WPP Consolidates All Global Data Assets in One Place as Digital Media Race Heats Up

New platform lets GroupM clients pick and choose services

WPP's media division GroupM announced today that it will combine all existing global data analytics and digital media assets under the [m]PLATFORM umbrella to create what it calls the ad industry's most powerful collection of related services.

The world's largest agency holding company looks to reassert its position as a dominant force in the increasingly competitive global ad buying market after a year-long, record-breaking string of media agency reviews that included some large-scale losses. Moving forward, [m]PLATFORM will allow all GroupM agencies to present clients with a more fully unified suite of ad planning, tracking and targeting tools as they look to win new business and retain existing accounts.

This data-driven narrative officially began with the 2011 launch of programmatic buying platform Xaxis, but it has been years in the making. "Marketers are under tremendous pressure to deliver results from media investments," says GroupM global CEO Kelly Clark in a statement. "This flexible platform approach enables us to focus $7 billion worth of investments we've made in data and technology over 10 years to help them realize a marketplace advantage."

Former Xaxis CEO Brian Gleason will lead the new entity. "Where Xaxis was a company, this is an organization built on empowering GroupM," he says. "[m]PLATFORM takes what Xaxis has and magnifies it immensely."

Xaxis will retain its own identity within WPP as [m]PLATFORM combines native data sources like Kantar, Wunderman and Millward Brown, along with GroupM's own consumer database, which was created in partnership with media partners around the world. The new suite has four key elements: [m]Insights for planning, [m]Analytics for research and optimization, [m]Report for post-mortem campaign visualizations and [m]Core, a "full-stack audience intelligence platform" managing an archive of consumer profiles called [m]ID.

"We talk about big data and fast data, but less than 10 percent of brands have a single view of their customer," says Gleason. He calls the [m]ID profiles "the center of everything we do," describing them as "a 360 degree view of the consumer, with the ability to activate relevant measurable brand exposure and take it back to specific marketing KPIs from search all the way to television."

Most of the tools in this kit are not new, per se. But their consolidation will mark an operational shift for GroupM offices, which place approximately one-third of all ads seen around the world. "Some of the tech was available to our agencies [in the past], but we never had one global tech organization tying it all together," Gleason says.

Xaxis executives have long contended that the organization is much more than a media agency trading desk. Now, the argument holds that GroupM clients will be able to pick and choose services by way of their individual media agencies, with the entire process stripped of unnecessary steps and silos. "From a service component, clients figure out what works best for them," says Gleason. "I think it will be a dramatic change in giving the clients the power of choice."

A new international leadership team has begun to form around [m]PLATFORM. Four regional presidents will report to Gleason, and WPP executives Phil Cowdell and Lucas Mentasti have already been named to run the organization's North American and Latin American divisions. Xaxis global chief operating officer Nicolle Pangis will hold the same title at [m]PLATFORM with GroupM's former chief technology officer Jack Smith heading strategy and AOL veteran Bob Hammond serving as tech lead.

The news arrives several months after longtime GroupM clients Volkswagen and AT&T moved their global and North American advertising accounts, respectively, to Omnicom. Hearts & Science won the latter review, at least in part, on the strength of anonymized consumer profiles created by Omnicom Media Group's data analytics platform Annalect.

WPP has not yet spoken of using [m]PLATFORM to inform its creative agencies' work, but Gleason says, "[m]ID will have a much larger footprint and will eventually help power all of WPP." He notes that the entire industry has been working toward a truly universal insights tool, adding, "No other holding company with the exception of Dentsu [by way of its recent Merkle acquisition] owns their own data."

Many observers see the big-budget media review trend continuing as agencies race to develop similar suites of services. Principal Greg Paull of agency consultancy R3 recently summed up WPP's approach as such: "[Sir Martin Sorrell] has invested heavily in research, which is not terribly profitable, but he's taking the lead in terms of diversification."

Therein lies the potential of [m]PLATFORM, which arrives at a time when a company's ability to compile and package consumer data that informs future ad buys has become the media world's most important differentiator.

GroupM's rollout plan will see the new platform open in major markets in the first quarter of 2017. It will reportedly be fully operational in more than 110 international markets by the end of the calendar year.