How daring will Tourism Australia be with its new creative and digital agency partners?

Last week Tourism Australia announced that it will be reviewing its global creative and digital agency roster, DAMIAN FRANCIS explores whether they dare to engage some of the most forward thinking agencies.

Will Tourism Australia dare to engage some of the most out-there thinking agencies?

That is the big question at the moment as the organisation announced on Friday last week that it will shift to a new agency model, giving it the opportunity to completely revolutionise the marketing content and strategy it creates – if it dares.

Tourism Australia sent out a media release notifying the industry that it had “commenced a competitive tender process for the provision of integrated global creative and digital services”.

The basics of the release were that it was reviewing its global creative and digital agency roster and would be moving towards a panel of creative and digital shops rather than using the traditional setup of having one main agency for each area of marketing.

It noted in its release that “As part of the request for tender, Tourism Australia is seeking to move towards a panel model for creative and digital agency providers as it evolves its approach to respond to future opportunities and challenges.

“Tourism Australia is open to a range of potential panel types from tenderers to meet its creative and digital services requirements.”

As someone who has spent the last six years reporting on the media and marketing industry, the announcement would have drawn the attention, deservedly so, of the entire industry. There would have been a few assumptions flying around as well.

Firstly, that Tourism Australia is looking for a step change in its marketing strategy, acknowledging the rapidly evolving trends in consumer demand for travel.

Tourism Australia made waves with past campaign ‘Dundee’

Secondly, connected to this, that Tourism Australia needs to show the industry that it is taking action to keep up with both the pace of change in the consumer as well as the pace of change in marketing strategy. As trends shift and new ones emerge, businesses and organisations need to ensure they are positioned well to capitalise on them.

Thirdly, and again connected to the above, Tourism Australia is looking to de-risk and diversify its set up. Moving to a panel model rather than leaning heavily on a lead agency for creative especially ensures that it can cherry-pick the best agency for whatever the opportunity is, and to be honest, also ensures a degree of competitive tension between the agencies, even if they shout themselves black and blue trying to convince the industry they are all the best of friends.

It’s also not a stretch to suggest some may see it as Tourism Australia responding to its own internal challenges, not least the axing of 20 marketing staff as reported by The Australian in June this year – what amounted to 10% of the staff.

That followed a $24 million cut to Tourism Australia’s funding.

Tourism Australia CMO Susan Coghill said in the release that, “The key factors that attract visitors to Australia have largely remained the same over time, such as our world class natural beauty, people and lifestyle, and have been marketed internationally through a suite of excellent campaigns developed by our creative agencies, including our current ‘Come and Say G’day’ campaign.

“What we have seen in recent years, more so than at any other time, is just how quickly our external environment can impact the marketing we do and where we need to respond swiftly on multiple fronts at any one time with creative work.”

She said that moving to a panel approach would better suit the “diverse creative and production” requirements that Tourism Australia had.

It’s a logical move for Tourism Australia and one that it is not a pioneer of. Major brands the likes of Telstra, IAG, Optus and more have all used the methodology to good effect.

IAG in particular, with its previous CMO Brent Smart, who is now CMO of Telstra, tried some wild and wacky marketing ideas with the various IAG brands and agencies.

IAG’s CGU previously ran a five minute ad done by Thinkerbell with Jim Henson

This opportunity with Tourism Australia should have the advertising industry frothing at the mouth. The Tourism Australia account is, without doubt, one of the most prestigious. Every ad agency wants to be able to have said it’s worked with Tourism Australia. Much like they would want to have said they have worked with Qantas or Telstra. Or IAG for that matter.

The best of the best should be lining up to prove to Tourism Australia Managing Director Phillipa Harrison and Coghill, among others, that they should be on the panel.

Without any shade on incumbents M&C Saatchi and Digitas, both very successful agencies, they have not been the most talked about in their fields for a while.

That would be the likes of Howatson+Company, Thinkerbell, The Monkeys, BMF, and perhaps some smaller but out-there agencies like Bear Meets Eagle on Fire – yes, that is its actual name – or Hardhat, particularly on the digital front. There are, of course, others who are pushing boundaries at the moment.

Tourism Australia copped some flak for its most recent campaign, “Come and Say G’day”.

ANU marketing lecturer Andrew Hughs went so far as to tell The Guardian that, “If you just have Ruby the Roo and leave it at that … I’m going to put myself in the very bland corner.

“What’s the campaign about, really? It seems to run true to form from previous campaigns that just use stereotypes. The audience is more mature.”

Tourism Australia has a fantastic opportunity to respond to the doubters with a decisive uppercut.

The agencies it chooses to work with will say a lot about the direction it wants to go in and how daring it is willing to be.

Will it test the boundaries of what is possible with some of the aforementioned agencies or others that can produce a level of creative and strategic thinking that will not only challenge and grab the attention of consumers, but challenge Tourism Australia?

Perhaps shock the market with something equally as provocative as “So Where the Bloody Hell Are You?”

The panel methodology should allow Tourism Australia to at least have an each-way bet, giving it the opportunity to push the boundaries of marketing and creativity more than it has ever done before, delivering something truly exciting for the Australian travel and tourism industry to capitalise on.

Will it dare? I’m betting on ‘yes’.

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