European digital agency powerhouse LBi, looking to expand its U.S. footprint, has tapped online ad industry veteran Kate Thorp to head its four-person U.S. board of directors. For Thorp, whose background includes major positions at AKQA, Carat Interactive and Lot21, the appointment means a return to the agency side after five years running the Real Girls Media network, which was sold to Meredith Corp. late last year.
Thorp, based in New York, said she will work closely with Frank Pedersen, chief executive officer of LBi U.S., and Judith Carr, president of LBi U.S., on the expansion plans, which Pedersen termed "very ambitious."
One of the first moves, he told Online Media Daily, will be the opening of a Los Angeles office in the next three months to better serve its current rosters of 15 West Coast-based clients such asNeutrogena, and to expand in the branded entertainment and branded content areas.
Just last month, LBi moved into new U.S. headquarters in New York, a result of last year's merger of IconNicholson and Special Ops Media. LBi owned IconNicholson when it was created in 2006 through the combination of pan-European agency LB Icon with Swedish agency Framfab. A year later, LBi bought Atlanta-based Creative Digital.
The New York and Atlanta offices now have about 250 employees out of LBi's global total of 1800, with the U.S. operation accounting for 19.7% of all net revenues. As part of the parent company's acquisition of UK-baaedmedia agency bigmouthmedia last year, Carlyle Group provided $70 million in financing, with much of it earmarked toward U.S. expansion.
Plans call for both new partnerships and/or acquisitions, Pedersen said.
Thorp, who had taken "personal time to recharge" since the Meredith sale, said she had been looking to join corporate boards but not necessarily get back into the agency business. Then, Pedersen, whom she had worked with at AKQA, brought her into the LBi fold.
Thorp pointed to now having an "enjoyable opportunity to grow a company." It's a company, Pedersen noted, whose key strengths in attracting talent and clients include its status as "one of the few remaining independents," thus giving it a "culture of entrepreneurship."
Thorp said one of the major changes in the agency scene over the five years she's been away has been the increased focus on digital as a "center of excellence...even within the traditional holding companies." But she said that LBi has the same "breadth of services."
Pedersen, noting that both he and Carr had long had a European focus, said one of Thorp's key strengths with LBi will be "looking at our offerings and making them relevant to the U.S. market."
A co-founder of the Internet Advertising Bureau, Thorp founded one of the first digital ad agencies Lot21, which was later acquired by Carat Interactive, where she served as chairman and chief marketing officer. She then went on to AKQA as president of global advertising before founding Real Girls Media in 2006.
LBi has a large presence in the pharma market, Pedersen noted, which has given it special expertise in converging data-driven relationship marketing with campaign planning, which is now paying off in the CPG space as well. In addition to expanding in those areas and the hot areas of social and mobile, Thorp pointed to continued growth in the retail arena, where LBi's U.S. clients include Macy's and where the agency has been aggressive in what Pedersen termed bridging the "physical and digital retail space."
Indeed, just this week LBi and bigmouthmedia released a white paper, "Innovations in Retail," which showed it's approach in this category.
In the paper, Lorenzo Wood, LBi's chief technology officer, applauded two products which themselves might not themselves succeed in the long run, but whose capabilities should prove enduring: Google TV and the Motorola Atrix phone. Wood called Google TV the "dominant design" for connected TV, because "it brings the search bar to TV, it brings the familiar Web to TV, it brings TV qualities to the web." He praised the Atrix, sold by AT&T in the U.S., for its "brilliant" ability to transfer the mobile display to a laptop -- but called it "a stupid device because of the hardware complexity: special hardware, special docks."
Also in the report, Michael Thompson, senior services development manager for bigmouthmedia, warned about the possibility of "digital shoplifting": "the act of going into a physical store but then ordering the products from an online competitor." He said that as a result of mobile and other new technologies, "retailers now need to be able to compete with online retailers, either in terms of price or other benefits, right up to the point of purchase."
And Marcus Mustafa, LBi's global head of user experience, predicted "the death of cash...No more bacteria-ridden coins and notes, fewer trees and minerals being wasted, less weight in the pockets of our already low-hanging jeans, no more bank robberies, less chance that your well-earned cash (that you stash at home) will burn up, and so on. The benefits seem endless. He added, however, that "how this is actually realized and what technology will replace cash is less clear."