Inside the launch of Independent Media Agencies New Zealand

StopPress sat down with Alex Radford of D3, the inaugural chair of the freshly launched Independent Media Agencies New Zealand (IMANZ), to delve into its overarching mission and why now was the right time to launch. With a finger on the pulse of the media landscape, Radford sheds light on the organisations significance for New Zealand’s media ecosystem, and the shared aspirations that unite the agencies under its banner.

IMANZ was launched off the back of the success of Independent Media Agencies Australia (IMAA), which was set up in 2019. What was the motivation behind setting up a similar organisation in New Zealand? 

I think there’s always been a desire for the indies to have a voice outside of the Big Five [agencies]. The Comms Council does a wonderful job of having an industry voice across both creative and media, but their remit is not only the big international agencies, but also indies.

We saw what happened in Australia, and prior to that, I think there’s been about three different indie societies that have started up over the years but haven’t really had the momentum. We saw what was happening in Australia and one of the founders of the IMAA in Australia, Ant Colreavy, contacted all the independent agencies they knew, put on a breakfast in NZME towers and asked, “Who wants to help create this?”

Off the back of that, about 12 agencies put their hands up and said, “Yeah, I’m keen.” Myself, Kris Hadley of Together, Niven Boyle of The Media Dept, Ruth Perry of Lassoo, and Elaine Gibbons of Sneakers Media all put their hands up to be board members, as did I. None of them wanted to be chairman. So here I am. 

You need a bit of momentum to get these things moving and it’s always been a passion of mine to run the indie flag. Now we’ve just gone over 30 members, and we’re supported by 18 media owners, both the global and the local media owners. And that’s the story to date, I guess. The important stuff’s yet to happen.

What is it about now and the current New Zealand media landscape that means there will be more momentum to keep it going?

One of the big driving forces in Australia, and the same thing happened here, was a big post-Covid campaign which was managed by an agency with headquarters based in the US. What was quite interesting from talking to the guys in Australia is that the people involved, like the Minister of Media in Australia, had no idea that the agency wasn’t an Australian agency. The big impetus around that for them was around educating people that there are Australian-owned agencies.

I think that’s the same for us. Our big focus is about letting people know, both private businesses and government, that there are New Zealand-owned and operated businesses that do have a point of difference. Once you’ve weighed up the benefits between one or the other, they can make a decision about which is the right fit for them.

As for the question why now, I think for the better or worse, there is a focus on supporting local organisations and local businesses. I think there’s no reason why that shouldn’t also play into the world of the people that buy your media.

What are some of the challenges that media agencies are facing at the moment?

The one at the top of the list is talent. I think everyone’s left to go to London, so genuinely it’s a real struggle to find really good talent and a lot of the agencies are, as a result of that, inflating salaries to keep people in roles longer. A lot of growth has been stymied at the moment by the fact that people can’t find the right people to come and work for them.

I think there are challenges at the moment in terms of the global economic downturn. A lot of agencies are seeing fewer briefs, less budget, concerns around growth from clients. I think we’ve been hit harder than Australia, for example. But I think that’s always a challenge. With small indies or with independent agencies, it’s probably a little easier to navigate because we don’t have the same number of staff that some of the global people do. Whereas those guys are being hit with higher freezes, we tend to be able to ride those storms a bit easier.

What are some of the benefits that agencies can gain from being part of IMANZ?

There are three pillars. The first one is around educating both government and clients around why they should choose independent agencies, what are the benefits. That’s through PR and lobbying. We’re already in conversation with government around how we can educate the government around the difference between different types of media agency. 

The second one is training and educating the media owners themselves, talking to them about how best to operate with independent agencies, what they can do to get the most out of our members and vice versa. We often see that indie agencies are more agile, more innovative in some ways because they can move quicker, and they’ve got lots of closer relationships with clients at a senior level. 

The other one is around staff; bringing the staff and independent agencies together – doing training, workshops and networking events, but also making it, attractive to come and work for an independent agency. There is a certain glamour associated with the bigger international agencies and the probably misguided belief that it’ll be easier to go and work in London if you’ve done your stint at one of the big agencies here. But actually part of the future of IMANZ is looking at building a job swap network between independent agencies across the world.

What we’re trying to do is level the playing field between the international holding companies and ourselves. The first cab off the rank for us is going to be doing some training for all of the staff of the IMANZ agencies with Meta. 

It’s been quite interesting actually, since the first round of press interest, we’ve had lots of other media agencies across New Zealand contacting us everywhere from Invercargill, Napier and Tauranga. It’s been really exciting to see there’s more than the 20 or so that we found through networks here in Auckland and Wellington. It is going to be really exciting. We want to get out into the regions, head down to Wellington, to Christchurch, to Tauranga, to start talking to people there about how to come together and act in this society.

What other message would you like to communicate to the industry?

If there are media agencies that we haven’t been in touch with, it’s not because we don’t want you to join, it’s just we are all volunteers and we’re trying our best to work with media owners to uncover them. We are desperately interested in talking to Māori and Pacific-owned media agencies. And anybody, whether you are a one-man band or you’ve got a staff of a hundred, we’d love to have a conversation and talk about why you should join. We’re just in start-up mode at the moment, but we do have the fortune of being able to look into the crystal ball of what happened in Australia, and if we can be half as successful as they have been and the way that they’ve been operating both with government and with private businesses, I think it’ll be a really awesome association to join. So to anyone reading, it’d be great to get in touch.

For more information visit https://www.imanz.co.nz/

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