Media Agency Holding Company of the Year: Dentsu Aegis Network

In a year when many of Madison Avenue’s top holding companies seemed to retrench -- backing off innovation and visionary industry leadership to protect their flanks amid disruptive forces, including calls for greater “transparency” -- Dentsu Aegis Network continued to muscle forward by doing what agencies do best: servicing their clients.

For reasons similar to those that led to the company’s recognition in 2016, MediaPost has again selected Dentsu Aegis Network as its holding company of the year for 2017.

We based our decision largely on a “sum of the parts” rationale: All of Dentsu’s cylinders were firing, and innovating on transformative strategies already set in place in 2016, including the acquisition and integration of Merkle, Accordant and Gyro, and the integration of Vizeum with 360i.

While those strategies were largely put in place during the reign of U.S. CEO Rob Horler, who stepped down in June to pursue other interests, it was followed by the appointment of a long-time Madison Avenue leader known for equally visionary approaches: Nick Brien,

Weeks after Horler’s departure, the holding company announced Brien was taking the helm of Dentsu Aegis Network Americas and U.S., moving from Hearst, where he was global CEO of iCrossing and president of Hearst magazines. While Brien has yet to put his stamp publicly on the organization, his appointment was greeted with much anticipation.

On his appointment, he signaled as much, stating, “The future of Dentsu Aegis’ business is founded on the new marketing world where marketing is planned around people, and not just product. Bolstered by strategic acquisitions, including Merkle, and in the context of a transforming digital economy, Dentsu Aegis is at the forefront of this shift in our industry to people-based marketing.”

Meanwhile, each of Dentsu Aegis Network’s operating units continued to excel during 2017, including Merkle, which leveraged its consumer data insights beyond its conventional client service approach, rolling it up into one unified, census-level database dubbed “M1.”

The so-called “people-based insights, planning, activation and measurement platform” is the central repository of vast sums of consumer identity and behavior data that Dentsu Aegis Network is integrating across all of its clients and agency operating units. M1, for example, now informs programmatic media buys and audience targeting in both its free-standing Accordant unit, as well as its internal Amnet teams.

The M1 platform also became the centerpiece of Merkle’s push into the supply side, supporting the rollout of the Publisher Addressable Marketplace, (PAM) which enables digital publishers to leverage Merkle’s consumer targeting database to extend their reach and create new forms of monetization for advertisers trying to target similar audiences. The strategy, in turn, enables Merkle to roll up even more consumer data insights by incorporating participating publisher’s user data into the M1 database, creating a win/win for both the supply and demand sides of Merkle’s marketplace.

The company describes it as a “two-way, cookie-less ID sync between M1 and media owners.” That enables publishers and advertisers to target and measure the results based on “known people.”

Utilizing its user identity matching and authentication methods, the company claims it now reaches more than 225 million known users.

Meanwhile, digital flagship 360i continued pushing the envelope of innovation, especially at applying new technology, platforms and methods of communicating and influencing consumers.

Last fall, the agency reportedly became the first to establish dedicated practice based on marketing through Amazon, which many expect to be as disruptive and dominant a force for advertising in the next few years as Google and Facebook have been in recent years.

360i chief Sarah Hofstetter characterizes the practice as “foundational” in the same way 360i’s early forays into search, social and ultimately into all forms digital were.

“Search is all about discovery. Social is all about the support. Amazon is the ‘everything store,’” she explained, adding that it was imperative for the agency to bring in outside talent steeped in e-commerce experience to staff the new unit. “Otherwise, we’d have a blind spot.”

Similarly, 360i is evolving a voice team from its core search marketing specialists team, so it can more effectively deal with current and next generations of voice-activated digital assistants.

In a year in which many holding companies appeared to pause and hold their breath, Dentsu Aegis Network continues to innovate and lead the industry by doing what it does best: provide the support, resources and infrastructure enabling its best-in-class companies do what they do best.

“There is a need for a new level of expertise from agency groups, taking a consultative approach to drive new streams of revenue and value to our clients’ businesses and brands. This new role will enable us to work even closer with clients in the transition to a demand-led digital economy,” Dentsu Aegis Network Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer Nigel Morris stated in June, transitioning his acting role as head of the Americas over to Brien.

“The innovation agenda is central to our vision at Dentsu Aegis,” he continued, adding, “My mission will be to harness our innovation leadership and leverage the wealth of capability, expertise and talent across our whole organisation to lead the shift required to make marketing the most valuable business discipline for our clients.”

He concluded: “As much as is possible we want to ensure the positive impacts of the digital economy are far-reaching — for our clients and for everyone.”

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