Microsoft to Create 'Office Suite' for Advertising

Collaboration With Mediabrands Could Help it Deepen Relationships With Big Marketers

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Microsoft has long built enterprise software solutions for myriad industries: retail, health care, sales. But now it has its eye on advertising.

The software company and Mediabrands, the media division of Interpublic Group of Cos. that counts Microsoft as a major ad client, are collaborating to build a software system that marketers can use to track everything from search advertising and e-mail newsletters to CRM systems to TV buys in one place.

The logic is that too many of the tools used today to analyze and execute those various marketing functions don't "talk" with one another, which creates inefficiencies and clouds decision-making. Microsoft's goal is to create a single platform to do so.

"We haven't had the Office Suite, a productivity suite, for marketing" that fits marketing-management systems into a larger intelligent platform, said Quentin George, chief digital officer at Mediabrands. He went on: "Donovan [Data Systems] does billing and reconciliation, another group does planning tools, another group does asset management. And we spend a lot of time and effort stitching those together. ... This is the first time we've had a platform player like Microsoft actively going out and saying 'We think this is a software challenge and all sorts of these elements can be deployed in a far more synchronized way.'"

Holy grail for marketers
Microsoft and Mediabrands are calling the software platform the Media Operations Management System -- and they're certainly not underselling what they envision the final product to be. The announcement touts it as "intended to reinvent the way media is planned, purchased, measured, reported and optimized." And Scott Howe, corporate VP of Microsoft's advertiser and publisher solutions group, likened the effect of the yet-to-be-implemented platform to that of the first investment bank to use a spreadsheet instead of calculators and slide rules. He said the visibility they're going to provide is the holy grail for marketers.

Actual implementation remains a ways away. Microsoft said it'll be turning on pieces of the platform from now to the end of the year; Mediabrands said it plans to take the offer to clients by year's end and that the timeline for it being built depends entirely on clients.

"We haven't built the system and you can't build a system until you sit down with a client," said Mr. George. When asked whether he thought Microsoft might be Mediabrands' first client to use it, he said who the first client is remains to be seen, and that there is a separation between Microsoft the marketing organization and Microsoft the online-advertising organization.

For Microsoft the money-making organization, building out an enterprise business for advertising is a revenue opportunity in a couple of ways. First, there's the direct revenue it could get from licensing more software to the ad industry. Second, "as we develop more collaborative long-term relationships with major partners, there's a chance that by doing so that could lead to up-selling of other Microsoft products and services," said Mr. Howe. He insisted that there's no conflict of interest in this because the insights such a software platform could give marketers on where to put their ad dollars will be driven by ROI "and we won't be defining those standards."

More platforms to come?
Incidentally, the platform may be another sign of Microsoft's ongoing business rivalry with Google, which has spoken of building out a brand "dashboard." At an Interactive Advertising Bureau annual meeting in March 2008, then-head of Microsoft's advertiser and publisher solutions, Brian McAndrews, told the crowd there would probably be two major ad platforms in the future and that Microsoft would be one of them. (You can guess who the other might be.)

Mr. Howe said that this is indeed the platform Microsoft has envisioned, but that he's not sure there will only be two. He thinks Microsoft's own offering will look different depending on who's using it and what kinds of ways they want to customize it.

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