Growing up, Matthew Nunn dreamed of a career as a physical education teacher. On his way to achieving his ambition, in 1996 he graduated from Ballarat’s Federation University Australia with a Bachelor of Education. A keen basketball player, he was also a regular fixture on the regional city’s Ballarat Miners team.
His future in sports education seemed mapped out – until, that is, he was offered a job selling advertisements for local television station WIN. In Nunn, the station saw the perfect fit for the role – a well-known sportsman who knew everyone in town.
When Nunn said yes, he was given a car, a client list and a budget and he never looked back. He next moved to Melbourne in a media sales role at Channel Nine and, four years later, with just his wife, an accountant and a handful of employees, he founded Nunn Media, a media agency specialized in integrated strategy, planning and media buying.
“While we work with many large companies, we also pride ourselves on our ability to help Australia’s challenger brands market their products and compete with the limitless ad spends of big multinational companies,” Nunn, the company’s Managing Director, tells The CEO Magazine. “Achieving great results for these companies is a big part of what we do.”
It’s proven a winning formula, with the business growing from its Melbourne origins into Australia’s largest independent media agency, with over 170 employees, offices across Australia and the United States, and annual client billings of over US$300 million.
While we work with many large companies, we also pride ourselves on our ability to help Australia’s challenger brands market their products and compete with the limitless ad spends of big multinational companies.
A turning point
Reflecting on all that he’s achieved in the two decades since he started Nunn Media, Nunn believes that strategic acquisitions have played an integral role, each adding new media buying capabilities to the business. The first was Kruse Media in 2013 and since then, four more have followed – AKA Media in 2014, Innovate Online in 2015, a shareholding stake in Local Planet in 2018 and, in 2021, Alley Group.
But it hasn’t always been a smooth ride and the business has overcome some important tests, most significantly in 2010 when its largest client at that time, white goods retailer Clive Peeters, collapsed after a US$13.8 million theft, leaving Nunn Media with US$1.35 million in outstanding invoices.
As he grappled with this liability, Nunn’s appendix burst. From his hospital bed, with a deadline to fix its balance sheet or risk losing its ‘AA’ Media Credit Reference Limited advertising accreditation, Nunn reached out via a mutual friend to Tony Gandel, Managing Director of Gandel Invest and son of businessman and philanthropist John Gandel. The two met and instantly clicked, with Gandel committing to a US$1.35 million investment in return for a minority stake in the business.
From the crisis, positives emerged, in particular the strengthening of the relationship between the two businessmen. That initial support gave Nunn the confidence he needed to pursue the large corporate deals that have since propelled the company forward, and to this day, Gandel continues to be a mentor to Nunn.
Along with working with his clients to solve their marketing problems, Nunn says cultivating a high-performance team is one of the things he loves most about his job.
Culture and treating his people with fairness and respect are guiding principles, as is the focus on investing in them. The business has an internal academy where staff can follow a further learning curriculum consisting of lectures, training and exams. There is also the possibility to undertake exchanges with partner agencies in Germany to learn and implement European digital advertising practices.
For the company’s management, the main focus is to be known as a people’s agency and be recognized for cultivating an environment that offers a continual source of professional development opportunities.
In an industry where the largest players tend to be faceless multinational holding companies, our clients tell us our people-first focus is what sets us apart.
“Our people have always been Nunn Media’s strength,” Nunn says. “I’m proud that, despite our global footprint, we have retained our focus on supporting our people and our clients,” he says. “In an industry where the largest players tend to be faceless multinational holding companies, our clients tell us our people-first focus is what sets us apart.”
He adds that the business has always seen itself as an extension of its client’s business with a deep understanding of the environment in which it operates.
Now with a foothold in the United States, owing to the Alley Group acquisition in 2021, Nunn says that his plans are to pursue large market opportunities there, along with organic and non-organic growth, to further expand Nunn Media’s media buying capabilities.
“Our strategy for acquiring new businesses is first and foremost about expanding our group’s channel capabilities and bringing global industry-leading talent into Nunn Media,” he explains, adding that when he started in advertising, the core advertising channels available to brands were print, television and radio, and that audiences were consuming all three.
“Today, new digital channels are emerging every day, from ad-supported streaming services to the metaverse and augmented reality experiences. It’s our job as Australia’s largest independent media buyer to stay ahead of the curve and continually expand our channel capabilities to enable our clients to advertise where their target audience is.”
The business may keep him busy, but he ensures he keeps time for his other passion – basketball. In November 2022, he became head coach of the Knox Raiders NBL1 men’s basketball team and says his playing and coaching experience has greatly influenced his leadership style.
“As a coach, on-court success comes from building a high-performing team, understanding their chemistry, winning their loyalty, developing the unique strengths of each player and ensuring they are incentivized to put in the effort and work hard. In my role as Managing Director, these principles apply just as much.”
Last year, Nunn launched Building Teams, a weekly podcast where he chats candidly with business and sporting leaders about cultivating strong teams. Guests have included Andrew Mackie, a former Geelong Cats Australian Football League player, and Google’s AUNZ Customer Solutions Managing Director John Ball.