Kasha Cacy’s newly-consolidated Engine has joined the crusade of networks offering clients a more workable partnership on offer and price. But in the process, it’s found itself going after a new type of client altogether.
It’s been eight months since Kasha Cacy arrived at the Engine offices in New York to become its global chief executive. It’s been six since she made the radical yet not unexpected decision to consolidate its collection of agencies – some with legacy, others without – into one central Engine brand. The motor may still need revving, but at least the components are now in place.
In some respects, Engine is an embodiment of all the industry’s recent woes and disruptions. When Cacy first walked through the door it was a network too big and disjointed to call itself a one-stop shop, but too small to pull in that ultra-bankable auto or FMCG account. It had begun to tread tentatively into the world outside of traditional media and advertising with programmatic unit EMX and cultural consultancy Cassandra, but these were drowned out by the louder new arrivals of its rivals, as well as the old-school Soho legacy of WCRS.
Cacy was – in her own words – “pleasantly surprised” by the amount of good work being produced across the three offices of London, New York and Singapore on arrival. After a decade at the assuredly safe space of UM she was hired to accelerate the pace of its growth – no easy task in an epoch pockmarked by worldwide consolidation, M&A and a new common threat in the form of the consultancies.
But at the same time, she wasn’t hired to replicate the game plan of her bosses at IPG. Her remit was more one of breaking the wheel than reinventing it.
“I think this industry needs some change, and that's kind of why I came over here,” she says. “I don't want to recreate a McCann or an Ogilvy. That is not where the growth in the industry is. The growth in the industry is in digital and social and content and influencers.”
She placed her stake in the ground in October with the consolidation of the agency brands under one banner, around the time that Ogilvy and ICF Next did the same and WPP began stitching its digital and creative practices together.
The process is still ongoing, and while all jobs in the US have been saved, it’s not the same story in the UK. The dismantling of heritage agencies such as WCRS and Partners Andrews Aldridge (PAA) saw the network reduce the UK workforce "by about 7%”, according to Cacy.
It was not, she says, an easy decision to make.
“It's a big transition, and there was a lot of conversation in the marketplace about us eliminating those brands – not all of it good. [But] I wanted to eliminate any barriers either perceived or real that kept [collaboration] from happening. And, mostly, clients don't care. Most clients just want you to do great work for them. They don't care what you label it.
“It’s my opinion that content and media have to come back together. The separation just does not make sense anymore. The industry is going to have to grapple with that. And it's inconvenient to grapple with, but we've got to grapple with it at some point.”
Consolidation to collaboration
Now aligned under one brand, Cacy is leading agencies on the road to full collaboration.
Many of her changes have been practical – a switch to technologies such as Zoom and Slack, for instance, to ease the pain of communication between offices. She often finds herself walking through the halls of the Madison Avenue agency pulling together teams for briefs, and she believes the fact Engine’s most experienced ad tech leader eats at the same cafeteria as its junior creatives to be a significant point of difference when compared to the holding companies sprawled across Midtown and central London.
“This [collaboration] was happening before but I think we're now accelerating it,” she says. “We've put that in place as a sort of ambition. It wasn't the strategic focus of the company before. Now, I've made it very clear that is what I want to do.”
Cacy hopes the collaboration will be seamlessly global in the near-future too. A former Accenture executive, she sees the consultancy model of “consultants flying all over the globe” as better suited to Engine that what would have been agency hubs housing similar teams in different countries.
This means it’s unlikely we’ll see the deep creative prowess of WCRS and PAA make its way to the digital-heavy New York City office; rather, teams with “a lighter creative capability” will be configured across the network to service digital and social briefs, “and then heavy up on the media analytics piece”.
“And then if we have brands that need things outside of that we can tap into [the former creative shops] in the UK,” Cacy explains, also noting that – like every other network – Engine has also invested in its consulting practice in all three of its markets.
Smaller fish, bigger fry
By quickly assembling and disassembling global teams across digital, media, performance marketing, analytics and ad tech, Engine has also allowed for room to flex its pricing structures: “We can price it in an all in one bundle or we can price it with media attached and execute [media buys] transparently through EMX.”
One of the biggest changes Engine will move through, however, is its approach to new business. The integrated model on offer, as well as the changing nature of the market, have made Cacy and her team reconsider which clients they want to work with. It’s meant that, much like And Rising in London, Engine has begun concentrating more on high-growth brands, perhaps still in the funding stages, rather than the usual “big fish”.
“We’ve thought about the clients who could actually take advantage of our capabilities in the most robust way,” says the CEO. “Those could be clients that are in high growth mode, who may need help developing processes, organizations and technology systems that we can help with on the consulting side, as well as building out their marketing capabilities in terms of content. analytics and media.
“I think we'll proactively go after more of the new entrants and focus there. Those are the companies that we are really uniquely suited to service. And they're going to represent a lot of growth for us.”
Poised for a sale?
Cacy is clear in her direction for the company and has begun building up her leadership team to drive it forward.
A heavier-stacked management may be necessary to communicate all these changes to the rest of the industry; when The Drum asked analysts about Engine’s future, many were confident in its abilities but uncertain about in its ability to convey its point of difference. A number were not au fait with the changes underway.
“Engine Group is an answer still waiting for a question,” said one, who wished to remain off-record.
Perhaps the question is: who will buy it? A number of analysts noted the investor-friendly nature of its changes, and one purported that owner Lake Capital had hired Cacy to specifically develop a strategy to sell the business. The CEO chose not to comment on the theory, stating: “I’m focused on building the strongest business possible given the evolving industry dynamics and needs of clients.”
She’s clear on one thing though, if anyone does buy Engine, it’s unlikely to be Deloitte.
“I can almost guarantee you we're not going to sell to them,” she says. “I think they would have trouble owning a company that sells media. I think that gets into a weird conflicted place for them. I don't think they would buy us.”