Victoria Makutu | The Innovator 25 Asia-Pacific 2021

Victoria Makutu


Blackout Media Limited


"Stop only having white people in the room"

Vicki Makutu had success with the first purely ‘digital’ te reo-focused online series Hahana in 2014/15, and Blackout Media was formed to expand on this success. The company produces content focused on New Zealand's indigenous Māori people, with a particular focus on reaching young Māori who feel disenfranchised from their culture, making it clear to them that te reo (the Maori language) is their birthright too. In six years, Blackout Media has grown from small beginnings to having a turnover north of NZ$1m for each of the past two financial years. Vicki Makutu has become a sought after producer and mentor and also steered the company through Covid. Makutu, her family, and her two onscreen talent, agreed to share a bubble for the initial Covid lockdown, allowing Blackout Media to continue producing content during a difficult period.

How do you define innovation?
Doing things different to the norm. Thinking outside the box. Experimenting. And successful innovation is an experiment which is worth repeating.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
While the advertising jingle is as old as the Pepsi/Coke wars, I’ve been impressed with the number of songs released for the vaccine campaign which are obviously meant to be taken up and spread by the TikTok generation. They haven’t all been successful, but when they have it has been viral marketing at its most cost-effective. See as examples:
up &

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
I believe the hype: — New Zealanders Ben Guerin and Sean Topham, really do understand how to create memes that work. In 2020 and 2021 they were a force for good in the fight against Covid with their simple memes used in New Zealand, then Australia and finally the UK. Their NHS 'Stay Home Save Lives' campaign won all the awards. But the simply consistent yellow striped branding of the NZ Government Covid messages have been behind the low death rates in NZ (still fewer than 30 deaths in 18 months, for a country of 5.5million). Proving that clear branding backed by a thought-out PR campaign can save lives.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative'
I was lucky enough to be the first professionally funded producer of Māori language content for Facebook, and was able to build a substantial audience in NZ and Australia. But the moment which I think was the most innovative in my career was when I switched to delivering for TikTok first in 2019. If I hadn’t made that call at that time I would have lost my connection to the youth audience. Given that the average age of the Māori ethnic group is 23, losing the youth audience means losing the entire demographic.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
Dan Price. CEO of Gravity Payments. He came under fire when he cut his pay by $1million and put all his staff on $70,000 minimum in 2015. But now, six years on the innovation has proved itself to have been great longterm thinking. His company has bounced back from the pandemic, is more productive than ever. At its heart this “innovation” is simple. Treat everyone you work with as human beings deserving of respect and a good life, and they will repay you by doing their jobs well.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
Put the youngest person on the team in charge of what we’re doing for a while... and just focus on supporting them to do the job well. I learn things, they learn things, we all win.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
To not only make content that works just for Baby Boomers and half of Gen X. Those companies are going to die in the next decade unless they shift their media plans to be focused on Gen Y, Z and younger. And stop only having white people in the room. Diversity of age, ethnicity, gender, and physical abilities isn’t a politically correct thing anymore.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
Editing television. That was what I did for the first decade of my career, and I was good at it. But it’s disheartening to spend your working life focused on something which claims to be aimed at all, but none of your peers are engaging with.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through this year or provided inspiration?
Squid Game.

What's your favourite time of day and why?
After 9pm. My kids are in bed and I can focus 100% on any tricky problems which have cropped up during the day. I pride myself in being able to take an concept from idea to release within 24 hours... and I think that my kids help slow me down enough to ensure that even when I’m rushing I’ve had some time to think about the concept before I finalise anything.