Once, data was the sole province of media agencies. But now ad agency holding companies are attempting to spread big-data smarts around, allowing PR, creative and of course digital shops to benefit from software that cleans, stores, measures and uses data for audience targeting.
At Omnicom Media Group, there are now hundreds of people focused on data. "The overall ambition is that we'll become a horizontal marketing technology arm across all of Omnicom," said Scott Hagedorn, who leads OMG's digital data and analytics group Annalect as CEO. "I'd give it another two years."
Annalect, split between an enterprise-software group and a practice with programmatic trading and global search, has invested heavily in talent from Wall Street and companies like KBMG. Omnicom CEO John Wren "wants to make it the Bloomberg of marketing," Mr. Hagedorn said.
New data capabilities already are supporting work outside traditional media. During a client-planning exercise, for example, Annalect used its audience- segmentation tool to create insights for the client's research, creative and media teams.
"What's driving this data explosion are two things—social and mobile," said Rishad Tobaccowala, chief strategy and innovation officer at Publicis' Vivaki. "The old ways of looking at data are now replaced by much more real-time ways of doing things at scale."
VivaKi, which was created to support the holding company's media agency operations, is in the process of scaling its tools across all holding company shops, including media, PR and creative.
The group set up a data-driven marketing task force and is "thinking through how best to organize across all of Publicis," and which tools to invest in, according to Mr. Tobaccowala. One example is a product called Skyscraper, which collects, cleans and verifies data, helping agencies negotiate the rights to access external data, he said. It means that "12 different agencies don't have to negotiate their own deals."
Within WPP, data historically "stood on the side of the business" but now "sits in the middle," said Rob Norman, digital chief of media-agency network Group M, which has several hundred data- and technology-focused employees. Group M plays a significant role in WPP's year-old Data Alliance, which also brings together representatives from Kantar and CRM giant Wunderman. It is run by Mark Read, strategy director and CEO of WPP Digital.
"As the delivery of media becomes more granular, the opportunity for the advertiser is to deploy more refined targeting in terms of people, reach and message," said Mr. Norman. "We're determining overarching strategies."
Mediabrands' data and technology group, owned by Interpublic Group of Cos., is becoming a hub for the entire holding company. "There are a lot of opportunities to support all partners within IPG," said Brendan Moorcroft, CEO of the Mediabrands Audience Platform. He listed Hill Holliday, Mullen, McCann, DraftFCB, Deutsch and Carmichael Lynch.
Like other media-agency networks, the group is investing in nontraditional talent "from software or hardware companies," as well as in new tools like Total Tag, which is a tagging infrastructure to anonymize and use customer data for addressable retargeting, Mr. Moorcroft said. "We've moved from a static data world to transactional data systems," he said. And it's all due to "the application of social data."