After 21 months of pandemic-related upheaval, two separate stories of expansion in the broad world of independent agencies and consultancies give rise to the notion that international growth is returning.
Control v Exposed (CvE), a European and APAC-related consultancy, recently opened a U.S. branch. And WPI, a U.S.-based network of independent agencies is adding to its international roster while expanding its specialized services.
CvE, the unusually-named consultancy that’s helping brands connect the dots between tech, data and media while also enabling in-housing where appropriate, recently brought on Aimee Reker to run its U.S. branch.
Reker, whose experience includes time at several IPG shops, including helping to launch IPG’s Emerging Media Lab, is already working with a major consultancy she declined to name. In a somewhat complicated move, CvE is partnering with that consultancy to help one of its retailer clients launch into the retail media space. Reker, who joined in September after consulting with independent digital agency Goodway Group (ultimately CvE’s parent company), is based out of Minneapolis.
“The process we go through is diagnostic, similar to how a [consultancy] will evaluate your business and marketing — but prior to media, which is a gap those consultancies can have,” said Reker.
Paul Frampton, who runs CvE globally, likewise brings holding company experience from his time running Havas Media U.K., Frampton is adamant that the key ingredient CvE brings to working with clients is its independence — no VCs or holding companies or outside investors own any stake in CvE, or Goodway for that matter.
“We look to put a focus on rigorous forensic testing around whether advertising really works and whether there’s [an] incremental benefit” to marketers, he said. “That’s not how most creative and media come to market. Because we’re independent, we have the ability to tell the client what we think they should do rather than what benefits us.”
The space for consultancies is already competitive, but it’s getting more crowded, noted one veteran media observer who helps brands find agencies. Though independence certainly helps a consultancy claim it’s making recommendations based on clients’ needs rather than its own, the observer said that’s not as important anymore, as clients get smarter about what options they have in the marketplace. “I’m kind of calling BS on that because everyone is reliant on the same technology and platforms to do their marketing,” said the industry insider, who spoke to Digiday under the condition of anonymity. But he added that a consultancy like CvE with media-side expertise can fill the gaps between agencies and the major consultancies.
“Consultancies realize that [media-side knowledge and strategy] has been a gap for them,” agreed John Harris, CEO of Worldwide Partners Inc. (WPI), a reverse-engineered holding company in which its member agencies own the network.
WPI is doing some expanding of its global footprint by adding eight agencies across the globe, bringing its total number of member agencies to 74. Harris said the agencies brought on board help flesh out specific skillsets marketers are looking for, but also help to bolster WPI’s global reach.
“What we saw from our agencies was the fastest growing and most profitable piece of business was strategy or consulting, where clients were asking them for more business leadership not simply communications leadership,” explained Harris. “For decades we’ve given away our strategic IP to win the lower-margin, more commoditized media buying and production side of the business. It’s nice to see there’s recognition of the value agencies can provide in a more consultative way, and we’re seeing that in our network.”
The international agencies joining WPI include Mach Media, based in Ghent, Belgium, which specializes in marketing and corporate communications for multinational companies; Dublin-based Pluto, which handles social and experiential marketing for fast-moving consumer goods companies; and We the People, a Melbourne, Australia-based social, content and digital communications agency. The other five shops are scattered across the U.S., specializing in PR and healthcare marketing — two areas Harris said are of growing importance to clients.