The talk of the agency business the last few years has been "tear down the silos." That has usually meant putting digital media buying at the center of a hub that can be tapped for more traditional disciplines like TV, print and out-of-home.
In a sense, GroupM, WPP’s media unit, has served that function. But now, the media unit has carved out a research offering called GroupM Next that will focus on online, search, social, mobile and emerging markets for brands within the WPP media division, though it will also serve the wider global ad holding company.
As Chris Copeland, who has been promoted to CEO of GroupM Next, told AdExchanger that by formalizing the agency’s insights in a dedicated company there is a recognition that the agency model is more reflective of the consumer experience, which is more fluid when it comes to choosing brands and media formats.
"You have a massive shift in consumer behavior taking place," said Copeland, who had previously been in charge of GroupM’s search unit. "Technology is central to that shift. We have clients who want to constantly innovate. We have markets that are emerging. Two-, three years ago, location-based services didn’t exist. Pinterest didn’t exist more than 6 months ago. In mobile, there’s enormous changes that are continuing to exert pressure on media. So there’s a lot to keep track of. If you don’t have the infrastructure to keep track of it all and keep you up to date, you find you do a lot of the same work over and over and you miss what’s coming."
The goal of GroupM Next is to "amplify" and synthesize the research work that is already happening at WPP's media division, which is composed of four agencies: Maxus, MEC, MediaCom and Mindshare. In addition to Copeland, Cary Tilds, currently North American lead of Digital Media Operations at Mindshare, has been named Chief Innovation Officer.
The creation of the unit grew out of a conversation started by GroupM North America CEO Rob Norman had with Copeland over six months ago.
"Last fall, we held GroupM client event called ‘What’s Next,’" Copeland said in a telephone interview. "We brought in 60 different client brands. We realized that there was an opportunity to take all the insights and ideas we’d been preaching to clients and see what’s available to support that. For example, our agencies do a great job on a brand-by-brand basis. But there is so much we learn about the changing nature of the business, we felt there had to be a way to make this intelligence more seamless, comprehensive and instantly available. This is a step further after a discussion with Norman, we decided to bring this kind of unit to the market. We spent 5 months incubating and now it’s ready."
The general focus of GroupM Next will be to work with brands it regards as leading the changes that most impact consumer media consumption, brand favorability and purchase behavior.
Copeland has been with the WPP for about 12 years and has worked across search, still one of the most crucial areas of online, and one that touches on all the movements taken place in digital and social.
While the work will largely be centered around the four media shops under the GroupM umbrella, Copeland ultimately sees GroupM Next as serving the entire ad holding company family, including the venture capital arm WPP Digital. "There is little point these days to withholding knowledge from all parts of the ecosystem," he said. "The point is to operate with out limits and keep looking ahead, no matter the direction."
By David Kaplan