Behind the doors of… UM

Behind the doors of… UM
SHARE
THIS



 

As media agencies go, UM is up there with the big guns. But its unique philosophy and focus would have you believe otherwise, as Lucy Clark finds out

UM is big. It’s a multinational media agency employing more than 3,500 people in more than 100 countries.

After strong growth last year, there are now 160 people at UM Australia – thanks to $113m of new business in 2012. It was the agency’s best year ever.

But its ‘big boutique’ positioning, introduced in 2011, allows UM to offer the best of both worlds.

Mat Baxter, CEO of UM Australia, explains: “Historically, the bigger you get, the more boring you become. It’s an issue we have grappled with. Clients go into a big media agency and never see the principal or senior people, and your business gets serviced in a generic way. We wanted to give clients all the benefits of big companies – a global footprint, buying power – but we didn’t want to give up the things clients look for with boutiques. So, we actually have senior people turning up to meetings. We all get our hands dirty in clients’ business.”

That means UM does not work to a rigid agency structure. Instead, it builds teams around individual clients, each team including a dedicated strategist – and every senior management team member has their own group of clients.

“We divide and conquer,” says Baxter. “We don’t have any formal structure – but that works.”

Stefan Burford, chief strategy officer, adds: “To deliver boutique, we have got to be absolutely focused and obsessed by the work. What we have tried to do is to build our teams around clients, starting with the client and what that client needs. It might sound obvious, but very few agencies are structured like that. It proves a big advantage for us.”

A big year

In 2012, UM’s focus reaped rewards. It was behind the hugely successful McDonald’s Gets Grilled, the world’s first independently produced McDonald’s documentary. The show won its timeslot, with more than one million viewers tuning in, putting its media value at $4.2m.

UM’s My Quit Buddy app for the Government was also a 2012 highlight. The app saw cessation rates jump from 4-7% to 39% of app users.

“Doing great work is massive,” says Baxter. “But continuously doing great work, across all clients, is the thing I’m most proud of. Some clients are more open to things than others. But once you get a lot of your clients to that place, that’s when you are really making progress.”

Philosophy

UM is well known for its belief in ‘Curiosity’. As Burford outlines: “Our vision is to be the most creative and curious media communications agency in the world. It’s quite a lofty ambition, but it keeps us on our toes and keeps us focused.”

The agency works to five key values: Bravery, Curiosity, Pioneering, Precision and Excellence.

It also references the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen – which means ‘continuous improvement’ – in its day-to-day work. “Even the best ideas can get better,” says Baxter. “We have to apply that to every part of our business, including our talent. Everyone is encouraged to get involved in the creative process, and we must never be too proud to say we were a bit off the mark.”

He adds: “Media is still a creative pursuit. We are often perceived to be the calculator brigade, that we sit and draft media plans and put crosses in boxes. To some extent, we’ve lost sight of the fact that media operates in this world of creativity.”

Restructure

Baxter joined UM in December 2010 and embarked on a re-structuring program. By mid-2011, he had strategists in place in every team.

“We put heavy investment in our strategic resource, as we have to start with great thinking and thought leadership,” he explains. “If you don’t have that with every client team, you’re dead in the water.

“Two years on, we’re starting now to see the cross-company benefits of having skills like James’ (James Filmer, chief innovation officer) in the business. It’s a change of skills, but also a change of philosophy and culture.”

And Burford continues: “Any success we have had in our strategic or creative output has been through diverse skills. A new world agency needs a more diverse skill set than ever.”

Under Baxter, there is also a huge focus on mentoring. UM spends more than $1m each year on coaching and training. “Mentoring and setting short-term development goals is important,” says Burford. “And Mat has one-on-one meetings with every person who works here each quarter.”

But it’s not all hard graft, as Baxter points out: “Also important is having a happy agency. Happiness is underrated. Striking the right work-life balance, and having enough resources to do the job and still have a bit of time for fun, means you get a better product popping out the other end.”

The challenges

One of the biggest challenges facing the industry is the friction between agencies, says Baxter: “It’s amazing how many agencies cannot play nicely in the sandpit together. The biggest barrier is agencies fighting with other partners in the business. We work hard at collaboration and I think we do it well, both internally and externally.”

And Filmer adds: “We have a lot of skills inhouse, but cannot be expected to always know the latest technology, so we have internal and external partners and technology agencies and experiential agencies. It’s important to know that we cannot always innovate in-house.”

