Size or Specialization?

The Publicis Omnicom Group is a big, front-page, mega deal. Surely you have read about the massive merger of equals that transforms the ad world (or at least on the global conglomerate side of the neighborhood)? If you haven’t, read this article.

So why would they bet the farm on this strategy that more is more?

It’s about leveling the playing field with those West Coast tech nerds, right? Monetizing big data? Creating the “marketing stack” to rival the holding company model? The Netherlands are nice in the spring but with over 130,000 employees how do you do what ad agencies originally set out to do? What does this have to do with email marketing?

Email marketing, as the mature and resilient channel that it is, doesn’t have to be threatened by every move in the marketing world, but it just is. That is part of the underdog feeling that email marketers thrive on. So it would be easy to dismiss this merger as irrelevant under the headline of “Too Big to Care.” However, that would be shortsighted. Here are some questions to ask and trends to monitor:

  • Email is the number one driver of sales at my company – do I go big now or go specialized? The mega holding companies surely can offer up a menu of all sorts of firms, and I bet they all have nice lobbies. The smaller, nimbler niche agencies that focus on one or two areas of digital are either going to look like an even better fit for a hungry brand or feel very isolated. You have to decide what is important to your firm and what kind of partner you are seeking.
  • Speaking of fit, where does email fit in now at my agency? If an ad agency has a hand in managing your email program you may need to pause and see how this is impacted. Email is a hyper-specialized discipline with parts of the machine that don’t intuitively jive (think deliverability and content development or segmentation and creative). Big shops should have the arsenal of talent to make email sing for their clients, right? The reality is most generalist agencies (big and small) don’t care about email – that is reflected by the limited focus, experience, and sometimes ability to make a buck building an email practice. If you think the wobbling drunkard model is for you, by all means proceed accordingly. But you have to have a gut check on this at a minimum.
  • A new parent company just adds more resources, right? Your email partner may have a new parent company now. And another parent to that former parent. It’s more confusing than Thanksgiving at your stepmother’s half-brother’s house. Bureaucracy and cost savings will battle efficiencies and shared resources. If you feel email already gets slim pickings in the agency lineup, dig deeper here.
  • Will creativity rise to the top or be stifled? That has been the calling card for any type of agency. The Don Drapers of the world have always been the stars in the ad game. Less so in the digital world, but how forward-thinking and innovative marketing ideas are born and brought to the client is a key part of the agency relationship. This is something equally important in the email world, where fighting through the clutter of the inbox matters as much as breaking through prime TV commercials.
  • Talent and client diaspora – massive mergers always have immediate victims (or winners some may say). In this case restless employees who already were feeling stale will seek a better fit. Clients will be poached and proactively leave, not looking to be less of a priority or where conflicts are (with Coke and Pepsi now under the same roof you can guarantee there are teams and war rooms at other shops plotting out their strategies to obtain one of the beverage giants). On the email front, this could be a great opportunity for many to leverage different experiences in new circumstances. Email also has to make sure it doesn’t lose more of its top talent to a newer and shinier digital toy as it has done to a certain degree since the arrival of social.

Ultimately each brand looking for email expertise, passion, and ROI will make the decision that’s best for them. As the CEO of the largest email agency in the U.S., I obviously have a dog in this race, but the trend over the past two to three years has been significant. Email’s business impact is only gaining steam and most brands looking to elevate their email program know they need to augment their program with a best-of-breed partner. Not many have the resources in-house or get the full support from an ESP that is required for a top-notch email program.

Still don’t think this merger crosses the email chasm? I’ll leave you with this quote from new Publicis Omnicom Co-CEO Maurice Levy:

“…data that we have to crunch down in order to go down to very small segments or clusters of the population to deliver some single messages to very small groups of individuals.”

Sounds a lot like email marketing, right?

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