The Challenge For Advertising Holding Companies That Buy Their Way Into Digital

AdAge examined how big advertising holding companies have been trying to catch up by buying their way into digital. The titans’ proverbial canned quotes: 

Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy’s comment last December: “Digital is becoming the core marketing tool. … It is, and we should have no doubt about this, a fundamental and irreversible evolution.”

Or this, from Mark Read, CEO of WPP Digital, on his definition of success: “We’ll be successful when we won’t need to exist anymore. Particularly in five years’ time, the boundaries of what’s digital and what’s not will be irrelevant.”

The key question in these big acquisitions is: Will digital companies maintain their leadership, innovation and speed as they’re gobbled up entirely, or invested in, by holding companies which still have attention, priorities and liabilities vested in the inertia of legacy “non-digital” businesses?

Sure, milking the cow while investing in the future is always tough. But any integration should be approached conservatively, to let success propagate without too much interference or distraction. Secondly, the heads of the digital agencies should have direct-report relationships with the holding-company heads, so priorities of the future, not the present and past, are attended to. Thirdly, many smaller digital-service shops have innovated precisely because of a commitment to R&D and experimentation – typically not the modus operandi of big holding companies. They should consider that.

It will be interesting to see how all these acquisitions play out over the next five years.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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