Fifty-year-old direct marketing agency RAPP plays an increasingly relevant role in a world where personalization is key.
Rather than expanding beyond its core value prop like some competitors, RAPP is doubling down on its strength of knowing individuals and augmenting that expertise through partnerships.
“We’ve always had the customer at the center of everything,” CEO Marco Scognamiglio told AdExchanger. “We’ve always been about data and understanding people.”
RAPP is part of the Omnicom Precision Marketing Group (OPMG), the holding company’s CRM and customer experience division which launched in September. The group, which includes Omnicom agencies Proximity, Targetbase, Javelin, TLGG, Code Worldwide and Sparks & Honey, offers data, CRM and customer experience services.
The idea behind OPMG is that by sharing knowledge and IP across the group, agencies can partner effectively to solve clients’ increasingly complex business problems rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel.
“If agencies don’t accept that they need to partner and don’t celebrate that as an opportunity, they’re going to struggle to survive,” Scognamiglio said.
He spoke with AdExchanger.
AdExchanger: What’s changed the most at RAPP over the past couple of years?
MARCO SCOGNAMIGLIO: The spirit of the engagement has switched. It’s no longer the brand dictating the terms of engagement. It’s the individual.
We help our clients grow their customer base, create more value from their customers and retain them. That language has been around for a long time. But from an individual perspective, you need to deliver in real time, and that whole brand experience is connected.
As opposed to buying lots of companies to add on bits and pieces, we’ve organically grown. We’ve retained our culture and DNA. Partnering with our friends within Omnicom, as you’re seeing in the whole industry, is the way we have to operate.
How does that paradigm shift toward consumer control change how you work with brands?
You need deeper knowledge about services, but more importantly, a horizontal understanding of solutions. Individuals can engage with an airline or buy groceries or utilities in any manner. There are capabilities you need to bring to bear to solve those problems for a client.
Our mentality has to be less [about] RAPP solving the problem. It’s RAPP and partners.
How are you partnering with other agencies and platforms?
The best example is We Are Unlimited. You’ve got RAPP, Annalect, DDB and an external company, The Marketing Store, sitting together for two years now. Also the Ford win has just happened. Omnicom is the omnichannel agency. There’s the proof, where a big brand sees an opportunity for Omnicom to take leadership in their omnichannel strategy.
If we need to bring in incremental expertise, we will. We'll do collaborative thinking with partners or bring in new startups. Recently, we looked at a couple of startups in the Bay Area that were bringing something new for a client. It’s that willingness to go outside what you normally play with.
But it’s a big change to people’s behavior. It’s a state of mind and a willingness to operate in a different way – and do it at real speed and clarity, because people want everything tomorrow.
How have your employees and culture adapted to that change?
I wish I could give you a Harvard case study. This has been like changing the wheels on the jumbo jet as it’s taking off. Clients are recognizing this need to be customer-centric, but organizations are fragmented and siloed. For a while, briefs have been asking us to help with this customer strategy transformation. It’s forced us to find ways to work together and collaborate. And it’s not easy to do, because it happens at such speed.
We navigate change by finding people who are used to change: good collaborators, people with natural emotional intelligence and intuition. We identify people who recognize they’re doing what’s right for the client, as opposed to what's right for RAPP. Over time, people realize that’s the direction the tribe is going and they need to be part of it. If they don't, then probably RAPP isn’t the right place for them.
Clients have to drive integration as well. We see the difference when clients say, "You guys need to work together in the interest of my brand." McDonald’s 150% has bought into that way of working. If it’s only one way, it won’t work.
What role does RAPP play in OPMG?
As we evolve, what we do is about digital engagement at a one-to-one level. Ninety-nine percent of client briefs at the moment are around customer transformation. That’s what RAPP does.
Back to collaboration, you have this powerhouse of agencies. We have to live and breathe on our own because of conflict, DNAs and scale. But we have to support each other. We need a mix of talent to solve clients’ problems.
We’re sharing with each other and developing IP. We’re able to scale resources, as opposed to RAPP on its own. The most tangible is Omni, a collaborative effort between OPMG, Omnicom and Annalect. We have a business in Javelin called Enterprise Spectrum, which does objective attribution. It’s a piece of IP that we can scale across our agencies. OPMG gives us the opportunity to do that.
Are any clients using Omni yet?
It only launched a few months ago. There isn’t a day going by where we don’t have conversations with clients about it. I'd be surprised if it’s not playing a significant role in enabling personalized solutions for clients. You’ll probably in the near future hear more about the evidence behind that.
Where do you run into consultants?
In the context of partnering. There isn’t a blue chip brand that doesn’t have one of the consultancies in there. They’re diversifying. We will sometimes see them in pitches but very rarely do they make it through.
When it comes to taking consultative thinking into market, that’s where our strengths come in. We have an opportunity to be more consultative. We can also [help] clients deliver on change. But I never disregard any competitor. We have to keep a close eye on them.
How do you maintain creativity while working with data?
We all buy based on emotion. Data and technology helps us understand people better, and that allows us to do better creativity at scale. The more we understand individuals, the more we can help creatives make you connect with a brand emotionally. Creative-driven agencies will keep that on the agenda. Data and technology can amplify empathy.
How have you been able to rebuild morale at RAPP since the harassment lawsuit in 2016 related to former CEO Alexei Orlov?
I wasn’t part of that, but we’re just getting on doing what we do. We are focused on our clients. We talk about being fiercely individual as an agency and that’s also about respecting the individuality and well-being of our people. We believe in diversity and inclusion because that brings broader creativity to our clients and people.
We look forward, we don’t look backwards.
This interview has been edited.