The “venture” arms of agencies come in a rainbow of colors, ranging from scrappy regional incubators to deep-pocketed holding companies. The former may provide office space and advisory services in trade for a few points of equity in an early-phase startup. The latter can generate market swaying deals such as IPG’s 2006 stake in Facebook, half of which it hawked earlier this month for an estimated $133 million.
Somewhere in between is Vivaki Ventures, the five-year-old investment and strategic partnerships hub for Publicis’s four global media agencies. After scaling down for two years, the practice is expanding again, naming a new director and preparing to increase activity.
The unit’s new boss is Alyson Hyder (above), formerly VP of digital media and marketing for Razorfish. She replaces Sean Kegelman, Vivaki’s SVP of parnterships, who has led the unit since the departure of Tim Hanlon two years ago. Hyder will be based in San Francisco and report to Kegelman.
In an email interview with ClickZ, Hyder talked about Vivaki’s evolving priorities and how she plans to run the Ventures unit.
ClickZ: From Vivaki’s point of view, how important is the actual investment part of the Ventures practice?
Alyson Hyder: We have never put primary emphasis on making capital investments. In fact, it’s always been a strategic differentiator (and source of pride) for us that we have been able to enter into strategic partnerships and gain advantages for our clients that don’t necessarily cost us millions of dollars. WPP has recently put money into Buddy Media, for example, and I don’t know that they get any benefits that are different from ours. So who’s smartest in this?
CZ: How many total investments has Vivaki made? How many this year?
AH: Again, our emphasis has never been capital investments, although we have done a few. But we’ve found that partners are often just as willing to exchange intellectual capital that could benefit all stakeholders, primarily marketers. This is how we originally partnered with…companies like Blue Kai, Vindico, Invite Media and others that have become long-time partners.
CZ: Has Ventures reduced its activity in past 2 years?
AH: Yes in a sense. Before, the unit was very much about breadth and value, but we’ve realigned to pull the focus on companies that are core to our strategy and can be scaled across the VivaKi network.
CZ: Why hire someone to this role now? Are there plans to ramp up activity this year or next?
AH: Sean was handling both Partnerships and Ventures and it became very clear, given the vast numbers of start-ups and companies that aligned with our broader business strategy, that this role needed a dedicated lead for managing these relationships. Our plan is to go broader and deeper into our core focus areas: social, mobile, video, data platforms, etc. I led my clients in these areas for years at Razorfish so I’m uniquely positioned to understand what is important to our clients. I’m excited to work with the vast number of emerging companies to bring forward the best solutions for our clients.
CZ: Has Vivaki sold any investments? Can you say which?
AH: VivaKi is no longer in the business of buying/selling investments, but a few of our partners have recently enjoyed successful exits into the marketplace. Companies like Dapper, Tumri, and Invite are a few that come to mind.