Michael Nettlefold is a leader in outdoor advertising, a man with advertising in his blood and a natural born salesman.
Michael Nettlefold has advertising in his blood. As an 18-year-old, Michael worked from the back of a company van, climbing ladders and slathering posters with paste to make sure his dad’s advertising sites across Melbourne were up to date and generating revenue for the family company.
His father, David, is regarded by many as Australian advertising royalty. “Dad’s been in the industry since he was very young as well,” says Michael, who strayed from advertising for a while to become an AFL player with St Kilda – and, later, the club’s CEO – before coming back to the family fold.
“Recently Dad was inducted into the advertising hall of fame. He’s the only outdoor advertising executive that’s had that bestowed upon them. Dad’s effectively been the pioneer of the Australian advertising industry as we know it today, but back in my early days when I was 18 it was a poster business and today it’s a massive digital industry, with digital media.”
Indeed, the industry in Australia has blossomed from a value of $550 million a year in 2013 to today being worth more than $1 billion annually. That rise has been driven by the explosion of digital advertising that is now on display along the streets of our cities, at our airports and railway stations, as well as internationally.
Michael played a significant role in the development of the outdoor advertising industry, and he was among the first entrepreneurs to bring outdoor advertising to airports in Australia.
“We built a company initially called iCorp which we sold to the Ten Network in 2000. It was a significant transaction and part of our portfolio of assets was a couple of business units we developed. One was the shopping mall advertising business and we used to call it iShop. We built 1500 advertising displays in Westfields and shopping malls right across Australia and New Zealand.
“We bought the rights to all internal and external advertising signs right across the Australian airports and I think when we first brought that line its revenue was $2 million or so. In the first year, we turned that into $10 million. Now, advertising inside and outside airports across Australia would get $250-$300 million in revenue.”
Michael says that survival in the advertising game is about trusting your gut instinct and being passionate. “You develop an instinct for the business over a period of time,” Michael says. “I still have coffee with my father once a week and he’s 88 years of age. He’s always saying to me, ‘Have you had a look at that site?’, ‘Have you seen that new audience come through there?’, ‘If you raise the billboard a metre higher it’d look better.’
“That’s all about gut instinct and passion for the business. You’ve got to have the instinct. You’ve got to have the gut feel. But also balance the commercial risks with the instincts you develop.”
Michael, now 61, says anyone looking to start their own business today needs to believe in themselves.
“You need to be brave,” he says. “You need to back yourself. You need to be prepared to take the risk and you need to work pretty hard. Everybody works hard but you need to work exceptionally hard because you have a lot of challenges along the way.
“It takes a lot of time and effort and a lot of sleepless nights. You’ve got to be prepared to look at the ceiling at three o’clock in the night and think, what is tomorrow going to bring for me? You’ve got to be prepared to be resilient, weather the storm, dust yourself off, get up in the morning, go for a run and approach it the next day.”