Another Twist in Digitas-LBi Merger: LBi to Merge With MRY in U.S.

Staffers to Be Folded Under MRY Nameplate Instead of Digitas

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Keeping track of the details in the DigitasLBi merger may require a Venn diagram.

It's been just over a week since Publicis Groupe announced that two of its digital agencies, Digitas and LBi, would merge to form a single global network. But per an announcement shared with Ad Age today, there's a twist: the North American operations of LBi will not be merged into the North American operations of Digitas.

Matt Britton, CEO of MRY
Matt Britton, CEO of MRY

Instead, those staffers and clients will be absorbed by MRY, the social-media and youth-marketing shop that LBi bought in 2011, before LBi's acquisition late last year by Paris-based Publicis. As a result, the LBi name will be dropped in the U.S.; going forward, the agency will be called MRY.

This merger of two big shops has had its hiccups, which is often the case in adland. As Ad Age reported last week, the creation of DigitasLBi sparked a client conflict: LBi handles Volvo and Digitas handles General Motors. Volvo, a longtime LBi client, learned of the merger via a report in Ad Age. It has been weighing whether to begin a search for a new digital agency.

But this latest move, which will see Amsterdam-based LBi broken in two, with the global operations folded under Digitas and the U.S. operations under MRY, could potentially resolve that issue.

"Conflict is one reason why [we decided to merge LBi and MRY], but we are also growing much faster than other agencies in the Publicis network because advertisers are so interested in social," said Matt Britton, MRY's founder and CEO. MRY in a subsequent statement added that the agency had already been collaborating on some client work and the newly integrated agency will be able to deliver more meaningful engagement at scale from search to social to purchase.

Mr. Britton acknowledged that the moves -- and their rollout -- are confusing, but he claims that plans have been in the works prior to last week's announcement of DigitasLBi (and the subsequent issue with Volvo). He wanted to announce his agency's plans separately.

As a result, a smaller agency is now taking over the bigger agency brand. LBi isn't tiny in the U.S.; it has about 250 staffers in New York and about 100 in other offices around the country. Meanwhile, MRY has 150 staffers.

The combined agency will have 500 people, and Mr. Britton says the absorption of LBi will add services that MRY didn't earlier offer to a client roster that includes Visa, Coca-Cola, Bayer and Neutrogena.

MRY has been focused largely on social media and analytics. LBi will lend it expertise in back-end digital development, custom-platform creation, CRM and search-marketing work, he said.

It's a relatively rapid expansion for MRY. The shop is just over a decade old, having been founded as Mr. Youth, a youth-marketing agency. The shop's headquarters are in New York but it has offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, London and Singapore.

When the DigitasLBi deal was announced, Publicis Groupe made sure to note that MRY had already been kept out of the deal due in part to a separate conflict issue with American Express, a major Digitas client, and Visa, which is an MRY client.

MRY will continue to operate as a standalone entity within Publicis' digital-technology division, and Mr. Britton will continue to lead the shop. The new management team will be a mix of MRY and LBi executives. Judith Carr, LBi's president, will be president, and Cedric Devitt is creative creative officer.

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