Independent Media Agencies profile: Stephen Leeds on The Media Store

• In the first of a series of profiles Mediaweek speaks with The Media Store’s CEO Stephen Leeds

The new media agency body Independent Media Agencies of Australia launched back in late February just before the spread of COVID-19 started to get very serious. The 20 foundation members have quickly blossomed to over 30 with more expected to be added soon.

The not-for-profit association’s members account for more than 25% of advertising expenditure in Australia – around $3b annually.

The founding IMAA members, Dominic Pearman from Pearman Media; Ant Colreavy from Sandbox Media; Dan O’Brien from Frontier Australia; Nick Behr from Kaimera and Sam Buchanan from McKenzie Partners, comprise a five member management committee for the first year.

See also: Independent media agencies launch IMAA, Dominic Pearman chair

In the first of a series of profiles looking at the various members, Mediaweek speaks with The Media Store’s CEO Stephen Leeds. The agency is one of the IMAA’s biggest-billing members, and runs offices in Sydney and Melbourne.

Like many companies in all sectors, The Media Store staff are still working from home. Leeds told Mediaweek many of his people are finding that more productive, but not all of them. For Leeds is means more time in Melbourne.

“Prior to COVID-19, I travelled regularly between Melbourne and Sydney, I was probably up there every second week. With Toyota and Lexus as our founding client and our preeminent client, most of my client role is based in Melbourne. Sydney was always important because we still have 20 plus staff in Sydney [around 40 in Melbourne] who either service Toyota at the back end or who work on other clients.

I’ve read a little bit recently about some businesses who have found this a wonderful experience, and they’re going to change the way they do business. And we’ve found the same, but that’s because we have built such a great culture and great rapport with each other that staff can work from home because they are so familiar with each other.

“But I don’t think that is sustainable in the long run as you bring onboard new people and new clients. I will always be an advocate for a level of being in the same environment.”

Leeds has been with The Media Store just on three years. “In that time the structure and the strategy has changed with a focus on, I would say, contemporising our business for the benefit of Toyota first and foremost. Secondly, there has been more of a focus on new business. Our strategy for the business has just been a reinforcement of what we call customer intimacy, which is certainly client service at the heart of what we do.

“When I joined I did a bit of homework and some people didn’t know who The Media Store was. We didn’t have a strong profile nationally. Some who did know the name thought that we were Toyota’s exclusive agency. Others thought Toyota had a financial stake in our business. So I made it a priority that we wanted to communicate that Toyota is a foundation client that we’re very proud of what we’ve done with them for 23 years. We are proud to be their media agency of choice, but that we could apply our skills to any business.”

As to the challenges of running the agency during COVID-19, Leeds said working with media partners has been manageable. “The interaction with the media has not been tricky. The fulfilment of contracts, or the negotiation within contracts, has not been tricky at all. We are a people business however, and once again, I think because of the great rapport we’ve built with media over the journey has helped. I do look forward to the day where we can reconnect with all publishers face to face in some capacity. That’s because we’ve built great relationships and I think in order to protect and preserve those relationships, I do look forward to the day where we reconnect again face to face for proactive selling, for relationship building and for communication purposes.”

Long term impacts from COVID-19

“The consumer has become more comfortable with e-commerce. They’ve had more time to spend online.

“Can traditional media sustain viewability, listenership, readership? Once we get back to a new normal or get back to normal I can see a drop off, no doubt. But I also see a drop off with time spent with digital media.

“It’s the time that people have got available and they’re working rhythms that has increased participation with all forms of media. But I think the confidence in digital media will see a continuation of the engagement, interaction and time spent.

“My view is how do brands continue to capitalise on either a new found interaction or how do they capitalise on new engagement and continuing with live metrics of where the audience is? That’s what it’s about – we just follow the audiences and that’s the challenge for any brand.

Thoughts about being part of the IMAA?

“The ability to attract staff to an independent model versus the other demonstrates that staff are seeking out the independent model because they like it and see benefits in it.

“We do support the Media Federation too [as an MFA member]. We want to be seen as just a reputable agency that can do a great job for our clients and we don’t really play the independent thing. The reason we joined the IMAA was that as an MFA member we saw an opportunity to support other like-minded businesses. We liked the idea of collaboration, where it didn’t breach any confidentiality boundaries, and we really liked the idea of a global alignment.

“As an independent who believes they can do anything a global agency can do, there was one area that we felt there was maybe a misconception and that is that we weren’t globally aligned, or we couldn’t globally tap into resources and thinking. Thenetworkone partnership has provided another way that the independents could match any agency in that forum. I’ve got to say we have been very impressed with the communication within the IMAA. We’ve been very impressed with thenetworkone global alliance communication, and I’ve been very impressed with the amount of PR that the IMAA has been able to generate, including the support of all traditional and digital, large and small publishers.”

See also: IMAA announce partnership with independent agency network thenetworkone

More on The Media Store here.

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