Media agency owner Dominic Pearman on COVID-19 impact

• IMAA co-founder on challenges and eventual market recovery

When the Independent Media Association of Australia (IMAA) was launched in mid-February this year little did the board expect the challenges its members would be facing just a few weeks later.

Co-founder and IMAA inaugural chairman Dominic Pearman said at the time: “There are many benefits for advertisers to work with independent media agencies, one of the most important being the depth and longevity of experience they provide and staff consistency and stability. We are business owners working within the business. The IMAA will provide the independent sector with a louder, unified voice to educate the industry and demonstrate the great work we do and help grow the Australian economy.”

This week the IMAA held its first member event – experts from financial, legal and economic professions helped members on how to navigate and survive the COVID-19 crisis.

Pearman, who is also the MD of his media agency Pearman Media, said the new organisation had a calendar of events planned across the year. “The included events for the training of staff from April and we have now had to postpone that,” Pearman told Mediaweek after the first IMAA webinar. “Our leadership team is still meeting every two weeks and we will in the future be running further webinars.”

Like all businesses impacted by COVID-19, the focus is keeping staff safe and employed.

Since the Job Keeper announcement, it has made a massive difference for our members,” Pearman said. “If you have a staff of 20 people, you could qualify for a significant monthly payment from the government.”

Pearman explained the initial reaction to the IMAA launch has been fantastic with more businesses wanting to join. The organisation workload has meant it is looking to take on an administrator as the five-person board also need to be running their own businesses.

If anybody in media agency land is prepared to deal with the current market turmoil, it should be the owners of smaller independent media agencies. Pearman said 75% of his members have been running their businesses for over a decade and over half for close to 20 years.

“We have a lot of stability among the ranks. But these are certainly strange times for all of us as well are working from home.”

The combined staff numbers from companies in the IMAA runs into the hundreds – some with less than 10 to others with over 50. The exact total billings of members is hard to gauge exactly. Around $3b is perhaps close, meaning it is a very significant part of the total market. “It is about 20-25% of all billings,” said Pearman. “Some media companies tell us their independent media agency income has gone from 15% about four to five years ago to 30% currently.

Cashflow can be a challenge at the best of times for agencies as they juggle bills from media companies and wait for advertisers paying for bought media. “The media has been fantastic to deal with,” said Pearman. “They are hurting as much as everyone else, yet they are helping as much as they can. They would be facing some clients who are unable to pay their bills for now.”

As to how confident Pearman is about adspend returning when the pandemic passes, he said: “I’ve been around long enough to know that advertising works. I am very confident that things will get back to normal. There could be more changes to media consumption habits and working from home could be more accepted.

“The thing about this is that media consumption is up – television and digital in particular. At the same time rates are down massively. If you’ve got distribution and the budget, now is such a good time to buy media.

Pearman noted clients have pulled media spends for different reasons. “Some have had to cancel because they are in events or travel. On the other hand we have some clients whose sales have never been as good. Anybody in FMCG is booming. Some clients have products that have sold out and therefore no need to advertise. Others are not advertising because their products are moving off the shelf without any support.”

Pearman Media has yet to let any staff go. “I made the deliberate decision that I would let myself go into debt if necessary. The Job Keeper package makes me feel a lot more confident that we probably won’t have to.”

The business is adapting well to working from home. One media industry regular event has continued – “We had virtual drinks from home last Friday and will do it again this Friday.”

Pearman added: “There has been some talk that work is getting done more efficiently at home because there are less distractions and starting early or working later are more easily managed because of no commute times. The phone doesn’t seem to ring as much and people aren’t walking into my office.” He noted the experience can vary depending on the various living conditions.

Top Photo:  IMAA members at the February launch event

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