Denise Shrivell

Digital People - Martin Walsh

Welcome to Digital People where I'm pleased to present Martin Walsh, Director of Digital & Corp Communications with NSW Govt. Martin recently offered views on the level of digital strategy & skills in the Aust market & continues these thoughts here. He also clearly outlines a range opportunities & challenges facing our market with several clear solutions. A comprehensive & highly worthwhile read

Martin Walsh, department of premier & cabinet, NEW GovernementName: Martin Walsh

Works: Department of Premier & Cabinet, NSW Government

Job Title: Director, Digital & Corporate Communications

1.  Please highlight your industry experience and how, where and when you came to digital media?

The first half of my career was working across media and entertainment from Austereo to Village Nine Leisure (Roadshow, Nine Network & Westfield JV), BMG, Telstra & News Interactive. The second half has been in ICT; Microsoft, IBM and Macquarie Telecom and now Government.

My first ‘digital’ role was being the first person directly hired by Telstra to lead News, Sport & Entertainment across BigPond when Telstra was merging Telstra Multimedia and BigPond into the greater Telstra. My role at News Interactive was also a digital/online focused role across FoxSports, Sydney 2000 Olympics, AFL, NRL & NBL. I was trying to secure NSW TAB as a sponsor for FoxSports when I met the management team there and they offered me the job to head up eCommerce. I spent 5 years building, growing and marketing my eCommerce channel from less than $20m per annum in 2000 to more than $700m per annum when I left in 2005. I also lead and delivered a $12m rebuild of the website and eCommerce infrastructure and technology for my channel which taught me a lot about delivering technology based projects! I put Sky Racing TV and Radio online with live streaming back in 2003 which included a full archive of the 55,000 races covered per year. These replays where available online within 2 minutes of the race finishing.

From Tabcorp I went onto lead digital marketing at Microsoft and IBM. I’ve always had a passion for technology as my first serious part-time job when I was at school was in sales at the first ever computer department store at Myer Chadstone in Melbourne. I was programming in basic at school and loved playing and coding games on my Commodore 64, Atari, ZX-80 and the Apple IIe. This passion of being someone who can bridge the divide between people, marketing & technology has been a huge benefit.

2.  Outline your role with the NSW Dept of Premier & Cabinet and your side interest with Red Dune Films  - what do you actually do?

My current role is to provide leadership in all things digital across the entire NSW government both internally and externally. I’m currently developing a comprehensive Digital Strategy for NSW which will be unlike all the Gov 2.0, eGovernment and ‘Digital’ strategies which have been developed before, mostly by CIO’s, CTO’s and the ICT industry. One of my first tasks is to consolidate 800+ websites, 1,000+ domains and a siloed approach to servicing NSW residents and businesses into more effective, efficient and meaningful digital experiences.

One of the key things I’ve learned over the past decade is you cannot enable digital transformation externally if you don’t empower, facilitate and energise internally. We have 330,000 government employees and transformation and change management is more crucial than technology. In fact I’m currently about to roll out a new social collaboration & communication platform internally to replace our hundreds of Intranets.

In respect of Red Dune Films, I came across an amazing true story, The Battle of Long Tan when I was serving in 2 Commando Company, Australian Army. A colleague in the unit said I should read a book about it written by Lex MacAuley which was in our unit library. I took it home and finished it within a few nights and my first reaction was wow and my second reaction was why hadn’t I heard of this battle which had 105 Australians and 3 New Zealander’s fight and defeat an enemy force of 2,500 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong? The battle lasted 3.5 hours with 18 Australians being killed and more than 800 enemy being killed. D Coy, 6RAR who fought the battle received a U.S. Presidential Unit Citation for Gallantry for the battle but it had largely been forgotten. I always thought it’d make a great movie and it pretty much stayed in the back of my mind until 2004 when I read a newspaper article that the commanders who fought the battle were releasing their own book. I approached their publisher, met the commanders and secured the story, documentary, film and book rights. I wanted to make a feature film and as part of the marketing strategy for the movie I co-wrote, produced and marketed the critically acclaimed and award winning The Battle of Long Tan documentary narrated by Sam Worthington for The History Channel and FOXTEL for the 40th Anniversary of the battle which was August 2006.

