Birkin Tells Why He Took 70% Stake In RPMC

Michael Birkin

Many agencies try to make digital strategies the most important piece of the campaign, but Michael Birkin believes it's more about building brands like the Olympics and World Cup with a variety of tools. Every campaign should have a digital component, but not digital for the sake of being digital, he says.

Birkin, former vice chairman of Omnicom Group and Omnicom Asia-Pacific CEO, recently took a 70% position in privately held RPMC to bring new blood to the global events company.

Declining to disclose the deal's financial transaction, Birkin says the "sizable" opportunity caught his interest, along with the chance to help companies build their brands. "I was happy at Omnicom and I didn't need another job," he says, on holiday in Italy. "If I wasn't able to take a significant stake, then I probably wouldn't have become involved."

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The deal, which took three months to seal, coincides with RPMC founding partner Murray Schwartz's desire to explore a new direction. Birkin made the investment, in part, based on Schwartz's wishes to put more "power" behind RPMC and build the business into a global powerhouse. Schwartz's commitment to remain involved was also a consideration.

Birkin has spent his career building businesses from scratch or acquiring companies. He clearly has the skills and a reputation to become successful when it's time to broaden RPMC's business. "I have to remain patient and remember I didn't make this investment to just mess about," he says. "It will become a sizable business, but built on solid foundations and not another roll-up."

The plan is to broaden the company's services based on the foundation already in place. RPMC will deliver something Birkin referred to as "brand experiences," while continuing support for events and sponsorships. That direction will also lead Birkin to open an office in Manhattan to augment locations in Los Angeles and London that support clients, such as McDonald's and Budweiser.

When asked about his long-term vision for RPMC, Birkin jokingly says, "I want to rule the world, become the King of England" -- but knows his ambitions are put to better use supporting existing clients, because "it's clear we have a lot of work to do."

About 80% of RPMC's revenue comes from live events, the remainder from online marketing and advertising. "You can't play the World Cup or run 100 meters on the computer," Birkin says. "We have to make sure we understand the way the digital world can impact our support of brands in live events, such as Olympics, World Cup and Formula One."

Birkin believes agencies get it wrong by seeing digital as an end in and of itself. The concept he has always struggled with, and continues to struggle with, is when companies try to support digital campaigns for the sake of being digital.

Most promotions have applications that include an online component when it makes sense. "It's a bit like saying you go to the Sistine Chapel because Michelangelo was a mathematician," he says. "The fact that he was a mathematician and could use that perspective meant that he created a better product. The digital world is no different. It's a question of harnessing what it can do, rather than looking at it as being a digital product. It's almost an oxymoron."

There are "hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions" being spent in the events and experiences business, and RPMC lays claim to a small portion. Birkin doesn't see "great strength" coming from other organizations in the space, and plans to capitalize on that shortfall.

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