Aegis Lays Out Integration Models, Expands Creative Services

Aegis Group's integration of traditional media services network Carat with interactive advertising unit Carat Fusion in the U.S. is the first in a series of bold experiments the holding company is trying in major markets around the world to find what forms of integration work best when combining, media, digital, and creative services brands. Yes, that's right, creative services have become a key part of the mix being offered by London-based Aegis, which is known as a holding company for media and research operations, but which has quietly begun offering award-winning creative as part of an increasingly full-service offering, said Mainardo de Nardis, CEO of Aegis Media Global.

While interactive shops within Aegis' burgeoning Isobar network - now the largest interactive marketing services group in the world - have long provided creative as part of a full-service digital offering, the integration of the interactive and traditional media shops is blurring the lines not just between analog and digital media, but between what constitutes media and creative services, de Nardis told MediaDailyNews during a chat this week while visiting Carat's North American headquarters in Midtown Manhattan.

To date, most of those creative functions have involved conventional forms of online media - banner ads, rich media, Web site development and creation, and various mobile advertising applications - but the acceleration of online video is leading to more conventional forms of offline advertising, including the creation of the obligatory 30-second TV commercial.

"In theory, we could do :30s," de Nardis, said pointing out that some Aegis media units have in fact already done that. When Aegis developed an integrated campaign last year for client Renault's rollout of its Twingo economy car it included production of conventional TV commercials.

"We did everything for them, including the famous 30-second spot," de Nardis noted. "Is that what we are going to do around the rest of the world? Probably not."

Aegis is not alone. Other media services groups - including some housed within big full-service agency holding companies - have begun providing creative services. Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest Group recently incubated a dedicated creative team called Pixel that is focused on digital creative, but is capable of producing TV commercials and offline media.

Aegis' de Nardis said this is a natural progression for the advertising world, and simply mirrors what's been taking place in the consumer media landscape as the lines separating media platforms begin to blur, and as marketing services agencies strive to provide integrated services across them.

"The consumer will not even know what it is. Why should they know?," asks de Nardis, citing research that consumers don't distinguish between cable, satellite and broadcast TV platforms the way Madison Avenue insiders do, so why, by extension, would they distinguish between TV and online video?

While Aegis does not boast of its creative capabilities, it's been winning some significant industry accolades. Last year, Aegis' Farfar unit in Sweden, won the Cannes Festival's coveted Grand Prix award for digital creative. The blurring will only continue, he said, as Aegis units move into new platforms like mobile, and as they integrate their organizations more seamlessly.

Toward that end, de Nardis laid out Aegis' strategy for testing various forms of integration with MediaDailyNews. Essentially, he said the holding company is testing four models.

The first and most aggressive model is what Aegis began in the U.S. last year by physically merging Carat and Carat Fusion. He described that experiment - dubbed internally as "Carat 2.0" - as a litmus test for the industry to see if such forced integrations can accelerate the process of combining disparate function and cultures rapidly. Carat has been having some growing pains with the new model, but insiders report it is beginning to gel.

A second model, being tested in the U.K., is very similar to the Carat integration, except that creative services are being left outside the integration process and are being offered as standalone services.

In a third model, being tested in France, disparate Aegis services brands will continues to operate each functional discipline autonomously under their own brand, but will report to a centralized management team.

Under a fourth model in smaller markets where Aegis organizations are less sizeable and have less infrastructure, Aegis is simply letting the integration happen naturally by having disparate services reporting up to a single manager who sorts the process out.

"We're testing these. They're all moving in the same direction in two to three years," de Nardis said, noting that the process is both fluid and adjustable, and that Aegis' organizations will evolve over time based on the same central factor: "What our clients want us to do."

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