But even winning awards brings its challenges.

Baxter says: “Winning B&T Media Agency was the single most rewarding – but also most daunting – thing to happen last year. It’s one thing winning, but another staying there. We cannot rest on our laurels.

The moment we think we’ve got it under control, we are screwed. Having that attitude of always wanting to do better is a really important trait for us.”

Looking ahead

UM hopes to build on its big year. Baxter explains: “The momentum of last year is something we want to keep. But we want to keep it in a responsible way – we don’t want to go into a downward spiral, stretching our staff and taking on too much. Measured consolidation and retention of clients this year is really important to us.”

Mobile and social are key priorities for the agency. “We are hardwiring digital and social into our responses,” says Burford. “We are also focusing on campaigns that genuinely change behaviour, and diversifying to meet our clients’ needs.”

Keeping on top of today’s transient digital world is a tall order. UM is well placed to meet it.

 

The history

1999: UM was formed, as part the global media buying arm of McCann Worldgroup.

2008: Former accountant Henry Tajer became managing director of UM Australia, replacing Jeff Cressall who relocated to Singapore as president of UM Asia Pacific.

UM became part of the IPG MediaBrands Group.

2009: Tajer was promoted to CEO of UM Asia Pacific, and Travis Johnson joined as general manager of UM’s Sydney office.

2010: Naked Communcations co-founder and former chief strategy officer at MediaCom, Mat Baxter, was appointed CEO of UM Australia.

2012: UM Australia was behind McDonald’s Gets Grilled – the fast food giant’s first independently-produced documentary.

UM Australia had its most successful year ever, and won B&T Media Agency of the Year.

Please login with linkedin to comment

Latest News

Image lead story UnLtd’s ‘Big Clash’ Raises Over $120K, With Media Owners & Media Agencies Crowned Champions
  • Advertising
  • Media
  • Technology

UnLtd’s ‘Big Clash’ Raises Over $120K, With Media Owners & Media Agencies Crowned Champions

With over 50 companies taking part, the fourth annual Big Clash cricket tournament has been the biggest yet, raising $124,000. The event once again brought the industry together for a great afternoon of cricket, drinks, music, and charity activations. This year, the event was expanded to have Media Owners, Media Agencies, Techies and Creatives all […]

SCA’s Profit Drops 21% Due To “Years Of Heavy Lifting”
  • Media

SCA’s Profit Drops 21% Due To “Years Of Heavy Lifting”

Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) has experienced a negative first half of the 2018 financial year, posting a dramatic drop in overall profit and a slight drop in revenue. The group’s net profit after tax fell 21.2 per cent to $48.5 million in the six months to 31 December 2017 (compared to the previous corresponding period), […]

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
Lord Of The Fries Pays Homage To Kanye West & Kendrick Lamar In Clever Ads Via Milkman
  • Advertising
  • Campaigns

Lord Of The Fries Pays Homage To Kanye West & Kendrick Lamar In Clever Ads Via Milkman

Creative digital agency Milkman has helped Lord of the Fries (LOTF) pay homage to two of the fast food outlet’s favourite artists through a series of clever art poster adverts. Milkman re-created the latest album covers of Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar with a LOTR vibe to highlight the brand’s hip-hop roots and its favourite albums […]

Keep Left Wins PR Account For Greening Australia
  • Marketing

Keep Left Wins PR Account For Greening Australia

PR and content marketing agency Keep Left has been selected by proactive conservation organisation Greening Australia to raise public awareness of its flagship programs and national footprint. The relationship began in 2017 when Greening Australia engaged Keep Left in support of Reef Aid, a project launched with corporate partner Virgin Australia to improve water quality […]

Now Screen Repositions Organic Care Brand With New Campaign
  • Advertising
  • Campaigns

Now Screen Repositions Organic Care Brand With New Campaign

Aussie agency Now Screen has teamed up with Organic Care to reposition the brand in what has become one of the most competitive FMCG spaces. The new campaign, ‘Caring Comes Naturally’, celebrates what Organic Care has created since its inception: products that are as good for your body as they are for the environment. In […]

Can You Speak Data?
  • Marketing
  • Opinion

Can You Speak Data?

We're certainly fluent in gibberish, balderdash and claptrap here at B&T, but sadly data isn't part of the lexicon.

Opinion

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
Social Change Maker Profile: Emma Heath
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Media

Social Change Maker Profile: Emma Heath

B&T has partnered with UnLtd to showcase industry heroes! Well, it's arguably more heroine in the case of Emma Heath.

