When Acxiom Corp. appeared prominently in the rankings of last year's Agency Report, CEO Scott Howe wondered aloud, "Why are we even in this?"
Indeed, Acxiom -- based in Little Rock, Ark., more than 1,200 highway miles from Madison Avenue -- is not by definition a classic marketing-services agency. However, just as agencies are building out robust data- management and -analysis services for their brand clients, old-school data aggregators like Acxiom are moving onto agency turf.
Acxiom is known as one of the world's largest data compilers, gathering consumer information from public data sources, co-ops and other third-parties and meshing it with proprietary data it manages on behalf of its clients to assist them in customer-relationship management, direct marketing and advertising efforts.
Yet, there's no question Acxiom is in the agency game. The firm offers its clients teams of art directors, copywriters, information designers and web developers. It handles things like marketing-mix modeling for clients and provides marketing strategy, channel development and multichannel communications.
Tally up the revenue, and Acxiom ranks as the nation's second-largest agency in Ad Age's ranking of agencies from all disciplines.
Gone are the days when large data firms like Acxiom could avoid competing on some levels with the very agencies they often partner with.
Still, Mr. Howe -- the man at the helm of a branding and market shift aimed at making Acxiom better known in the ad world -- stressed, "Agencies are our clients. If we're an agency, we're the data-operating system; we're the data tools."
As for agencies and agency companies crowding Acxiom's space, Mr. Howe suggested they aren't his competition. Rather, he hopes they will use Acxiom data to power applications they build for brands. "They're my biggest untapped source of clients," he said.
"We don't replace the agency," said Mr. Howe. "We put a halo on them."