Getting Brainy with Sam Buchanan, CEO, IMAA

Megan Hourston
Megan Hourston

Outbrain’s Megan Hourston sat down with Sam Buchanan, CEO of The Independent Media Agencies of Australia (IMAA) for this month’s Getting Brainy. They discuss the current independent media agency landscape in Australia, plus how the IMAA is helping its members navigate the changes transforming the industry.

You’re currently CEO of the IMAA as well as a founder of the organisation. Can you talk us through its inception and what you do?

The idea began when a group of indie agencies met and decided that the sector would benefit from an industry body that could represent their collective voice.

From our humble beginnings with 20 members and 13 media owner supporters, we have grown to 130+ members.

Our purpose is threefold: Provide a platform for collaboration between independent agencies; showcase the benefits of working with independent media agencies; and reinforce the financial benefits to the economy by supporting 100 percent Australian owned media agencies.

We have done so much already, including:

  • Establishing a world-first trade credit insurance group deal with an Australian owned insurance company
  • Group deals with several industry reporting, research, training, and media tools, among others
  • An “Insights and Innovations” webinar series.
  • Formed an alliance with TheNetworkOne, the world’s largest independent agency network.
  • Launching a $2 million multi-channel advertising campaign promoting the expertise and leadership our members offer.
  • Launching our Pulse Surveys to determine how our sector is faring.
  • Launching our first large-scale industry event, Operation Bounceback
  • Launching a Diversity Council designed to educate and empower members on the value of embracing a diverse and inclusive workplace.

We will also soon launch our first Reconciliation Action Plan, a new Training and Education initiative and an international staff transfer program.

Where do you see the organisation evolving over the next two years?

We can only see upsides to the IMAA by continuing to increase our membership, hosting industry events for our members, continuing to introduce initiatives and levelling the playing field for independent media agencies.

We have negotiated many group deals with partners across tech and data platforms, consumer insights, content marketing, industry software, marketing measurement, client relationship management, and a virtual receptionist company. This enables indie agencies to compete on a more level playing field with the multinationals.

One of our biggest strategic aims is around education and training for members to attract and retain talent in a difficult market. We will soon launch the IMAA Academy to do just that.

What are the issues facing independent media agencies at the moment that you think aren’t getting enough attention?

One of the biggest issues we faced was being locked out of the NSW Government’s master media tender. Despite over 10 months of petitioning, the Government chose to ignore our plea to review the process and allow indie agencies a chance to compete.

We will not be giving up the fight to change all state and territory governments’ expression of interest (EOI) and tender requirements. At the very least it will allow multi-million-dollar Government budgets to remain in Australia.

We will continue to show marketers that indie agencies provide a viable and effective alternative to multinational agencies and seek to have indie representation on pitches.

The IMAA recently set up a Diversity Council. What are the priorities for this Council and where do you see it evolving?

The IMAA Diversity Council will facilitate resources, training, and other initiatives for members, leadership training, and provide a platform for support and collaboration between members. The four key pillars of the Diversity Council are: cultural diversity, age and gender, LGBTQI+, and ability and accessibility. 

Other initiatives we have underway include subsidised training for our agency leaders and celebrating key events throughout the year.

The Diversity Council will also work closely with our Reconciliation Action Plan initiatives that will see employment pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our industry.

Has anything surprised you in your journey to set up the IMAA?

We were surprised at how quickly our membership grew as indie agencies recognised the power of a combined and unified voice – which has been fantastic to see.

Additionally, the industry has really embraced indie agencies with incredible support from media owners, industry bodies and other partners. It shows that our sector is meaningful and has clout.

What are some of the practical ways IMAA supports media agencies?

There are many ways we support our members in practical ways including:

  • Training and education
  • Networking among our membership 
  • Our trade credit insurance deal for members that produced savings of up to 75 percent
  • Group deals with a large range of other partners
  • Our Pulse and Salary surveys

What would your advice be for anyone looking to establish their own independent media agency?

Go for it! As well as being in control of your own destiny as a proudly Australian-owned business, you’ll be joining a group of like-minded business owners. And the IMAA will be right there to guide you.

Can you recommend your favourite newsletter?

All the trade newsletters (B&T, AdNews, Mi-3, Mumbrella and Mediaweek) provide valuable information and insights to me every day.

What’s an advertising/ marketing campaign that really stands out to you? 

Boys Do Cry by The Hallway is my favourite campaign of late by a great agency for an important cause.

Megan Hourston

Megan Hourston

Megan is Sales Manager at Outbrain, a role she has held since August 2021. Before joining Outbrain, Megan was a Digital Account Manager at major Australian radio network, Southern Cross Austereo.