Interpublic Group of Cos. has named Mat Baxter as the new global CEO of Huge, moving on from Raj Singhal, who has been acting global CEO since 2020. Singhal took the post after Pete Stein departed to join Dentsu’s Merkle.
Huge appoints former Initiative executive Mat Baxter as its new global CEO
Singhal is said to be taking on a new senior leadership role within IPG. While the holding company would not confirm, it is believed to be an operating role within a new healthcare organization.
Baxter held the global CEO role for Initiative for over four years and was moved to a global chairman role earlier this year as he helped transition Amy Armstrong to her new role as global CEO. Baxter was crucial to Initiative’s turnaround; the shop was named Ad Age’s Media Agency of the Year in 2021 and won T-Mobile’s $2.3 billion media account in January.
“Initiative was a very different agency to the one that I just left, and I felt after five years, I'd given Initiative everything that I had in the tank. The transformation and turnaround had completed,” Baxter told Ad Age. “The icing on the cake was the T-Mobile win, which really signaled that the old Initiative no longer exists. It was time for me to pass the baton on. Amy was the right person for that, we had her in the succession plan for at least the prior 12 months. I wanted a new challenge, and I wanted to go to an agency that had a fierce reputation, delivered a more broad and expansive set of capabilities and services than the ones that Initiative had.”
Baxter says it’s premature to speak about specifics on strategy moving forward, but plans to have a full strategic plan and vision within 45 days of starting his position. The focus will be on growing areas of the agency that Huge needs to get stronger in beyond what Huge does well already, such as design experience and integrated communications, Baxter says. One focus will be around accelerating Huge’s media literacy when it comes to creativity.
“Improving media literacy does not mean we're getting into media," Baxter says. “You can improve the media literacy of Huge without having to go out and start buying TV spots. As the world continues to converge media and creative, the mindset of the agencies out there needs to be more convergent too. Media thinking should be at the core of creativity. If you don't have a great media connections plan for your idea or your creative, you've got no plan. That’s the type of thinking that I'd like to inject more into Huge. It's already there, my job is to build upon it.”
Another area of focus will be helping clients manage their data coming out of the pandemic, as most brands now have a treasure trove of first-party data from selling most of their products online and direct-to-consumer. Companies are looking for ways to utilize this data properly but don’t always know how. One way Huge will help clients with data management is by incorporating companies like Acxiom within IPG’s portfolio into its offerings.
“We're not going to try and replicate all of the great data management capabilities Acxiom has, but we are going to augment it into our offer, so our clients, get access to those capabilities,” Baxter says. “It’s about being able to diagnose when it's right to bring Acxiom in. We have to be educated enough about other things we can do within our wider portfolio so that when those opportunities arise, we go, ‘Wow. A client could really benefit from a really smart data management strategy here.’"
A third focus will be changing the agency’s mindset around the rise of brands bringing more of their marketing efforts in-house.
“I want us to embrace the in-housing trend, rather than try and swim against it,” Baxter says. “There's clients looking to bring more and more of their marketing efforts closer to their organization. Rather than being resistant to it and seeing it as a threat to what we do, how do we see it as an advantage? How do we see it as something that clients need ongoing support and stewardship for? Clients want to do it, but they don't always know how to do it. We know how to do it, because we're an agency that does it every day.”
These new changes in mindset might be necessary for an agency like Huge.
“There’s never been a more challenging time to be a pure-play digital agency as marketers continue to look in-house and look for nearshore and offshore content shops,” says Greg Paull, co-founder and principal of consultant R3. “Meantime, consultancies such as Accenture and Deloitte continue to bulk up on customer experience work. Huge has built a strong New York offering, but has been challenged to scale that globally as marketers continue to appoint digital on a piecemeal and local basis.”
Huge has sported a couple of account wins recently. In May, Huge was appointed agency of record for high-end kitchen appliance maker Sub-Zero Group. In June, Blockchain non-profit Tezos Foundation named Huge as its first AOR.