of course, CRM," Keenan says. 

"Everyone is searching for that longitudinal view of the customer, that’s what everyone wants and rightly so, because it’s getting harder and harder to reach a collective mass of eyeballs."

But technology, he says, is nothing without strategy - and that is where agencies can still win.


Let’s go. What do you think?

By Paul McIntyre and Josh McDonell - Mi3

9 March 2020 3min read

Market Voice

Marketers: Invest in growth, not legacy agency structures

Marketers have a simple decision to make. Do they want media investment that drives results, or one that pays for holding groups to restructure, says RyanCap CEO Simon Ryan.

Go deeper 2min read

Simon Ryan

CEO, RyanCap

Scale, influence, buying power: We need to talk about talk radio audiences

Our industry has a very clear stereotype about the both the type of person and the mindset they bring when listening to talk radio.  But new research from The Lab suggests that perception is far from reality. Nine’s Richard Hunwick invites media buyers to turn down the music and start a smarter conversation.

Go deeper 3min read

Richard Hunwick

Director of Sales, Television and Radio, Nine