Heading back to Perth after five years away, Michael Wretham, National Communications Director at Match & Wood, considers his east coast experience, the advantages of working for an independent media agency, and why he is excited to be back in WA.


Five years ago I made a decision that many of us in the Perth ad industry consider doing at some point in our careers – to roll the dice on the east coast. I left as a well-connected advertising professional to essentially start over within a much larger pond, which was extremely challenging to say the least, particularly given my first account was Coles and I rolled pretty quickly into a scheduled pitch to retain the business.

As I made the journey home to Perth a few weeks ago, I had time to reflect on my east coast experience, but also what being away had taught me about WA. Here is a quick snapshot of what was flowing through my mind as I waited out the days in my mandatory hotel quarantine.

Big budgets aren’t always better (or better utilised)

The first thing I noticed after moving to Melbourne was the budgets. In short I was dealing with a whole lot of extra zeros than I’d ever encountered before. I can still remember the slight anxiety I felt when I saw my first $50M base media plan knowing that even a minor mistake could result in a huge discrepancy. But I quickly came to realise that a big budget is just that; it’s big and it’s often hard to manoeuvre.

In the case of a client like Coles, when you’re buying a ton of inventory across every channel you are often discussing incremental reach gains rather than unpacking how specific tweaks to a media approach can have a meaningful impact on client outcomes.

Perth had gifted me the ability to work directly on business challenges, and the smaller budgets pushed us to develop more accountable and creative solutions, and it was often easier to see the effect that these decisions had on our clients’ businesses.

Perth clients are ahead of the curve

I had assumed that the east would expose me to a heap of new technologies and platforms, and that larger clients with larger digital departments would truly expand my knowledge. Sure I learnt a lot from working on some of the biggest clients in the country, but at the same time I came to realise just how progressive some of my previous Perth clients were.

In WA, our challenger mentality, the strong collaboration between digital/media/creative agencies and less siloed marketing departments meant that I’d had far more rewarding conversations in Perth around building out tech stacks, attribution, and personalisation strategies than I was able to in my first few years in Melbourne.

Yes, big budgets give us the ability to sign off on the ‘big ticket items’ (I’m looking at you GA 360) but smaller clients and teams are actually nimble enough to use these opportunities to their full advantage.

Agencies can only be as good as their media partners

For a media professional, relationships built with creative agencies, tech and media suppliers are worth their weight in gold. Creating a trusted network over coffees, meetings, dinners and presentations means that when you do need help on that last-minute crazy campaign that goes live in three days, or when your partners need a helping hand, we are all happy to go the extra mile.

The Perth network is small but mighty and I appreciate the openness, collaboration and genuine care even more now.

Boundless independence is the dream

This really speaks to my last 2.5 years working at Match & Wood with my mentors Chris and Lyndelle O’Keefe. Referred to hereafter as the A-Team, these two started an agency from scratch, built an environment that empowers the team around them and enables us to focus directly on our clients’ business problems. I’ve been able to work with them to grow the agency across two coasts, manage a great suite of clients, and now continue in a national role based out of Perth.

Working for an independent agency has given me more mental availability to tackle our clients’ business challenges, generate value beyond the immediate briefs, and provide stronger service overall. This is in contrast to some of my previous experiences working at large holding company agencies where there is a lot of time spent on internal accountability and management challenges, which often come at the expense of client work.

When I refer to “boundless independence” I’m also talking about being able to effect change. At Match & Wood if any of us we believe we would achieve better results for our clients by doing things differently, testing alternate platforms and suppliers, or accessing the latest tech solutions, we are empowered to do so and we can take action quickly. There are no global spreadsheets, layers of red tape, or business units to feed – quite simply, being free of these constraints allows us to deliver great work.

2020 will open doors for WA

This year has seen us all become extremely confident with video conferencing, remote working and flexibility. Our agency was a national offering prior to COVID-19 with true collaboration across markets rather than siloed state offices. This should become even more widely accepted as the industry adapts to working from home and people realise it doesn’t matter where their resources are based as long as great work is being done.

Let’s use this as the chance to dial up the epic talent, creativity and skill found in WA, and encourage the rest of Australia to look to our state for some the best work in the country.

So in closing – to my hometown Perth, I’m excited to be back and I have a greater appreciation of what you truly have to offer not only locally but also on the national stage.

Look me up, I’m out of quarantine and available for some socially distanced meet-ups. I’ll bring the hand sanitiser.