Group M Gets Into the Consulting Business

Recruits Omnicom Exec Ernie Simon to Lead New Division

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WPP's media-agency umbrella unit, Group M, is launching a consulting division -- an initiative spearheaded by new North America CEO Kelly Clark.

Group M says the new unit will be dedicated to helping clients with marketing and media analytics, portfolio management, marketing budget allocation and optimization, audience targeting, business forecasting and return on media/marketing investment. In short: it'll be focused on strategy, separate from the media-buying activities that many of their clients call on the group for.

"Clients are increasingly asking us to advise them at a high level about marketing budgets and strategy," said Mr. Clark, who less than a year ago took on the post after serving asworldwide CEO of GroupM media shop Maxus. "They are looking for solutions that connect marketing investments to business results."

Group M has brought on OMD's Chief Strategy Officer Ernie Simon to serve as president of the new group. He's tasked with building and lead a team of analysts and consultants. Prior to joining the Omnicom media shop in 2009, Mr. Simon had spent 10 years at GroupM agency Mindshare, where he served in client-facing strategy roles. At one point, he was the director of planning on the Gillette account, and he had also managed the Bristol Myers-Squibb U.S. account.

The move comes as media agencies search for ways to diversify their revenue streams amid growing margin pressures, as well as better position themselves to compete in a more crowded marketplace in which different types of agencies, and even consulting giants, tout similar services.

But when asked if the new division will position the firm to compete with consulting firms, which have wiggled their way into media agency territory with new data, marketing management and measurement capabilities, Mr. Clark said no.

"We don't really see this competing with traditional consulting firms," he said. "This is an extension of our core expertise that our clients are asking for."

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