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
Ad Fraud: A Problem We Can Solve
  • Advertising
  • Opinion
  • Technology

Ad Fraud: A Problem We Can Solve

Unlike B&T's mystery office farter, this columnist argues ad fraud is a problem that can possibly be solved.

Opinion

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
Why We Pivoted Our ‘Specialist’ Agency Five Times In 15 Years
  • Marketing
  • Opinion

Why We Pivoted Our ‘Specialist’ Agency Five Times In 15 Years

In this opinion piece, Gavin McDonough (pictured above, co-founder and managing partner of Urban, shares through his own experience some valuable advice for independent specialist agencies. In November 2017, my brother Ryan and I celebrated 15 years in business. We started business out of my front room in Melbourne in 2002 – not with any grand […]

Opinion

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
W+K’s Susan Hoffman Chosen As 39th AWARD Awards Chair Of Judges
  • Advertising

W+K’s Susan Hoffman Chosen As 39th AWARD Awards Chair Of Judges

Susan Hoffman, co-chief creative officer at Wieden+Kennedy (W+K), has been appointed chair of judges for the 39th AWARD Awards. Known to challenge the status quo, Hoffman is behind some of W+K’s most memorable and game-changing ads, including Nike’s ‘Revolution’, Old Spice’s ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ and Chrysler’s Super Bowl spots starring Eminem and Clint […]

Experiential Agency Kreate Gets Bought Out By Staffers
  • Marketing

Experiential Agency Kreate Gets Bought Out By Staffers

Leading experiential marketing agency, Kreate Australia is embarking on an exciting growth strategy following its purchase by three of the agency’s existing management team from its UK founder, Steve Evans.

Hurry! B&T 30 Under 30 Entries Closing Friday!
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Media

Hurry! B&T 30 Under 30 Entries Closing Friday!

This is a clarion call for B&T 30 Under 30 entries, although it's probably more mariachi band than angelic harbinger.

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
The Hit Network Chooses Comedian Tanya Hennessy To Host Weekend Breakfast
  • Media

The Hit Network Chooses Comedian Tanya Hennessy To Host Weekend Breakfast

Southern Cross Austereo’s Hit Network has announced that rising radio star and comedian Tanya Hennessy will take over hosting duties for its weekend breakfast slot in 2018. Hennessy will bring content to the airwaves each Saturday and Sunday morning from 7am to 9am with a regular rotation of guest co-hosts. The self-described talker, not walker […]

Straight Up PR Wins Five New Clients
  • Marketing

Straight Up PR Wins Five New Clients

Health, wellbeing and lifestyle PR agency Straight Up PR has welcomed Changing Habits, Unichi Wellness, enerGi, SleepX, and Healthie Hampers to its client portfolio. Straight Up PR’s projects will include bespoke PR services and influencer marketing packages specifically focusing on communications strategy and execution, media and influencer relations, PR launch events, product seeding and gifting, […]

March One Creates ‘Cheese For Change’ Fundraising Campaign For White Ribbon Australia
  • Advertising
  • Campaigns
  • Marketing

March One Creates ‘Cheese For Change’ Fundraising Campaign For White Ribbon Australia

Independent creative agency March One has developed a new fundraising event for White Ribbon Australia that turns a social moment into a social movement. Starting on Thursday 22 March and going until Sunday 25 March, Cheese for Change will ask Aussies to create a cheese platter that matters by gathering friends, family or co-workers together […]

Sixth Annual IGN Select Awards Winners Announced
  • Marketing

Sixth Annual IGN Select Awards Winners Announced

The winners of IGN Australia’s sixth annual Select Awards were revealed during a huge special event at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney on Friday, February 16. Some 225 Media & Game Publishers alongside 320 IGN Community Gamers attended the annual event. 2017 was absolutely crammed with terrific games and several categories were extremely tightly-contested. The top […]

Meet Your Mentors For B&T Bootcamp 2018!
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Media

Meet Your Mentors For B&T Bootcamp 2018!

When it comes to an industry "who's who", you'll find there won't be too much who-ing with this impressionable lot.

by B&T Magazine

B&T Magazine
ANZ Unveils Its 2018 GAYTMs
  • Marketing

ANZ Unveils Its 2018 GAYTMs

Mardi Gras is only weeks away and B&T has already hoisted the mirror ball and donned the hotpants to bring you this.