Saying out loud the quiet bit about work-life balance; tectonic plates of streaming move again
The CMO of Guzman y Gomez says staff asking to work from home will be 'out of the door'. Is she just telling a hard truth about the prospects in the industry of those who put home life first?
Welcome to Best of the Week, mostly written early on Saturday morning at rainy - really rainy - Sisters Beach, Tasmania.
Not that I’d be up for much of a walk right now, even if there wasn’t more rain on the way. I’m limping slightly after tweaking a muscle while racing for my connection on the flight home from Sydney on Thursday.
The distance between Gate 11 and Gate 26 at Qantas’s Melbourne terminal feels considerably longer when they’re repeatedly calling your name over the tannoy, and there’s a seven hour wait if you miss the connection. Still, it would be nice if the waiting staff didn’t scowl quite so much when it was their own airline that delayed you.
Today’s writing soundtrack: Beggars Banquet, from The Rolling Stones.
Happy National Clown Day. I can think of a former colleague who’d struggle with that one.
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No place for flexible working
One reason for my trip to Sydney was the return of Advertising Week APAC as an in-person event. The Luna Park ferris wheel was once again loaded with industry types.
As usual with such events, there were plenty of familiar faces to reconnect with, so I didn’t get to half as many sessions as I’d planned.
But afterwards I’ve found myself thinking about one panel in particular - the participants in the session on advice for aspiring leaders went beyond the usual platitudes, and shared a couple of uncomfortable truths about an industry which is trying to rebrand itself as a gentler place to work.
The first moment of truth came from Andrea Martens, CEO of industry body ADMA.
She told the story of her time as chief marketing officer of Jurlique. After 16 years as a marketer with Unilever, it sounds like it was quite the bucking bronco.
“I went to join a relatively small business, Jurlique, premium skincare business. D2C, wholesale, retail, Australian founded, Japanese owned…”
Then she got to the red flag: “Nine CMOs in nine years. As many CEOs in as many years. Price promotions, 95 per cent sold on promo, and I thought, ‘This looks great’. Nine CMOs in nine years, I’m sure I can beat that.”
Narrator: It was not great.
“The mistake was not in taking the role, the mistake was I came into the business with the lens that I had a toolkit that worked within a well oiled machine.
“The problem was that the business and the team weren’t ready for that. I was also dealing with Japanese founders where my conversations with them were through a translator.
“The learning curve was phenomenal. I put a great team around me, and that was one of the lessons.
“They had a global-local model and a local-global model, which essentially meant nobody owned the decisions and it was complete and utter chaos.”
“The number of times I came home and I’d go ‘You can’t make this shit up, that was what most days were like.
“But I lasted three years, which was three times as long as the other nine before me.”
And even if the three years may involve some rounding up (Martens’ Linkedin profile suggests she was there for two-and-a-half years), I’m sure it felt longer.
One of the things that interested me in how Martens presented it on stage was that she clearly took some pride in having toughed it out.
More often, the advice seems to be if you hate a job, you should just leave, for the sake of your own mental health. But the reality is that for senior people who want to stay on the escalator they may need to hang on to get the next role.
In one of former GPY&R boss Nigel Marsh’s previous books (as it happens, his next one, Smart Stupid & Sixty arrives later this month) he talks about keeping a calendar hidden in his office and crossing the days off until he could resign, like a prisoner doing a sentence.
Obviously there are exceptions to the got-to-stay-a-while rule. Danny Bass’s short stint at Snap, followed by a not-entirely plausible decision to leave “to focus on his wellness retreat” didn’t prevent him from taking the top job at Dentsu Media this week.
But more conventionally, even if they don’t always admit what’s going on, people stick with the misery until they find the next gig, particularly if they have mortgages to pay.
Still, it was refreshing to hear Martens say it on stage.
But the larger truth bomb came from Lara Thom, global chief marketing officer of fast food brand Guzman y Gomez.
It may be all the rage to talk about work-life balance. But the truth is that choosing it costs people opportunities, and sometimes jobs even in Covid times.
She cheerfully told the audience that people in her team who don’t want to work from the office won’t have a place in her organisation. You can hear the audio clip above.
“I really admire smart ambitious people. So for me in senior leadership, if the first question is ‘Can I work from home?,’ you’re probably out the door,” she told the audience.
“I respect anyone who wants flexible working and whatever, it’s just more I need you on a journey with me at the moment and if that’s your priority, you’re probably not the right fit.”
