TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards: TVNZ Hall of Fame, Mike O’Sullivan

Mike O’Sullivan (centre), marketing iconoclast, was ahead of time. 

Mike O’Sullivan, 64, has never been one for following rules. He’s more about making new ones. 

His career in this industry began more than 40 years ago when he started in media. And even then he was thinking differently. When he worked at Lintas Worldwide, he pioneered placing media for non-accredited agencies and for clients rather than brands, practices that are both standard today.

He’s worked on a host of successful campaigns, including the multi-award winning Zespri Green/Gold international branding and MILK publishing series. He also held senior roles both here and overseas with Lintas, DDB and Communicado. O’Sullivan’s advertising roots blossomed into a full marketing approach and he was one of the first (if not the first) to innovatively combine media, creative and marketing skills with programme-making. 

He founded and sold Channel I, which pioneered content marketing, cross-medium products such as Food in a Minute, Taste of Chelsea and James Hardie Show Homes. His masthead formats had television at their heart, but they also offered print, online, direct mail and point-of-sale material and were an exciting and (when launched) novel one-stop shop for clients 

Through his association with BrandWorld, where he is currently executive director, he helped develop successful mastheads like Discover, Eating Well, The Mix and Made to Match, the last two of which were developed through an innovative partnership between Lion, TVNZ and O’Sullivan. 

He’s continued to push the boundaries, producing new formats that favour content over creativity; he has blurred the lines between advertising, marketing and editorial—to the client’s advantage; his understanding of research has allowed him to challenge incumbent practices; he has led four companies and transformed them into leading businesses; he has mentored many start-ups, budding marketers and business owners; he refuses to be put into the boxes that plague the industry; and, unlike the vast majority of ad agencies, he’s kept sales as his fundamental driver of success, rather than creative awards (in some cases, his campaigns have led to sales increases of up to 400 percent). 

Many predictions are made in this industry. The vast majority of them are wrong. But O’Sullivan was ahead of his time. He took a punt on branded content decades before it became fashionable and he held his ground until everyone else caught up. So next time you see an ad on TV for erectile dysfunction or athlete’s foot while you’re eating your dinner, you can probably blame him and his old mate Bill Peake. 

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