As Dentsu relaunches iProspect with new model, can it answer performance marketing critics?
Combining performance marketing tech with brand-building expertise, can the new iProspect answer hard questions from clients concerned about the value of performance tactics?
iProspect has relaunched as a “performance-driven brand-building“ media agency, swallowing up stablemate Vizeum to form a new hybrid media agency.
The relaunch marks the latest stage of Japanese ad giant Dentsu’s recovery plan after a rocky 2020. Global president Amanda Morrissey will lead the shop’s 8,000 specialists across 93 markets.
“We are a new force in the industry, one that draws on decades of expertise carefully brought together to create an agile, scaled, digital-first organisation built for the future and delivering today,“ she says. “In fact, the only thing that has stayed the same is the name, but even that looks different.“
Media agency Vizeum was folded into iProspect back in January. Though the ’new’ agency is sticking with the iProspect name, the company has had a visual rebrand and picked up a new tagline, ’Brands accelerated’.
Peter Huijboom, global chief executive officer of media and global clients at Dentsu International, said the moment was a watershed: “With the creation of this new agency, we’ve made something unique – not just within Dentsu, but within the whole industry. It’s a great example of how the coming together of not just two trailblazing brands in iProspect and Vizeum, but also minds and markets, can solve for one of the biggest challenges our clients face today – how to be relevant and accelerate growth in the now, and also in the future.”
Speaking exclusively to The Drum, Morrissey, who was installed as global president of iProspect less than six months ago, says the relaunched agency aims to take advantage of a changed industry landscape.
“During the pandemic there was a massive shift in consumer behaviour, but also in the cultural makeup of the world. It has been two years' worth of transformation happening in 10 months.“
She says clients now demand agility, accountability and an understanding of digital specialism and brand storytelling. The new agency, billed as “a very agile business at that intersection of brand and performance“ will help partners “accelerate decision-making and pivot around the right opportunities.“
“The forefront of our engine is the strategy, communications planning and storytelling capabilities of our Vizeum team, underpinned by the deep specialism around performance and digital of our iProspect team.“
‘All advertising is performance’
Morrissey, a keen wakeboarder, previously served as the marketing director of surf brand Animal for three years. “I think about it all the time," she says. “I learned that, even if your agency thinks it's everything, your advertising is actually a tiny proportion of the things you have to do.“
That expertise has come in handy recently, as advertisers increasingly question the value of performance-first marketing. Travel brand Airbnb, for example, announced last month that it had hacked back spend on performance marketing, in favour of brand-building efforts, and seen almost no difference to its performance.
There's also the impact of the pandemic on marketing budgets, and the subsequent migration from traditional channels to digital, to contend with.
”We're only as good as the last dollar we spent,” concedes Morrissey. ”We look at it like this: how can you extract maximum value for our client's spend at every single stage? We're always under scrutiny.”
"We're seeing a huge shift in our clients' spending makeup and in some cases, performance is the one that gets pushed back," she says. ”What we're not going to do is encourage or influence our clients to spend more money if it's not going to drive growth for them or achieve their business objectives. What we will do for them is help them to optimize their spend... we're not defending any one territory.”
According to Morrissey, iProspect's new brand-building capabilities will help it provide a more rounded service to clients shifting their spend: ”We're ahead of that curve. The reason we built this brand the way we have, is to balance brand and performance. It’s perfectly positioned to be able to ride that wave and to help our clients make those decisions.”
She describes the agency’s new ethos as ”performance-driven brand building,” and says the team has been employing both disciplines – providing big-picture consultation to advertisers that previously prioritized performance, helping them identify ”the humanity in the signals” – and digital nous for brands abandoning TV for digital in the wake of the pandemic.
”We think that all advertising is performance. It should always deliver business outcomes; performance drives brand and brand builds performance.”
New story for Dentsu
It’s safe to say Dentsu had a rough 2020. The Japanese conglomerate announced a huge reorganization of its business and profit falls at the end of 2020, well before the industry-wide shockwave of the pandemic. Later last year, it appointed former DDB boss Wendy Clark as its new global chief executive.
Morrissey says the reborn agency can provide the beleaguered network with a ’new story’ as it works to recover.
”When you’ve had a tough time, having a new story creates confidence and momentum. What Dentsu has managed to do by integrating these two brands, is to create a whole new story – a whole new reason to believe.”
Morrissey’s iProspect forms the final plank of Dentsu’s new agency structure, which reorganised the holding group into six agency brands.
”It will be an access gateway [for clients] into the broader Dentsu organization,” she says. ”We’re also a hothouse for talent, to enable us all to grow as we move forwards.”
Though Morrissey is ”excited” about unveiling the new iProspect, there are plenty of obstacles in the way of success. ”We have the challenge of changing people’s preconceptions about the agency – and to show we’re no longer just a performance agency, but one which is new and offering full end-to-end solutions for clients. This is something we definitely need to focus on in coming months.”
The imminent demise of the third party cookie ”worries everybody,” while the pandemic has wrought havoc across the global economy. "There’s been a whole heap of instability; the advertising industry and our clients were hit really badly. Most companies in our sector have shrunk in size.”
Keeping the agency's talent intact is a priority. ”We employ a lot of young people. I think we've got to give our talent some stability, some time to catch up and the space to be able to grow, thrive and do their best work.
”From an organizational perspective we have hit the ground running with such momentum. But we’ve got to be able to continue it, and that’s tough because momentum wears out,” she says.
”That really keeps me awake at night. In two years time, you know, I want our talent, those 8,000 people, to be a part of an environment where they felt safe and to feel like that this was the best place for them to work.”