“It’s not to say you’re not a great person, it’s just not the right fit for us.”
It was saying the quiet thing out loud. Most industry bosses you speak to, whether in agencies, media sales or marketing teams want their staff back in the office. They believe having people there in person builds culture, and it’s how you develop junior team members.
Facebook and Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg is among them. As the Australian Financial Review reports today: “On a staff call in June the chief executive reacted sharply when an employee asked if Meta Days, extra holidays introduced during the pandemic, would continue. ‘Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here,’ retorted the 38-year-old.’’
Once again, the quiet bit out loud.
But many bosses do not dare to say it publicly, and don’t risk insisting that people come back full time. In many cases, staff don’t want to go back to being at their office desk every day.
In the current market, where there’s a shortage of talent, that’s a confrontation many companies are trying to avoid, at least for now.
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HBO’s path into Australia gets clearer
It was a helluva week for the US media giants. The reverberations of Warner Brothers merger with Discovery led to the memorable decision to axe the Batgirl movie despite it being nearly complete. Like something from 30 Rock, it was office politics and economics that drove the decision.
But the update to the market was part of a bigger shifting of the tectonic plates.
For one thing, it was a signal that Warner Bros Discovery isn’t willing to play the game of chasing streaming audiences at any cost. Since the decline in Netflix’s share price, that has gone out of fashion. Back in April, on of the first things boss David Zaslav did after the merger, was to shut down the newly launched CNN Plus streaming service.
This week’s update had implications for Australia. For one thing, there will be a short stay of execution for Foxtel and its streaming service Binge before they lose their rights to the company’s HBO content.
This is because Warner Bros Discovery will first of all merge its two existing streaming services HBO Max and Discovery Plus, before rolling it out across the world.
It won’t launch in APAC (almost certainly including Australia) for another 18 months or so.
On the one hand, that gives Foxtel a little more breathing room, given the importance of the HBO deal (where would the company have been without Game of Thrones?) And on the other, it sets a deadline for changing strategic focus.
There are already signs of that too. in the week that Telstra (which is a co-owner of Foxtel, alongside majority shareholder News Corp) completed its acquisition of a majority stake in streaming aggregator Fetch, Foxtel announced another competitor will be available via its iQ boxes. This time, it’s Disney Plus.
(Mind you, let’s remember that the Murdoch family is among Disney’s biggest shareholders since selling 21st Century Fox to the Mouse back in 2019.)
Somewhat belatedly, the app screen on the iQ box is at long last starting to look half credible.
Even bitter News Corp rival Nine is present on the iQ box now (where is 7plus, I wonder). If Nine’s subscription streaming service Stan gets added, then a rubicon will truly be crossed.
If aggregation is the new main game, then I find myself wondering about a merger between Fetch and Foxtel one day, particularly given the common ownership of Telstra.
It was a week where News Corp showed more signs that it is less insular a company than it once was.
News Corp executive Nicholas Gray moved into a new role just under a year ago as managing director for tech networks and new channel partnerships.
Initially, that looked to me as if his main focus would be keeping Facebook and Google honest under the shadow of the News Media Bargaining Code.
But it seems to be a more collegiate approach than that. Although it was News Corp’s executive chairman Michael Miller in the PR photo this week, behind the scenes it was Gray who led News Corp’s successful bid to provide digital content across Ooh Media’s digital network.
News Corp saw off other media competitors for the deal which will expand the reach of the company’s news content well beyond its usual paying audience.
The moats around the company are looking a little less deep.
Unmade Index - a short trip above 700
It was a poor finish to the week for The Unmade Index of ASX-listed media and marketing companies, which dropped back 2.5% after two days just above the 700-point mark.
HT&E was as usual one of the more volatile stocks this week, up by 4.37% yesterday, after falling 3.89% the day before.
Yesterday’s biggest faller was Nine, which lost 3.77% of its market capitalisation.
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Nearly time to let you go about your weekend.
First though, a quick note for trade press marketers. As we’ve previously mentioned, when Unmade’s one-year partnership with the Substack Pro program comes to an end, we’ll be in a position to offer a limited number of advertising and marketing opportunities. This begins on October 1.
Anyone who would like to see a copy of the new Unmade media kit can email my colleague Damian Francis at email@example.com and we’ll get one across to you.
Have a great weekend.
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