“Agencies are more relevant for clients than ever”: The evolution of Publicis Media Exchange


Plus: Anthony Ellis on the value of telling people ‘I want you to argue with me’

In July 2020, Publicis Groupe ANZ appointed Anthony Ellis as managing director of the group’s media investment arm, Publicis Media Exchange (PMX), in the Australian and New Zealand market. Ellis has been with Publicis for longer than those three years, however, having previously worked at Zenith for almost two decades.

After a visit to the Publicis Groupe offices in Sydney, Mediaweek spoke to Ellis about what his time in the role has been like, and his views on the wider state of the industry. 

Publicis Media Exchange is fundamentally responsible for all of the buying of media and ad tech that Publicis Media Groupe use, and if you cast your mind back three years, you’ll realise that Ellis began his time at PMX right as the world shut down. 

“I started right when Covid was starting to take hold, so it was a really interesting start,” laughs Ellis. “But we’ve come a long way since then – the market has recovered, and there’s a lot of change centrally within the PMX team.

“I’ve been within the group for a bit over 20 years now, so I knew the people and how the organisation works – that was the positive side. The challenging side was what everyone dealt with within Covid, which was all the uncertainty. We didn’t know what was happening next month let alone in six months time.”

The bumpy start didn’t mean that Ellis sat on his hands once starting in his role, however. 

One of the first things that I did was make the investment leads and the digital leads part of the decision-making of what we do in the brands – rather than doing something centrally and making decisions on the group’s behalf. That was step one, step two was then asking, ‘what should and could a group function do?’, and imagining out despite being distracted by Covid.”

Part of that was forming the Media Intelligence Team, led by Rowena Newman who has more than 20 years of experience in global brand strategy and marketing operations.

“I wanted to bring people that think differently within our construct of our team. I’ve brought in Rowena to run that team – but within that team, we’ve created an investment intelligence platform which consolidates all of our spend.”

Under his tenure, PMX has grown from roughly 10 employees to 30, with Ellis specifying that the growth “didn’t happen in one year” and that new team members are from all walks of life. In fact, when hiring Ellis went out of his way to make sure that he was gathering a team of people who had a wide spectrum of ideas and experience.

“We asked ‘What are the skills that are required to do this, and to think differently?’, because I find getting somebody with the same skill set as me is quite backwards. That helped employ the team, but it helped employ the right people that challenge my strategy, and challenge what agencies are doing. 

“Whilst it can be confronting, I tell them every time ‘I want you to argue with me’. If we’ve got a bunch of people around a table with different backgrounds, that are coming at a problem different ways, then we should be able to get to the best outcome.”

Publicis Groupe

Looking at the Wider Industry

Reflecting on his time in the industry, Ellis says that whilst technology has surged ahead, the basics of the business are still the same – in a way, he says that “everything and nothing has changed.”

“We’re still trying to solve clients’ marketing challenges, but now they have changed because consumers have changed, the way that people buy consumer goods has changed, and measurement of media has changed. That’s been a challenge, but it’s also been an opportunity for clients.

“20 years ago digital didn’t really exist, social media certainly didn’t. It was about how you innovate within the channels that you had, and the measurement was much simpler. Fast forward to now and the amount of channels that the agencies themselves have to navigate is really challenging. 

That’s why I think agencies are more relevant for clients than ever, because the landscape is extremely hard to navigate.”

When it comes to the challenges that are making the landscape more difficult to navigate for the industry, there are two major hurdles that Ellis points to.

“I think attracting talent into this industry is the biggest hurdle – I sound like an old guy when I’m saying this, but you needed to know somebody to get into the industry when I was first employed. Now what I see is more people asking ‘what can this industry do for me?’, and the search for talent is extremely difficult in the marketplace. 

The other challenge is being able to simplify any recommendation to clients with the amount of information that we have access to. I see it every day, people get consumed by the facts and the data and the ad tech discussion – and yet, they find it very difficult to pull back and simplify what it all means and be able to articulate that for clients.”

Looking ahead

With H2 well and truly underway, Ellis says that he’s feeling positive about where the industry is sitting, and that the proof of that is PMX’s ad spend.

“The back half of the year is still volatile, I can see that within our own spend – we’re outperforming what’s happening in the marketplace in terms of our spend because of our profile. So we’re relatively optimistic in the really challenging macroeconomic environment. 

“That’s a positive sentiment, I’m waiting for stuff to change locally. But the outlook – given all the noise that is pretty horrific externally – I would say, it’s cautiously optimistic.”

Top Image: Anthony Ellis

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