Wellington's creativity praised

"Creative" cities such as Wellington could be well placed to pick up advertising industry work from around the world, says former Wellingtonian and advertising superstar Peter Biggs.

Biggs, who has spent the past six years heading Clemenger BBDO in Melbourne, said the agency had more than quadrupled in size to become Australia's "most successful agency" with more than 200 staff under his tenure. But a return to Wellington was in his long-term plan.

Last year Clemenger BBDO Melbourne won the top "grand prix" prize at the PR Lions awards in Cannes for its "Break Up" campaign for National Australia Bank.

"Australians hate banks and they see the 'big four' as being utterly in collusion," Biggs says.

"NAB did the bravest thing, admitted it was part of the big four and said it was breaking away."

It scrapped disliked fees and "unfair charges" and Clemenger ran a campaign with actors staging mock relationship breakups in restaurants around Australia on Valentines Day. "Within 24 hours, Break Up was the most discussed topic on Twitter."

On a visit to Wellington, Biggs said he saw the potential for similar campaigns to be run out of the city, which he compares to Melbourne. "Melbourne had to differentiate itself from Sydney, the commercial capital, as Wellington had to do with Auckland. Wellington has done it as Melbourne did through vibrancy, culture, creativity and the arts.

"It is so good here; people are not behind, they are in front in so many ways and their success is coming out of good places. It is coming out of generosity and intelligence and not out of manipulation and the dark arts.

"What I have learnt is the New Zealand style of leadership is enormously effective – a blend of modesty, humanity, generosity, creativity, pragmatism and, where necessary, a bit of steel.

"One of the things I am really interested in is whether we can codify that New Zealand way of leadership because I think it offers a number of clues as to how New Zealand can compete with the rest of the world."

But a challenge was that campaigns like Break Up that were new and innovative could almost "break an agency" because of their complexity and the resources required to deliver them, Biggs says.

"You have a huge idea like that, that catapults a bank from `least' in customer satisfaction to `first' in a couple of month. What is the value of that idea and how do you charge for that?

"We are looking at another massive campaign, totally unlike any other, and the client wants it in the market by October.

"I am worried it will break the agency in two because it is so complicated. It is a brilliant idea and I don't know how we are going to do it. That is what is so exciting and terrifying about the new world of advertising."

The Australian media industry is undergoing its biggest change "for decades" as News Ltd and Fairfax cut jobs and seek ways to make more money from their websites. "News has gone `boom' and Fairfax has got a more complex and drawn-out strategy."

The fundamental challenge remains – to persuade people to pay for something they have become used to getting for free, Biggs says. "It is interesting to me we are prepared to pay for pay television. Surely we can pay for other media content?"

The advertising and media industries are not facing the challenges alone, he says. "I chair the New Zealand Book Council and one of the issues is how do writers charge for an ebook? Nobody has worked out a model but we all know we have got to change... ."