Overpaid and over here?

Our ads are getting ever more Kiwi. Our agencies, not so much.

Our ads are getting ever more Kiwi. Our agencies, not so much

David MacGregor


English-accented voiceovers were once de rigeur for New Zealand television advertising. Actors Geoffrey Palmer and Hywell Bennett were popular choices. If the budget didn’t stretch to include an English luvvie, the next port of call would be to note on the script ‘Geoffrey Palmer-style VO’.

A greater appreciation of New Zealandness seems to have emerged to the point where an English voice seems silly and irrelevant. We don’t suffer quite the same degree of cultural cringe at the sound of our own voices. Rhys Darby’s ads for 2 Degrees trump Telecom’s Richard ‘Hamster’ Hammond spots hands-down.

Curiously enough, some of the most Kiwi of Kiwi work has come from advertising creatives imported from Britain. Sometimes fresh eyes see opportunities that others take for granted. So note the recent insurgency of imported creative talent into New Zealand’s largest agencies. Clemenger BBDO has been on a spree, buying in teams from the UK. They are a second wave, brought in by expat creative directors. Saatchi’s new boss, Nicola Bell, is from the US and her creative sidekick was recruited from London too.

Some might argue that New Zealand has a relatively shallow talent pool and new blood is necessary, especially if the new faces bring with them skills that can be transferred to others. The problem inherent in advertising creativity is that the discipline is highly individualistic. In my experience, very little training occurs. Teams are more likely to work alone, presenting work with a triumphal fanfare and reveal—and you don’t want too many names on the award citation. So the benefits are more a result of infusion or osmosis.

The contrary view might be that the talent pool in New Zealand in already deep. Universities, polytechs and private teaching organisations have been churning out advertising graduates at such a rate that there is a talent glut (though raw and unseasoned talent in many cases).

I have heard proponents of imported creatives suggest that opposing the practice represents xenophobia. It’s probably simpler than that. In a contracted job market where supply far outstrips demand, creatives struggling to find work, whether recent graduates or old campaigners, will find the very public off-shoring galling.

During the recent debate about TVNZ’s revision to the media commission system, it was suggested a reduction of ad agency commission would mean they would no longer be able to pay half a million dollars a year to top creative directors (many of whom are imported from overseas). This may offer another clue in the discussion. It’s reasonable to assume that importing talent comes at a higher cost to the agency when the cost of recruitment and relocation are factored in—not to mention a salary premised on the agency being ‘hot to trot’. Will clients pay a higher rate for ideas created by the new team, especially in a market where clients have been getting ideas virtually for free (in return for commissions and fees)? I’d like to think so, but can’t see it happening anytime soon.

To be worth the investment, then, these new hires will need to solve some pressing matters. How do we remain relevant in a market that has changed rapidly and will be beyond recognition in the not-too-distant future? Will the auteur talent model persist? Hiring talent premised on their promised ability to win international advertising awards may hold less sway with Kiwi clients than the agency’s ability to make their brands world-famous in New Zealand. How we go about that in the near future may require a whole different set of skills. The question for local creatives is: what are you doing now to make yourself indispensible? If you’re not developing the right skills now, you’ll be bypassed (again).

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