Essence, the digital-first media agency that officially became the fourth division of WPP’s GroupM this summer, has hired Adam Gerber as its first svp of investment for North America.
Gerber brings a wide range of experience accumulated throughout a 25-year career to the newly created role, most recently spending more than five years in ad sales and client development at Disney ABC television group.
In the new job, he will lead Essence’s investments across North America, using the leverage of the larger GroupM organization to help develop new models and expand existing relationships with digital platforms and media companies while continuing to build out his internal team. He will report to both Essence global CEO Christian Juhl and GroupM managing partner Lyle Schwartz.
WPP acquired Essence in 2015 based, in large part, on its work for Google, which remains its largest client. When the holding group announced the MEC/Maxus merger that resulted in new network Wavemaker earlier this summer, it positioned the move as a renewed investment in digital with Essence effectively replacing Maxus as the fourth GroupM network. Several C-level Maxus employees later joined the Essence team.
Essence also promotes a “transparency-first” approach just as big spenders like P&G have demanded more open communications with their media agencies. Its ultimate goal is to present clients with a platform-agnostic approach amplified by various investments and partnerships.
“We’re not building Essence to replicate the existing media agency model,” Gerber told Adweek about his new job. “We’ve got a digital capability that is special—rooted in data and outcomes—which we see as a model for the overall media marketplace. And while consumer behavior is changing at a faster and faster rate, agency solutions are having a hard time keeping up.”
“The Essence goal is to redefine how we work with advertisers and media companies as they go through their own transformation,” he said, hinting at the reasoning behind WPP’s increased investment in the agency. “Everyone wins if we develop the next-generation ad model.”
Before joining ABC, Gerber held top roles at software companies Brightcove and Quantcast. But he started on the agency side of the business, helping to run traditional media planning for clients like P&G, Burger King, Unilever and Goldman Sachs before building the digital operations of MEC and Mediavest in the early ’00s.
Regarding his own experience, he added, “The background I have across three different parts of the industry positions me perfectly for where Essence sees the business going. Ultimately, data is going to be the underpinning of how media is transacted in the future. Lots of what you’re seeing in terms of client expectations is all valid … it will ultimately improve the marketplace for everyone, including buyers and sellers, and eliminate the bad actors.”
“Essence is going to be different. Their whole orientation is around a client [Google] that starts with digital budgets and layers others on top,” said senior advertising, media and internet analyst Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research Group. “The question is, when do you throw them at a pitch? Under what circumstances will it be Essence versus someone else?”
The answer should become clearer in the months to come.