You can watch the documentary in HD here on YouTube - Along with a PR colleague of mine Graham Cassidy, we have also handled all the PR and lobbying for the veterans which has included the establishment of 3 government inquiries into the veteran’s medals and successfully getting most of them upgraded. We’ve had a number of 60 Minutes stories and thousands of local, national and internationals feature stories many of which can be viewed on our YouTube channel which now has over 520,000 views. I recently had a 3rd movie script written after finally finding the right script writers and along with my LA based producing partners who have been behind The World’s Fastest Indian and Bridge To Terabithia we also recently secured Kriv Stenders (Red Dog) to direct the movie. It has cost me over $200k of my own savings and debt and 6 years of my life so far but it has all been worthwhile bringing this story into the mainstream consciousness, getting the veteran’s medals upgraded and generally seeing them get the recognition they deserve.

3. Can you offer a brief insight into both roles  – your journey so far, current market position and forward plans?

Many of my roles have been about transformation, change and rapid growth. One of the things I learned a while ago from some great bosses and peers is that 90% of digital is about people. Understanding who they are, what they do, their behaviour, what technology and channels they use, processes and education. Most marketers and organisation focus on – I’ll use an iceberg analogy – the 10% of the bright shiny stuff above the waterline. However, consistency, effectiveness and scale only comes from successfully operationalizing marketing / digital marketing across an organisation. This is the 90% below the waterline which most people simply don’t spend any time, effort, resources and money on.

The best and successful digital marketers and CMO’s dealing with digital disruption focus on the 90% below the waterline instead of the bright shiny objects floating on the surface. A great example is what we did at Microsoft globally – one of the best and totally under the radar digital marketing organisations. We secured a mandate early on to shift 55% of Microsoft’s global marketing budget to digital by 2010. By 2008 we had many large product launches and campaigns like the Office 2010 launch around 80% digital. We conceptualised and built a digital marketing platform after doing an audit and finding we had 55 marketing tools and applications and 12+ content management systems. We developed some centralised capabilities around Digital Analytics, Digital Community, Digital Marketing Platform and On Network (MSCOM) Advertising. We did a global audit of digital marketing skills, resources and capabilities in every country around the world and benchmarked them. We then used a Six Sigma approach to delivering a customised Digital Readiness & Transformation Program for every program which covered all elements of the digital marketing mix. We also developed Centres of Excellence for different elements like Social Influence Marketing, Digital Advertising, Search, Campaign Sites and more and we dedicated 1% of the global marketing budget to Emerging Media Pilots. I could go on and on but suffice to say there are few organisations with the Digital skills, experience and sophistication like Microsoft.

I’m currently developing a whole of government Digital Strategy and I’ve pulled together a Digital Advisory Group consisting of some of the best digital minds from around the world – all markets, not CIO’s or CTO’s. There are some pretty radical recommendations in the strategy which I in the process of reviewing and discussing with my advisory group. I hope to be presenting it to Premier & Cabinet before Christmas and then I’ll release it to the public and industry for broader feedback.

4. Please share your views on the current state of the digital media market?

I have been very frustrated with the very poor strategic digital thinking and skills across Australia since at least 2003. Most of my frustration is with the poor advice being given to brands and organisation in Australia by MARCOM agencies. To be fair, people don’t know what they don’t know and as Australia is relatively isolated from the USA and Europe and we don’t have the same levels of competition it’s pretty hard for people working just locally to gain the more advanced skills and experience. As mentioned previously, too much focus is put on bright shiny objects and not enough on the fundamentals of understanding your audience/customers and their behaviour and needs.

Just one small example; for the past 5 years more than 5 major research studies have consistently shown that people prefer to access and consumer news related content on smartphones and now tablets via a mobile browser and yet media companies have spent millions on building native mobile apps, not to mention betting the farm on just Apple when Android has 38% smartphone share in Australia compared to Apple’s 37%. By focusing on one platform/vendor you significantly fragment your market and in most cases this has nothing to do with target audiences but personal biases and preferences. You are not your customer!

