Marketing Powerhouse: Meridian’s Michael Healy

On the back of the 2020 TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards, NZ Marketing chats to Michael Healy, CMO at Meridian Energy about what it takes to be an award-winning marketer, his work at the energy provider and how brands can better connect with Kiwis.

A widely awarded Marketer, Michael Healy began his brand-building career in NZ agencies – DDB and then Saatchi & Saatchi. There he gained invaluable experience across a number of categories with Mobil, Cadbury, Westpac, Telecom and its transformation to Spark.

In 2012 he moved into client marketing as Senior Brand Manager for Westpac NZ before moving to Australia with Westpac as Head of Brand and Marketing for BankSA. His portfolio was later extended to Head of Sponsorship, Events, Agencies, Digital Media, Social Media and PR – while still looking after BankSA.

Michael Healy

Healy has been Chief Marketing Officer at Meridian Energy since 2018. When it comes to commercial results, his peers say he is one of the best in New Zealand. He’s proven himself to be an outstanding leader in brand-building and marketing for value growth in New Zealand and Australia, across Power, Financial services, Telco and FMCG categories.

In February 2020, he was identified by Mark Ritson as one of New Zealand’s most effective marketers and for using evidence-based principles of brand building to drive sustainable growth.

Here’s some insight from the 2020 Marketer of the Year Finalist:

What do you think it takes to be an award-winning marketer?

I think really there are three key ingredients. Firstly, I think great marketers are deeply curious about how people behave, how they think, and how you can influence those behaviours to advantage your brand. Next, I think all that curiosity is wasted if you can’t translate that knowledge into a strong commercial argument that wins the support of the business.  hen it just comes down to courage. Do you have the courage in your conviction to buy the bold idea, stand strong in the face of critique, and take the level of risk required to really make an impact in your market.  If you have those three things (curiosity, commerciality and courage) then I think you can achieve anything in business.

Oh, and let’s start treating our partners like partners instead of slaves – if you’re making someone cry over a poster for a $2 product maybe you’re doing it wrong?

If our partners don’t feel safe presenting big ideas, a marketer’s life is a damn sight more difficult (and less interesting).

What has been your most significant achievement in marketing?

I got into the business because I love big ideas, but then got put to work on a bunch of retail and performance clients early on – so I’ll never forget the day I was made redundant and had some genuine creative work featured as an ad of the month in Ad Media for the first time. There’s been lots of amazing moments like that.  

But really, all the things I’d class as significant achievements have been things that someone in the team has done that I’ve had the privilege of helping along.  Whether that’s helping people who trained in other things falling in love with marketing, seeing people winning their first industry awards, helping amazing people get bigger jobs, or just being used as a confidant or mentor for much more mundane stuff.  For me that’s all part of a core belief – that my job is to create an environment where our people can have fun, while doing the best work of their careers.  Business is full of amazing people and if you put them first and create that environment, amazing things tend to happen.

That said, if I had to pick something personally, getting to hand over an additional $1m cheque to our partners at KidsCan during Covid-19 was pretty special… to have the business back an idea like that, to really do good for some many Kiwi kids, was incredible.

What are some of the biggest challenges you as a marketer are currently faced with?

From my perspective we’ve built amazing talent at Meridian, have incredible Executive and Board support, and are in all the right conversations, so personally I think we’re well set – we just need to maintain.

More broadly in marketing I think the biggest challenge is in building the right capability in marketers coming through. To my mind we’ve overcomplicated this whole marketing thing with technology, channels, meaningless metrics, methodologies, ideologies and bullsh*t (if I can say that?). I thought advertising was complicated when I started, now marketing is a minefield.  The reality though is that people and behaviours haven’t changed much, it’s just the ways in which you can reach them that have… so the core principles of marketing hold.  We really need to invest in making sure marketers are well trained, capable and commercial and then everything else follows.  That’s why at Meridian we’ve put over 40 people through a miniMBA now – if you work in (or with) Meridian’s marketing team, you know your fundamentals… I think that’s a big part of our success this year.

What do you think gives Meridian the ability to be so creative?

Frankly it’s all about the people.

We’ve got people in this team who wake up wanting to do the best work of their careers and they consistently do – this team works through walls to make things happen and basically never takes no for an answer.  Beyond our team we’ve got a business that loves what we’re doing, and a Board and Executive who sees marketing as a group of experts and lets us do what we do.  Make no mistake, there’s risk papers, board papers, responses, memos and budget requests – but people make all that stuff (and the great work) happen.

If I’m honest, you also need a couple of fire starters who are willing to really blow some stuff up… we’ve got a couple of those too.

What has been one of your favourite Meridian campaigns and why?

Pwhoar – this is like asking me to choose a favourite child – across our team there’s been some amazing work.  Many are finalists this year, others are just cool things we did that we didn’t enter, and we’ve got some even cooler stuff in the pipeline that we can’t talk about. If pushed to pick a couple then I’d say the TV show AMPED that we made with MediaWorks was pretty special – the team across all our partners and MediaWorks came together in the space of a couple of days to pull that together and we were live before everyone started running cookie cutter ads about ‘we’re together even though we’re apart’.  Even better, it was a response to a shifting media environment from lockdown rather than a marketing vanity project, and it really supported the brand through Covid-19.  

Certified renewable energy is also pretty amazing given that we had to push really hard to get it done, drove it all from the marketing department, and sales are incredibly encouraging at this stage. But we also did a beer collaboration, made some of NZ’s most loved ads, rebranded NZ’s largest listed company, made some pretty incredible use of new technology, and had an incredible year for business performance.
Sorry, I love all our kids equally… it’s been a pretty special year. 

Why is marketing important in connect Kiwis to a brand and its commitments? 

It may be an unpopular answer, but I believe our first job as marketers is to help a brand grow beyond what it could achieve organically.

In most categories the brand is the biggest asset any business has, so locally it’s unnerving how few actually have brand equity on the balance sheet.  Quite simply, if you grow brand equity you improve pricing power, acquisition and tenure (or AWOP, same store sales, share of wallet etc) for the business you’re working for.  Connecting Kiwis to your brand is essential for that to work – but it’s definitely not one size fits all.  In fact I think the best marketers are those who can pop up in any category and get a great result for their employer – I’m working hard to prove that’s possible.

Where do you see your career headed in the next 5-10 years?

Great question – I’ve no idea and little inclination to spend too much time worrying about it because I love this industry and it’s looked after me pretty well so far.

That said, I have three guiding principles for any future opportunity:   Will there be a great team?  Does the business (know they) need bold ideas?  Will we get to release big ideas on the world?

Ultimately, I’d like to do that from a CEO seat… not just to have a flash title on a business card, but because your ability to affect those three things is greatest from that position.

To read the profiles of all the winners from the TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards 2020, get a copy of our Awards Issue, here.

Courtney Devereux

About Courtney Devereux

Courtney Devereux is former Editor of and Senior Account Manager for a global design agency in London.

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