Pixel, which has quietly been incubated under the wing of SMG's Starcom unit, began four years ago by offering banner ads and Web design services, but has expanded to a team of 20 that will become and integral part of SMG's offering. The move comes as parent Publicis is rethinking the roles of creative, media and other advertising services across its operations, including a new "open architecture" model for flagship agency Leo Burnett that has it more closely aligned with SMG and interactive agency Digitas in an organization that reports up to Publicis' chief media officer, Jack Klues, chairman of Publicis Groupe Media.
The move also comes as other media agencies are recognizing the need for a creative function. Horizon Media last week established a "director of creative media solutions" post, and other media shops have begun quietly offering tacit creative services via their branded entertainment and interactive operations. But until recently, most media agencies aligned with a major agency holding company have been loath to utter the "C" word for fear of antagonizing sister brand agencies in their organizations.
"I see our move into creative as really just another move into being a cross-boundary organization," says Laura Desmond, the CEO of SMG, The Americas, who is the architect of the new organization, which is an outgrowth of an "Agency of the Future" initiative she launched at SMG early this year. "We absolutely believe that creative has to be a core competency of the agency of the future."
Desmond says Pixel's creative focus initially will remain in the areas where it already has developed a core competency, such as online advertising, and exploiting new digital media platforms such as mobile and digital TV set-top applications, but that it is conceivable that over time it might migrate into more traditional forms of creative advertising. But the focus that will differentiate its services, she says, is that it will remain creative that is driven from a media organization's perspective vs. the classic Madison Avenue model of creative shops that drove media strategies.
"What I would like to do is make sure we build our core competencies in these areas first, because these are areas where traditional agencies have struggled most," she said referring to digital creative services, which also happen to be the fastest growing and highest demand area on Madison Avenue.
Under the new organization, Pixel will continue to report up through Jeff Marshall, senior vice president-digital managing director of Starcom USA. Marshall agrees that Pixel's focus will be primarily online and "third screen" applications, but that it will evolve over time based on the needs of clients and other components of the SMG organization.
One key area of growth, both he and Desmond say, will be in the area of media design, which includes the design of media interfaces and an understanding of consumer usability of media that can lead to successful brand experiences. Recently, WPP's GroupM unit acquired Schematic, a leading media design firm to develop a similar path.