Interpublic Group revamping mobile marketing practice across agencies
By Dan Butcher
September 1, 2010
What will become of Ansible?
Interpublic Group of Companies Inc., owner of UM, McCann Worldwide, Initiative, Draftfcb and Mullen, is redefining its mobile marketing practice starting with major surgery on Ansible Mobile.
Rumors have been swirling about the possible dissolution of Ansible, a New York-based mobile marketing ad agency that uses Velti’s proprietary services and mobile marketing technology to work with brands, advertising agencies and content providers in all markets worldwide. But what is fact and what is fiction?
“On a broad level, we’re looking to completely enhance and redefine our mobile marketing practice, and that’s starting with Ansible,” said Joe Benarroch, vice president of global corporate affairs at IPG’s Mediabrands Ventures, New York. “Ansible has our full support and it isn’t going anywhere for the time being, but there is a big task ahead.
“We’re not dissolving it by any means, as mobile is a very important capability for us,” he said. “Velti will still have connections and partnerships [with IPG], but I can’t talk about that right now because they are still being defined.”
IPG is one of the “Big Four” global advertising holding companies. The other three are Omnicom, WPP and Publicis.
Ansible’s fate hanging in the balance
Initiative and UM are IPG’s flagship agencies, offering a full-range of capabilities. Aside from those two, there are 15 specialty services that are more niche in delivery.
IPG combined Ansible Mobile and the 14 other niche agencies to form a group that is overseen by Matt Freeman, CEO of Mediabrands Ventures.
Ansible launched in 2008 as a joint venture between IPG and Velti, but it has apparently not been the cash cow it was expected to be.
And so, with mobile increasingly on brands’ radar and mobile spend growing, a restructuring is in order.
“We’re looking at all of those venture groups, of which Ansible is officially a part under the Mediabrands umbrella,” Mr. Benarroch said. “We’re working across the board to redefine what our mobile capabilities are.
“In some way, shape or form everyone has been touching mobile—for example, Verizon is one of our main clients,” he said.
“Redefinition” of Ansible could involve starting from scratch or tweaking here and there, moving people to other agencies or acquiring a new agency—or simply ramping up each subsidiary’s mobile initiatives.
Only time will tell, as specifics are not yet forthcoming.
“Ansible is part of the conversation about the larger organization,” Mr. Benarroch said. “We’re looking at the talent within the unit and what that means across the globe—what that means in different regions.
“We have a range of structures we’re considering, from joint ventures and new acquisitions to building the capabilities from scratch,” he said. “Mediabrands is pursuing a full-scale business plan to broaden its mobile capabilities.”
While the details are still a bit fuzzy, it is clear that Ansible Mobile will no longer operate as it once did. It will likely serve as a lesson of “dos and don’ts” as Mediabrands formulates its global mobile strategy.
“Ansible was a whitepaper capability,” Mr. Benarroch said. “Many people were able to use the Ansible business model, and we’re changing that.
“Ansible now is becoming a part of the Mediabrands structure, which is looking at formulating a more global mobile practice,” he said. “We’re working to elevate our mobile capabilities to give us a pass forward.”
Ideal agency structure?
IPG’s restructuring leads to questions about how ad agencies should approach mobile to best meet the needs of their clients.
Should a dedicated mobile agency handle the mobile components of each brand client’s campaign?
Should each individual agency under the larger holding company umbrella have its own mobile team?
Or should each and every member of an ad agency be trained to handle a brand’s mobile needs, whatever they may be?
While those questions are open to debate, executives and analysts alike agree that mobile should be integrated into a brand’s overall strategy.
How IPG subsidiaries go about that task is another question altogether.
“Maybe they don’t feel like they have to have a mobile-specific brand like Ansible,” said Neil Strother, Kirkland, WA-based practice director at ABI Research. “As mobile becomes more important and integrated with other spending, maybe they’re going to combine mobile with their other digital capabilities so mobile doesn’t stand alone.
“There can be mobile-only campaigns, but it is not always a separate practice,” he said. “Do mobile as part of everything you do.
“Brands that have been doing this for a while realize that mobile is not as effective as a stand-alone—it’s more effective when integrated into an overall strategy.”
Mobile Marketer's Dan Butcher interviewed Paul Gelb, director and mobile practice lead at Razorfish, New York. Here are his ideas for how an agency should be structured:
Under optimal circumstances, there is no doubt in my mind that an agency should fully integrate mobile into everything that they do.
In the abstract, there is an enormous amount of support for this approach, including:
• Mobile is unique in that it is not just a channel, but also a connective tissue for all consumer touchpoints.
We have consistently found that consumers that engage with our brand across multiple channels, including mobile, the LTV and average expenditure are significantly higher.
If mobile is a consumer touch hub, it would be somewhat counterintuitive to separate it from the efforts of engagement at the other touch points.
• Often it is harder to sell a relatively new opportunity internally at an agency than to a client.
If mobile is put in a silo outside of an organization, it will become infinitely harder to sell the owners of client relationships on mobile to get access to an account.
When someone on an account team feels like they have ownership of integrating mobile into current initiatives, adoption is exponentially faster than when the impetus comes from external pressure.
• Morgan Stanley Smith Barney declared in their “Mobile Internet Report” that mobile is the next evolution of computing.
Each day, new user data and ground breaking announcements by tech giants, publishers and brands seem to make that statement more prophetic.
Since it took all of these disciplines, which currently exist at digital agencies, to deliver on the promise of the Internet than mobile will logically require most of them as well.
However, I do not believe in points of view that are based upon black-and-white assessments or abstract circumstances.
In reality, many agencies cannot create the ideal organizational structure for mobile. Razorfish is relatively unique, due to its culture and specialized talent.
Building up a large pool of mobile expertise throughout each discipline and account team is not an easy endeavor.
Mobile is one of the hardest things to execute successfully due to several new unique variables and talent requirements.
Even if desired, fundamentally changing an organization’s talent pool or institutional structure is often an enormous and insurmountable challenge.
Despite the realities, obtaining mobile execution capabilities is increasingly becoming the highest priority for agencies. Almost every request from or proposal for our client has a mobile component.
To compete in a decade that I believe will be characterized by mobile’s place as the battleground for consumers, agencies must obtain this expertise or they will lose out to competitors.
Increasingly, agencies are acknowledging the enormous growth potential of mobile and have found a suitable path for leveraging an external mobile specialist. For these agencies, this approach is easier and ideal for their organization.
Larry Harris, CEO of Ansible Mobile
Related content: Advertising agencies, Ansible, Ansible Mobile, Interpublic Group, IPG, Neil Strother, ABI Research, Interpublic Group of Companies, Mediabrand Ventures, Joe Benarroch, Ansible, UM, McCann Worldwide, Initiative, Draftfcb, Mullen, Velti, mobile marketing, ad agencies, mobile
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