My other areas of frustration are around measurement and analytics, mobile and social influence marketing. We are at least 3-5 years behind in all these areas and it’s actually getting worse. It is not a Digital or Traditional argument. Digital + Traditional marketing is a 1+1=4 outcome. The problem is that Australian agencies and brands don’t understand the real underlying shifts in the new role of various elements of the marketing mix. Lester Wunderman rightly said in 2007 that Advertising is now a contact strategy. Meaning it’s what you use to contact people to get them to more engaging media, ie. Digital.

There is a great Boston Consulting Group report from 2010 which is just as relevant today. It is called ‘The CMO’s Imperative – Tackling New Digital Realities’. You can download it here - The report warns that just a third of top CMOs felt their ad agencies were helping them make the right trade-offs between digital and traditional media. The solution? Marketers should "reconsider their range of agency options" and "look beyond traditional-advertising agencies." Not that digital agencies were safe. The report told marketers that they risked wasting millions of marketing dollars if someone couldn't help them integrate digital campaigns effectively. In addition, Communications Planning needs to be re-established and reinvented as a core function. It also talks about ‘Back to the Future’ in that marketing communications is at a breakpoint after years of evolutionary change and emerging digital media. In the 1960’s Consumer marketing companies and Madison Avenue Ad Agencies had to scramble to deal with the new medium of 30 second TV Advertising. No one knew how television would evolve, or which advertising formats would break through. Those marketers that figure out not only how to use the new tools but also how to integrate them with traditional media will build brands and shift market share just as in the days of the gurus of Madison Avenue.

5.  Is there any one person, digital business or sector you think we should be keeping an eye on?

I think one of the few CMO’s who really gets this intersection of traditional and digital marketing is Andy Lark, CMO of Commonwealth Bank. Andy was previously VP of Enterprise and Online at Dell and has been around marketing and technology for a long time but importantly he has a great strategic mind and can recognise talent. I also think people like David Alston, previously CMO of Radian6 now Chief Adoption Officer at Salesforce, Jon Miller CMO at Marketo, Rand Fishkin, founder and CEO of SEOmoz, Scott Monty Global Head of Social Media at Ford, Shiv Singh Global Head of Digital and Denis Bye CMO of the Global Digital Community at Microsoft are all thought leaders in this space.

I love what brands like Nike, Ford, Walmart, GM and others are doing around digital. GM is hiring 10,000 computer engineers and building innovation labs; Walmart are building their 4th innovation lab and brands like Nike now embrace and embed technology into almost everything they do, but importantly Nike understands it is about the successful integration of traditional and digital media which ensures successful marketing outcomes.

6.  What do you see as the key challenges and opportunities in the digital media market in the coming 12 months?

#1 - People. This is the single issue which is stopping us becoming world’s best digital marketers. This includes the skills and experience of the CMO, marketing managers, agencies and the media. As I’ve outlined above, 10% is about technology the rest is about people.

#2 - Measurement & Analytics. This has been talked about being the number 1 priority and focus for the past 3 years but nothing much has changed experience and expertise wise in Australia. Marketers here in Australia simply don’t really understand digital analytics and are generally spending far too much time on measuring the wrong things and using the wrong KPI’s. Much of it is overcomplicated and unsophisticated.

#3 - Understanding and delivering the right omni-channel experiences are now more crucial than ever but Australia still hasn’t even got a basic digital website experience right let alone a mobile experience across smartphones, tablets and games consoles like the Xbox. 61% of people now start searching for information on a smartphone but the majority of brands in Australia still don’t have any mobile/tablet optimised experience and or a cross channel consistent experience. This is also understanding the most efficient and effective way of doing it and HTML5 and Responsive Web Design should be what most marketers and brands focus on and understand. I can now build one digital experience off one code base for all devices from PC, smartphone, tablet and kiosk.

