Rose Herceg

Let’s be frank: going ‘glocal’ in Australia

WPP’s President in Australia and New Zealand, Rose Herceg, says Australians are fundamentally down to earth and value honesty. This is what frames up marketing for the local market

“If Australians think a marketing message isn’t true, they will bust you,” says Herceg. There’s no kidding them. She speaks of democracy, fairness, egalitarianism. “And if you're a brand or a business that doesn't recognise its roots, you will be penalised by Australians for forgetting where you've come from,” she says.

But there’s no easy way to speak to all of Australia: one-third of Australians were not born in the country. “In fact,” she reminds us, “50% of Australians speak a language other than English at home. There are 290 nationalities represented in Australia. It’s a country full of people who've come here to look for a better life.” 

And knowing how to talk to this tapestry of human experience matters. “We've got more than 80 nationalities working at WPP in Australia and New Zealand. We, at WPP, are literally a microcosm of the country,” Herceg says. 

So how should brands demonstrate – in their marketing to the Australian market – that they understand the Australian psyche – seemingly simple and honest, but also truly rich and diverse? 

“Proof points are everything,” Herceg responds. “Every client we work with – banks, telecommunications companies, retailers, supermarkets – must demonstrate categorical proof of the benefits of their products or services. The brands that appeal the most to Australians are from companies with products and services that work. A ‘dog and pony show’ fails dismally in this market.” 

Can global become local but not cookie-cutter? 

Homogenisation of marketing is dangerous; there must be a local twist if global brands are to appeal to a local market. “When global brands come to this market, they are sensitive to the local environment because they know that rolling out global communications in this market has not worked as well as they had hoped previously,” says Herceg. 

She is seeing a trend towards more courageous local messaging, and that approach is achieving increased sales for the brand, increased market penetration and a higher likelihood to recommend. “If those metrics are going up, that is usually because we've localised whatever the global team has given us,” says Herceg “Give us a global piece of communication, and we will give it a local twist.”  

But the localisation of global messaging is not an issue for more than two-thirds of WPP’s business in this part of the world. “We make 70% of our revenue at WPP Australia and New Zealand locally,” she says. “If we're not winning locally – as WPP – we're not growing.” 

Shining at government and banking comms 

If there’s one thing that characterises WPP’s Australian and New Zealand client portfolio it’s that it comprises a plethora of government clients; and the second thing is that distinguishes it is the volume of local bank clients. 

“Our clients are incredibly interested in how we talk about sustainability, about diversity, how we tell truth to power, and how we tell consumers the truth. We've done a lot of work with one particular state government, and now they have the highest customer satisfaction rating in the country. They're a government agency and they’re providing a service in the way that the private sector would do so. Now other state governments are rolling out this way of working too,” says Herceg. 

“Governments should not be slower – and interacting with government should not be harder – than dealing with the private sector. We have truly rewritten everything about providing a service for this government client, including rewriting their communications materials so that an eight-year-old can understand them, and they can be translated into other languages by Google. We’re telling government that the standard they set should be the standard set by the private sector.” 

And that's working. Of course it is. “There’s a human element in needing services from a bank or a government. Why would those two service-areas squeeze the humanity out of talking to people. When people are in dire straits, this is the time they are at their most vulnerable,” says Herceg. 

Having a voice in change 

WPP in Australia and New Zealand has been vocal in its support for the establishment of a First Nations Voice to Parliament and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have a voice on matters relating to their communities. 

WPP has published its Reconciliation Action Plan – its commitment to the five dimensions of reconciliation by developing respectful relationships and creating meaningful opportunities with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. As the largest creative communications group in Australia, WPP has range and influence through its extensive network of companies, so lending its support is truly meaningful.

“WPP has taken an affirmative position. We think it's a good thing for the country, and we are behind our federal government in recognising first Australians and giving them a voice in parliament,” says Herceg. “People that are indigenous to a culture tend to be better at understanding what their culture needs. It’s important that they weigh in on issues that are directly relevant to their community.” 

As a child of Croatian migrants, she is a huge proponent of not only honesty and truthfulness, but also embracing all cultures in all their diversities and complexities. “I feel comfortable that WPP is embracing of all of my identity,” says Herceg. “Embracing identity is exactly what we want to do as WPP.” 

Rose Herceg


published on

21 July 2023


Experience Communications

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