Unlike other recent deals it has done, Interpublic is not investing in the 6-year-old firm. Instead, it's terming the agreement a strategic partnership that will yield buzz campaigns from Interpublic agencies as well as original research. BzzAgent has already worked with several Interpublic agencies including DraftFCB, Hill Holliday and Universal McCann.
This is the first such deal for BzzAgent, whose network in recent years has grown to include more than 300,000 volunteers. Its model allows marketers to buy word-of-mouth advocacy in much the same way they buy time on TV or pages in magazines, though BzzAgent demands that its volunteers be honest and disclose their relationship with the company. The Interpublic agreement is not exclusive, so BzzAgent can continue to work with agencies owned by other holding companies.
Interpublic gets preferred pricing and other benefits from the deal. For its part, BzzAgent expects that closer ties to agencies will help cut through confusion around word of mouth and grow its popularity with marketers.
"This is about reducing the friction for clients who want to use this as a new form of marketing," said Art Muldoon, senior VP-client services at BzzAgent. "When we knock on a client's door and talk about word-of-mouth marketing, that means so many things to so many people. We want to make it easier for a client to buy us."
Attractive to marketers
Word of mouth has become increasingly attractive to marketers in recent years as consumers have grown more wary of traditional, interruptive marketing techniques.
Bant Breen, president of Interpublic's Futures Marketing Group, said BzzAgent will be working with agencies of all kinds, from creative and media to PR. "Word of mouth has been critical for us to look at for all of our companies," said Mr. Breen. "It's been absorbed by that overused term social media."
Interpublic has recently been bolstering its offering in new areas of marketing. Earlier this year, it purchased the search-marketing firm Reprise Media and it has invested in Facebook, SpotRunner and other new-media and marketing companies. Interpublic's Emerging Media Lab will manage the relationship.