Two of the most powerful figures in media buying both globally and in Australia subject themselves to the brilliant glare of B&T’s TV lense, well iPhone in cinematic mode at least.
When WPP, and GroupM more specifically, announced on 26 April 2022 that it would be merging two of its agencies – Essence and Mediacom – GroupM boss Christian Juhl said: “The fusion of Essence’s measurement and data-driven DNA with MediaCom’s scale and strategic expertise creates something truly unique in the marketplace. Alongside Mindshare, Wavemaker, and mSix&Partners, the launch of EssenceMediacom ensures we have the solutions and thinking to meet the needs of every brand and marketer seeking to grow their business in the new economy. I’m personally excited to see the way EssenceMediacom’s commitment to creating breakthroughs will change expectations for what’s possible in business, culture, and marketing and produce enormous value for our clients.”
And while most in adland talk a good game, Juhl was not exaggerating when making the case for what a big deal the merger was. With close to 10,000 staff across 120 offices around the world and annual media billings in the vicinity of US$21 ($31) billion, EssenceMediacom is close to if not the biggest media agency in the world.
Its global client roster includes adidas, Bayer, Dell, Google, Mars, NBCUniversal, PlayStation, Procter & Gamble, The Coca-Cola Company and Uber.
Despite making the announcement all the way back in April last year, the newly merged entity only officially came into being on 31 January 2023. So, it was quite the honour for Australia to host its global CEO Nick Lawson last week.
While the merger is now bound in holy matrimony, like many relationships it started with some very casual hookups. Lawson, the former global CEO of Mediacom, told B&T his agency started working with Essence on its successful Google pitch.
“We started working with Essence on a few projects. And I think those projects were the consolidation of Google, we also retained the Mars business globally with them. So, we partnered with them well before. Plus, we also shared a mutual client in NBC Universal, which is a global relationship. So, I think over that one-year period we became really close. We really honed the proposition when we were consolidating those projects . . . that’s where the genesis of the merger came.”
While the casual partnership was good, it was only when Kyoko Matsushita, formerly CEO of Essence, accepted the offer to head up WPP’s operations in her home country Japan, that talk of the merger turned serious says Lawson.
“We talked with various clients about whether the fit was good globally, and we had a great global fit. So, the idea really was born from there. Then, of course, you’ve got to put two agencies together. I think we made some good calls early on: we announced leadership fairly quickly,” Lawsom explained.
Aimee Buchanan, GroupM CEO locally said it only took six weeks to bring the Australian leadership team together and that was because the merger was unique in that it was a merger of capability rather than consolidation or convenience.
“The thing that has stood out to me in this process, having looked across the industry with a lot of mergers is it’s often a merger for size, for cost, for convenience. This is a merger of capabilities. And that, to me, is the distinguishing point, and why it’s a benefit to clients. It’s about bringing complementary skill sets to serve as a client into the future. And I think that is very unique. I’ve never seen that in my career,” she said.
Lawson also thought it was unique in terms of its scale.
“Nothing on this scale has been done globally before, under a single agency brand. Taking a digital-first tech company with performance capability on a global scale, with a company like Mediacom, which has built a global network over two decades. Put together I don’t I can’t think of a single merger done anywhere ever. So, it’s real first.”
Has Pitching Had Its Day?
Barely a day goes past when someone doesn’t boldly declare the pitch process to be dead. Or something that their agency will no longer take part in. Talk to an agency the size of EssenceMediacom, or GroupM for that matter, and you quickly realise this is just a bunch of hogwash, that’s not to say they don’t think it could be better. Buchanan for one believes the process has improved.
“I don’t know if it was COVID. That drove it because I think pitching virtually automatically made it more succinct. You went from three, two-hour meetings to sort of a lot, a lot shorter, more brief interaction. But I do get a sense that off the back of talent shortages that we’ve had over the past 18 months in the industry, that clients are truncating the process and getting a little bit more explicit in what they want generally, and we’re seeing that manifests itself in, you know, maybe it’s not an expression of interest and an RFP, and it’s one or the other one brief.
“I’d encourage clients to be very deliberate in that. You shouldn’t need three briefs to test out whether you’re the right agency or not like, one would be enough to get that answer. And if it’s not that, I would question whether you’re clear on what you’re trying to get out of that process. But I’ve definitely felt it’s improved in terms of the requirements in every pitch. They’re not, some are worse than others. But overall, I think it’s gotten a lot better,” she said.
Lawson believed the pitch process was a catalyst for brilliance within an agency.
“I think agencies come alive, in pitches. That is because they’re kind of pioneering and inventing, right at that moment to try and win that business. Agencies by their nature are really competitive … you’re not in an agency if you’re not competitive,” said Lawson.
To this, Buchanan added that an agency was also at its best whenever it was innovating.
“We tend to focus a lot on the pitch and it is the lifeblood of an agency. And it is the moment where you see an agency come alive and the drive and the adrenaline. But you also see that I think in the big client reinventions or massive briefs that you get. We’re working on something in the building, at the moment, I can see the agency, it’s an existing client, but it’s a brief that will transform their category. And there are walls of stuff. And so I think pitching represents the best of what we do, as an industry. But it does exist in other facets. And I hate for us to ignore that we do incredible work on our existing clients day-in and day-out,” said Buchanan.
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