“The best is yet to come!” Next of the Best winner Chris Colter reflects on getting gold and the future of the industry

Next of the Best - Initiative - Chris Colter

Colter: “Times are tough now, horrifically tough for many, but I believe that difficult times create opportunity”

On May 26th, Mediaweek’s Next of the Best awards celebrated the best of under 40s talent across the media industry – including TV, radio, media agencies and PR.

Taking home gold for Media Agency Specialist – All Agencies was Chris Colter, chief strategy and product officer at Initiative.

Colter stepped up to the chief strategy & product officer last year and as part of his extended remit, will continue to lead the overall strategic output and team within the organisation but broaden his impact across the Mediabrands group with a specific focus on performance and e-commerce.

Colter’s tenure as Initiative’s chief strategy officer has seen Initiative become the most awarded media agency in Australia for their work, producing campaigns such as Swintopia (Swinburne University of Technology), Wonder Recycling Awards (Goodman Fielder), and A Fire Inside (NRMA).

Mediaweek caught up with Colter about his Next of the Best win and the future of the industry.

Mediaweek: Congratulations on winning gold; how do you feel about the win?

CC: Obviously elated and very humbled. Not going to lie, feels particularly special to be recognised in the inaugural event.

MW: How does this award reflect you and your team’s work?

CC: It is 100% a reflection of my strategy team, our amazing senior leadership team and the wider Initiative Australia agency…not to mention our amazing clients and media partners. In this industry you’re only ever as good as the people you surround yourself with, and I’m genuinely lucky to be surrounded by the best.

MW: What are three industry issues on your mind, and in your opinion, how can they be solved or achieved?

CC: I think our obsession with ‘issues’ and having a default of our industry is broken is an issue in itself. Truth is, our industry is awesome, we’re doing incredible things and we should be proud of what we do. Any changes I think we need to make are optimisations verse overhauls.

From a purpose point-of-view I think we need to accelerate the shift towards triple-bottom-line reporting, as accountability drives action. Effective media planning will always remain a priority, but broadening that definition towards delivering positive outcomes for people, planet and profit is critical. As custodians of corporate investment, we wield a powerful weapon to change the world for the better and I think we all need to take that responsibility seriously, especially in an increasingly informed and activist society.

From a product perspective you’d have to say generative AI (cringe, I know) as it has serious implications for our industry. Unlike doom-and-gloom predictions of robots taking over careers, or the argument that only humans can be creative, I see it as what it is…a tool. The calculator didn’t kill mathematicians. Garage Band didn’t kill musicians. They just stripped the busy work and allows people to get to the evolutionary thinking quicker…which can only be a good thing. Good technology only empowers good thinkers, otherwise it’s useless.

From a people perspective I think the legacy of salary secrecy and, to be honest, respectful remuneration is coming to a head. We need to get ahead of this as an industry before legislation mandates it as it’s not only the right thing to do but on-the-whole we have a good story to tell. There’s definitely areas for improvement but unless we start publicly reporting and declaring banding and benefits we’re not going to see the change this generation is rightfully demanding.

MW: The Next of the Best is an under-40s award, how will today’s upcoming talent impact the industry in the future?

CC: I’d say they already are, more than they ever have. I’ve personally seen the democratisation of opinion and opportunities dramatically change over my career. Whether its reverse mentoring, bringing executives into pitch teams and even giving them a stage to agitate for positive change in forums like MFA Ex, the ability to accelerate careers and impact on industry has never been greater. We’ve shifted from cascading to coaching, and it’s creating a new wave of more confident, supported and capable talent that is only going to impact the industry for the better.

Add to that agencies investing in automation, which in our business has literally cut thousands of hours of mindless data-entry and reconciling tasks that used to be a shitty rite of passage for young talent entering the industry (and the largest contributor to them leaving early), means the next generation are being trained on meaningful thinking from day one – which is only going to have an exponential impact on the pride in, and output of, our industry.

MW: What’s your outlook for the year ahead?

CC: I’m an optimist. Times are tough now, horrifically tough for many, but I believe that difficult times create opportunity. The best is yet to come!

Top image: Chris Colter

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