'Go with Sorrell': Mediamonks' Victor Knaap on the biggest business decision of his life

MediaMonks co-founder Victor Knaap on the S4 deal

“Obviously it was the hardest business decision we needed to make but, on the other hand, it just happened because Sir Martin [Sorrell] moved faster, was more aggressive and had a more ambitious plan for everyone. We had about 24 partners within MediaMonks, so it wasn’t just me and Wes [co-founder Wesley ter Haar] thinking about how we can cash out the most."

Speaking to The Drum just one hour after S4 Capital, the now owner of MediaMonks, listed on the London Stock Exchange, CEO (or main monk) Victor Knaap talked for the first time about the high profile and competitive merger that involved both WPP and Accenture Interactive in the process.

Having tested the water on the opinions around its own merger and who would best suit the business, after the news that Sorrell was going head to head with WPP for MediaMonks was leaked to the press (not by MediaMonks he added), Knaap said that the biggest business decision of his life ended up being made easier by the reactions of those close to the business.

The merger of MediaMonks and S4 Capital launches an ambitious plan from Sir Martin to create a new model for the industry and Knaap has, literally, bought into the idea, accepting a half cash, half shares deal from Sorrell, with no earn out date. Knaap is sold into the idea of bringing creative and media back together, which he also uses to reference his ‘beta’ test of who to sell to.

“We beta tested our merger, there is no better way, it’s how advertising should be. It’s a merger for the Instagram era. What I tell a lot of clients is that we get media results about three weeks after the media has run, whereas the Instagram generation posts something for 42 seconds, if it doesn’t hit enough likes or shares in the first 42 seconds, they take it offline, re-edit and post. There’s a huge difference in that. Is the 42 second rule in line with platform thinking? No, probably not. Is the old school way where you work on an execution for nine months the right way? Also not. We both need to move somewhere in the middle. We had the opportunity to 'beta test' our merger for a week and I got very positive results internally and externally, and we said we were convinced already, but if the crowd responds like that…” he jokes.

While it’s almost impossible to separate Knaap’s humour from the story, it’s clear he is reinvigorated by the new partnership in finding a new way of doing things for clients. Speaking at Spikes Asia, just after the company listed, he gave a detailed plan for the MediaMonks and how it fitted into the wider vision of S4 Capital.

At the crux of the plan is the bringing together of media and creative, retaining a healthy respect for big idea platforms but ensuring that content is built for the media that it’s placed in, taking full advantage of the intelligence and data at hand.

“Sir Martin was one of the first people that cut off creative and media and now he’s going to glue it back together again. But the time needs it, it’s a different time. It is so ridiculous the number of briefings that we get that have a mismatch between the creative that we are briefed on and it doesn’t fit the media buy. The number of briefs I get in which they say they can’t share the user data because it sits at media company XY or Z, it is a huge problem and it needs to be solved. If we can’t fix it with existing media companies, we need to do it ourselves. At least we need to have the thinking around it in house,” he explains.

Practically, this means that the next S4 acquisition will be in the tech and/or media space, says Knaap, so that it can offer this integrated story to clients. He says that no media or performance business really exists with a similar global footprint to MediaMonks, so it’s likely to be smaller purchases that can be tied together.

“I have been saying some of these things for three-or-four years but now I have one of, or the, most powerful people in advertising behind me. People ask if we are going to go after WPP but no, we want to just grow our own clients. We’ve won 100 brand rosters in the past three years based on this story of brand integration.

“The problem is that in country, for a mid-level marketeer, you don’t have the scope of work to do this integrated, it’s a C-level discussion that you need to have. How am I going to create content for a brand across all platforms? Yes, I have five people responsible in-house, including a retail person and a social team, they all need to keep their jobs but this has to work together.

“At C-level everyone agrees with us, we are going to use data to create stories in all these different channels and push it into the right media, whether we do the media buy or not. I believe that it needs to have one goal, if it sits in another media company, at least give us the data after half a day so we can optimise our creative. There’s no CEO or CMO that doesn’t agree with that, we just didn’t have the access and now we have. Our story hits harder with Sir Martin on board but we don’t have to change our business model to do so. I don’t have to change. We have to just execute what we always promised,” he adds.

The need for creative to think about media and for media to think about creative is amplified in a world in which ads are delivered programmatically. Knaap is vehemently against the word ‘cut down’ and believes that the idea that a TV ad is the master file that all work is then chipped away from needs to be turned on its head. Instead, he says all ideas need to start knowing that it’ll need to find executions that span multiple markets, personas and platforms, eventually working down to one big TV ad.

“Programmatic is put into the outer areas of tech, start-ups and media buyers but it is actually a canvas for delivering better creative. We just need to think about creative, maybe even if you know that you will execute an idea and you know it needs to be on these different touch points, you need to think about this and you need better creative. It should be exciting for the advertising industry because their job is getting harder and you have a bigger outlet to show your work on,” he enthuses.

While S4 works on finding the initial pieces for the new era jigsaw puzzle it aims to create, Knaap says he believed that the best way to succeed in marketing is to try to think of the customer journey; by spending a day walking in the shoes of the customer then it will help to understand why it should always start with all of the touchpoints in mind, he concludes.

MediaMonks is set for a whole new lease of life, and the Monks leading that journey will clearly do so on more than a wing and a prayer.

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