#4 – Building a Digital Marketing Platform which enables marketers to execute digital consistently and efficiently and which they can also use to scale. I’ve lost count of the number of people and organisations I’ve presented to who don’t have this remotely worked out. The last Digital Marketing Platform I built was made up of all SaaS products and services and only took me 3 months. It included Marketing Automation, CRM, SEO Management, PPC Management, Social Listening and Social Engagement, Click to Chat, Webinars, Content Management System, Analytics and Business Intelligence. It all works together and I had a single view of the customer in real-time. This doesn’t just work, you have to work through the business change management, develop playbooks, re-engineer processes and acquire or upskill the right people.

7. How do you see digital and other media evolving in the next 5+ years?

Marketing is dead, long live marketing. I really think it is back to the future for a lot of marketing strategy and execution. One of the key things lost as a core skillset is strategic and integrated planning, communications planning and a holistic and intimate understanding of customer behaviour. I’ve also met very few people who can truly bridge the divide of digital disruption, customer behaviour, technology and marketing. But, guess what? The basics haven’t changed around strategy, planning and knowledge of your customers. The people executing successfully focus a lot of time and energy on these elements. One of the other key areas relating to transformation is that people themselves very rarely step out of the paradigm they are currently in and develop an alternate way of doing something which better suits the transformation. Online Advertising is a classic example of applying old media world thinking and measurement to a new medium. My peers and I stopped using CTR on online display advertising 3+ years ago. Research shows that 44% of people who click on paid search have previously been exposed to a banner ad but the banner ad has not received any performance attribution and all the attribution lazily gets attributed to the last click which in many cases is paid search.

8. What does the digital/interactive industry need to do better right now? 

A reality check! If you don’t understand and address the root causes and accept the problems for what they are nothing will ever change. This is across people, skills, strategic capability, agencies, media and brands. Focus more on the people (internal and customers) and planning issues and less on the technology and you will succeed.

I don’t subscribe to the notion of constantly ripping costs out of agency engagements. I’d prefer to pay a retainer for a strategic partnership with a great agency but at the same time it requires a 360 degree approach to reviewing value for money and performance. You pay peanuts and you get monkeys. I constantly get a laugh out of brands who skimp on paying agencies appropriately and then complain when the agency puts a junior, inexperienced account manager onto their account.

Agencies are either a strategic, valued partner or they’re not. I’ve been lucky to work with some truly great agencies like Razorfish who are highly valued by their clients as great strategic marketing and digital partners. 

9. Where do you get your industry information from?

I subscribe to the RSS feeds of scores of media, marketing, technology, design and brand blogs and websites like,,,,,,, Occam’s Razor -, and dozens of others. Each morning I do a quick scan of the RSS feeds (more than 60 of them!) and if there is something of interest I usually highlight it for later reading and or Tweet it for my own followers. I also save the URL of the article or blog post into a well-structured folder on my computer which is synced to all my devices including the cloud so I can access it anywhere and in the future. I also follow many people I consider thought leaders via LinkedIn and Twitter and for advice and counsel I’m connected to many previous peers from Microsoft and agencies via Facebook and LinkedIn.

The one source of information I really miss was an email distribution group we setup at Microsoft globally around Digital Marketing and the formal global community we setup. We’d also have a summit once or twice a year and come together in some great location like Budapest or Redmond in Seattle. I can’t begin to tell you how much we all learned, debated and shared across thousands of marketers and digital marketers and thousands of campaigns across some 165 countries every day!

10.  What industry groups or networks are you a part of?

I’m not really part of any formal groups other than online and I do monitor many groups and organisations across LinkedIn, online, Twitter, Facebook, Google and others. I’ve previously been a member of the Australian Marketing Institute and from time to time engaged with AIIA, AIMIA and ADMA but marketing, in particular digital is so far behind in Australia that I just don’t get to learn anything compared to engaging and sharing with my international peers. However these organisations and their events are always great for networking!


See an overview of all 103 Digital People profile articles here.

Thanks for your continued support and interest in Digital People.  If you have any comments please feel free to get in touch - or phone: 0424 100325.  I welcome your feedback.



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Denise Shrivell MediaScope Denise Shrivell
Company: MediaScope
Position: Director
Founder of MediaScope - Australia's most up-to-date & evolving directory resource connecting agencies & marketers to more than 3,000 niche, alternative & emerging media options Read Denise's full bio

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