Why imc2 Likes the Single Life

NEW YORK At a time when digital agencies of all sizes are being snapped up, one sizable independent U.S. agency is happy not to be hitched.

“Clients are finding the fact that we’re independent means we’re more sophisticated-thought leaders in this space than their general agencies,” said Doug Levy, CEO of imc2. “The fact that we’re independent is a huge bonus.”

Imc2, the Dallas-based interactive shop, has 550 employees and a client roster that include Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and GlaxoSmithKline. Its size puts it in the same league as AKQA and iCrossing, two other remaining big digital independents.

For imc2, being independent and profitable means it can take a longer-term view of the future and invest in new technology while not worrying about meeting holding-company-set quarterly numbers, executives said.

“Public companies are focused only on the tangibles,” he said. “We have a chance to focus on the intangibles too.”

As an example, Levy points to imc2’s investment in research and development that has led to the creation of several technology tools, such as a recently developed application for making Flash-based Web sites easily found by search engines.

The past year has seen a flurry of acquisitions in the digital marketing space, kicked off by Publicis Group’s $1.3 billion deal for Digitas. Microsoft bought aQuantive, parent company of Avenue A/Razorfish, for $6 billion, and WPP Group has snatched up four North American digital agencies and this week bought a 70 percent stake in an Indian shop.

Yet all the M&A does not appeal to Levy, who has expanded imc2 since its founding in 1996 to four offices in the U.S. It recently opened an outpost in London, its first foray abroad.

“Those firms tend to have a vested interest in the old ways of doing things,” he said of the ad holding companies. “They have relationships and money tied up in the old way of marketing. It’s hard for them to be leaders for their clients to shift from the old way of doing marketing.”

The virtues of independence helped imc2 lure a pair of executives from competitors. In the past six months, it poached Tribal DDB Dallas general manager Mark McKinney and David Boyd from Agency.com’s Dallas office, which the Omnicom Group digital shop will close at the end of the month.

The goal, according to Levy, is to work with clients to implement a new marketing model that is as much about listening to customers as it is speaking to them. As a template, he points to imc2’s work on GSK’s Alli, a weight-loss product. The agency created the social networking site that is integral to the product, helping visitors decide whether it is right for them and how to adjust their lifestyle to make it work.

“My belief is we’re going where consumers are empowered” Levy said. “Consumers are looking for more authentic relationships.”