Axis Speaks profile- Tara McKenty

Creativity has always been the advertising industry’s super-power. Creative thinking changes perceptions, it turns the ordinary into the extraordinary, reflects and informs culture, and creates value where there was none. The 2024 AXIS Awards is an opportunity to celebrate not just the very best ideas advertising has to offer, but also seeks out the work that moves the industry forward.

The awards are to be held on April 11, and prior to the gala evening, Axis Speaks (between 9am and 11 am) will feature four notable speakers giving their views on creativity and more.

StopPress is featuring each speaker prior to the event. Today we feature Tara McKenty.

Tara McKenty is Chief Innovation Officer and Co-Executive Creative Director at BMF (AUS). She began her career at TBWA in New Zealand, later contributing to Saatchi & Saatchi in Sydney and Google. A trailblazer, she founded Rare with Google, promoting opportunities for underrepresented creatives. Tara’s notable achievements include leading an award-winning OPSM campaign, recognised globally for its effectiveness, and amassing over two hundred awards, including D&AD pencils and Cannes Lions.

What are your expectations for the AXIS awards and your interactions with the New Zealand advertising community?

New Zealand has more creative people per capita than any other country in the world, which means the role of the AXIS awards goes beyond creative excellence. Sitting on this gold mine of minds, AXIS’ role is to not only showcase our industry but to also support it in creating pathways for new talent, directing these great kiwi minds into our industry and not others. We need to be the most exciting, inclusive, and appealing industry because the more brilliant minds we can get in, the greater our industry will be for it.

Do you have any particular message you hope to convey to the audience at the awards?

New Zealand! The quality of your work, your talent, and what you are capable of with the resources from a tiny little country like ours, makes me incredibly proud to be part of this community (and still frustrated when I am mistaken for an Australian). Continue being notorious!

What do you think the strengths and weaknesses of the New Zealand advertising scene are compared to Australia?

I think the advantage and disadvantage of New Zealand has always been the size of its market. The advantage of this is the ability to form strong relationships with clients, mostly because of the simplicity of stakeholder layers, and the ability to get access to decision makers. These relationships have been key to making some of the greatest work in the world.

The disadvantage of this is also the size of market, during the GFC we saw local budgets get cut across brands, and the expectation to reappropriate global work increase. As we approach challenging economic times, this is something we need to work on together as an industry to protect, and fight against, and show the value of our New Zealand consumers and creativity.

How can New Zealand agencies leverage their unique advantages to compete on a global stage?

Other regions at an international level are good at coming together and advocating for their regions, this is something I think New Zealand could do better, and not even just within New Zealand. If Australia and New Zealand came together and thought of new ways to support and export our creativity and advocate it together on the global stage, both industries would benefit.

Can you share a story about a time when you took a creative risk that paid off, and what were the lessons learned?

I once decided to build an extremely complex Machine Learning project in six weeks of launching at Google I/O – Google’s developers conference that streams to the world’s developer community around the world. This was not a realistic development timeline; and really it was a dangerous risk. Fortunately, I was working with four kiwis and a team of ten who were all extremely talented, and it paid off, and we pulled it off. On reflection this was so stupid, and I still think it was stupid, and I attribute any grey hair I may have to this decision. But it is often radical risks that often produce the most dangerous ideas, and will give the greatest rewards, and I would much rather be on the side of radical than ready and steady.

What advice would you give to young creatives and future leaders in the advertising industry, particularly those from underrepresented groups?

The advice I would give is to stay patient. Yes, we are seeing change, and yes, we are improving as an industry, but not at the speed which underrepresented creatives will have equity in their experience in advertising. So, take care of yourself, take care of each other, and be hopeful that although our industry is not perfect, it is changing, and you are a big part that change. Our industry needs you, and your difference and diversity of perspective makes us better, so thank you for being here and your tolerance.

How can the advertising industry be more inclusive and representative of diverse voices and perspectives?

There is a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging saying that goes like this: “Diversity is being asked to the party, and inclusion is being asked to dance.” For us to be able to represent the cross section of society that makes up our audience and get to true community insights and relevant creativity, we need diversity in our departments. Otherwise, we will continue to be creating on behalf of communities, not with communities, which will not get to true authentic representation. I hope we have sent a lot of invites out to different talent in New Zealand, but now our true job to do is to also dance together!

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