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Advertising Agency Tech Startups

External forces at work: Meet the challengers disrupting the ad industry


By Steve Antoniewicz, director

May 6, 2016 | 5 min read

I always feel lucky to attend the bi-annual Adforum Summit meetings in either Europe or New York and the recent trip to Berlin was no different.

Berlin was a great location for this year’s summit. It’s one of Europe’s top destinations for entrepreneurship and digital startups, a cultural and creative hub and a place where young creative and digital talent are attracted to because of its relatively low cost of living. But it also seemed apt because it’s clear there are lines being drawn between the new and old worlds in our industry.

The Summit brings consultants and businesses from Europe and beyond and over 2.5 days we met with 12 different companies, some agencies but more notably three potentially game-changing disruptors in the category.

The first of these three was Blackwood Seven. A new and well-funded tech business in the media space. The company have developed a platform which enables brands and media owners to trade directly, using live sales data and in their words "advanced predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to predict and achieve the optimal effects from all paid media". This was a compelling presentation and made more so by reference to the brands (mostly continental so far) who are using the platform to manage multi-millions of media spend.

The second was from IBM IX. We met at the offices of its most recent acquisition in Europe, Aperto. A 300-strong digital agency with an already enviable reputation in digital transformation and experience design. That takes IBM IX's headcount in Europe to over 5000. And it was clear from the makeup of its presentation team that it is continuing to acquire serious creative and business talent from the agency world. We were presented with some cases of projects of quite incredible scale for Castrol, Nationwide and Esso among others.

Its proximity to enterprise technology and operations, its ambition for growth and of course its deep pockets means IBM IX is a challenge for the agency business that won’t be going away anytime soon.

The third presentation to challenge was from The Foundry, the content division of Time inc. 'Media owner offers cheap production direct' is not a new concept but this felt different. Not only is it creating branded content for brands using its own titles but it is creating successful channels and media properties for those brands. We were presented with some examples from brands like Land Rover and Dewars, which were achieved for more than competitive budgets. A credible option perhaps for brands with choices to make when it comes to allocating spend.

And so to the disrupted. We received updates from agency stalwarts like Havas, Saatchi and Saatchi and Mullen Lowe as well as the Grey German office, Publicis PixelPark (another of the Groupe’s digital acquisitions specialising in e-commerce) and range of independent or local agency brands.

German agencies Scholz & Friends and Hirschen Group both told impressive stories and can clearly deliver for clients of scale. The next challenge for both agencies is to grow beyond their local markets. Notably Hirschen recently agreed a partnership with JWT which has a minority stake in the agency.

Robert Boisen and Like Minded, a small Danish agency, presented their work for holiday company Spies. The which was possibly the most creative piece of advertising we saw all week. The Summit closed with a presentation from Select WW which works with global prestige and fashion clients.

The large agency groups continue to broadcast the message of change. But with so many external forces now at play that change needs to become real and quickly. When a European summit for the advertising community includes one of the world’s biggest tech companies, a VC funded tech startup and the content division of a publishing giant it’s clear that the advertising industry is being challenged on a number of fronts.

Steve Antoniewicz is managing director of Recommended Agency Register

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