Holding Company: GroupM

Industry behemoth, GroupM redefines privacy debate

OMMA hasn’t usually named an Agency of the Year in the holding company category, but for GroupM, which pushed the definition of industry leadership to new levels, we felt compelled to make an exception. That’s because GroupM went to Washington to take on the privacy debate, which affects just about every company operating online these days.

Privacy is one of the most complex but also one of the most important issues in the digital advertising business, and as such warrants a high degree of insight and attention. This past year the holding company worked with industry groups like the 4A’s and the iab to establish guidelines and self-regulatory measures regarding online privacy. Those efforts have included the creation and rollout of an opt-out symbol in many online ads, and sending John Montgomery, chief operating officer of GroupM Interaction and the chair of the 4A’s privacy committee, to testify before Congress on the measures the industry had taken to inform consumers about behavioral targeting and how to opt out of it in some online ads.

“I’m thrilled from a leadership point of view that we have taken on the privacy debate and allocated the strongest resources,” says Rob Norman, GroupM North American CEO. GroupM has also adopted mobile privacy guidelines to limit the data collected and shared from mobile devices and also to give mobile users the means to opt out of data sharing.

GroupM has been vocal about piracy, too, Norman says, including the adoption of a new buying policy to prevent its clients’ ads from appearing on Web sites that support piracy.

“GroupM never hesitates when asked to take a leadership role in any issue — from privacy to piracy to talent management,” says Nancy Hill, president/CEO of 4A’s. “Their prowess in this space has been infused throughout the organization from the very top down.”

Of course, all of this industry work would be hot air if it weren’t for the kind of strategic vision and innovation that also translates to outstanding work for clients, and the ability to win new business. This year, GroupM did land big new accounts, with household products maker SC Johnson and Comcast-NBCU.

But what Norman is particularly proud of is GroupM’s reboot of its media agency, Maxus, which had often been regarded as a distant fourth option behind GroupM’s MediaCom, MEC and Mindshare. “We turned Maxus into a serious media agency rather than just our fourth brand,” he says, citing the new client wins in NBCU and SC Johnson that bring more than $2 billion in new spending to Maxus.

The Maxus wins can also help elevate Maxus beyond the perception that it’s simply a “conflict-free” shop where GroupM accounts get parked if other shops are working with rival marketers. GroupM also infused new leadership at Mindshare North America, GroupM Entertainment and MEC this year.

And while it handles 33 percent of the world’s media billings — about $74 billion — the company is just as happy to brag about individual campaigns from its agencies as it is about industry issues. Standout campaign work in 2011 includes the Mediacom-led Superbowl ad for vw on YouTube, as well as the social media work Mindshare has done with American Express for Small Business Saturday. But Norman also says he’s pleased with the analytic work GroupM implemented for Panera Bread to help the marketer better understand the allocation of marketing dollars. “The guts of our business is about allocation, optimization and attribution,” he says, “and making sure we are a big part of solving problems for our customers in those areas.” 

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