Global Networks Race to Build Up Digital Arsenals

Aegis, Publicis Lay Out Big Sums for Specialists; JWT Prioritizes Existing Offices

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NEW YORK ( -- The rush to build or buy digital networks is the most fast-paced race in the ad industry today.
Last week Aegis Group acquired 100% of Brazil's biggest digital agency, AgenciaClick in Sao Paulo, for about $40 million. The agency of 300 people brings big clients such as Fiat and Coca-Cola, award-winning creatives, and a foothold in Latin America to Aegis' fast-growing digital network, Isobar.

The deal follows Publicis Groupe's acquisition of Digitas in December for $1.3 billion and the sale of a chunk of AKQA to a private-equity firm last month.

The test markets
Isobar CEO Nigel Morris said his priority is growth in Brazil, Russia, India and China. As clients are beginning to look at digital on a global basis, they frequently test the agency's capability by asking what they can do in five different markets, and Brazil and China frequently turn up on that list, he said.

Isobar is investing heavily in international capabilities and has 33 people in central, global roles, he said. For instance, Frederick Marckini, CEO of iProspect, the U.S. search-engine-marketing firm Aegis acquired two years ago, will become Isobar's first global head of search, and similar positions likely will be created for other digital specialties such as mobile marketing.

"IProspect will become a global search brand in the next year," Mr. Morris said. "We'll set up in new markets as iProspect and rebrand [existing agencies]."

Best digital creative
The best digital creative doesn't necessarily come from specialist agencies. Only four of the top 10 agencies are digital specialists in the Won Report ( ranking of agencies by awards won in cyber contests around the world last year. And none of the top five winners --Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami; Dentsu, Tokyo; DDB, Sao Paulo; Forsman & Bodenfors, Gothenburg, Sweden; and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco -- are digital networks.

Taking a different approach, JWT CEO Bob Jeffrey said he has picked six offices for digital priority -- New York; Detroit; Sao Paulo; London; India; and Shanghai, China.

"[Digital] is meant to be integrated in the core of what we deliver to clients," he said. "It's an opportunity to connect all the talent. You can do different parts of digital in different parts of the world, depending on skill sets and economics."

Unilever's 'Gang of Girls'
A digital concept called "Gang of Girls", developed by JWT India for Unilever's Sunsilk shampoo, is drawing wide attention in Asia and is likely to be taken global by Unilever, according to JWT. The goal is to create the world's largest community of girls on the internet. On the site, they solve Sunsilk sudoku puzzles as gangs, work together to create blogs (with prizes for the most posts) and upload talents from dancing to beading that viewers can vote on. In the first six weeks, the site drew 225,000 registered users and about 4,700 gangs. The average time spent on the site is 17 minutes.

Much of the network-building is happening at media networks. In their submissions for Ad Age's Global Media Agency of the Year contest, media networks consistently listed digital as their fastest-growing and highest-priority area. MindShare reported revenue growth of more than 50% for MindShare Interaction in 2006 and appointed Simon Andrews as the network's first digital chief strategy officer in October 2006.

Aegis Media reported that digital made up 19% of its revenue in the first half of 2006, up from 13% a year earlier. And Zenith Media formed Zed Digital a year ago, re-branding all Zenith's interaction and digital units under the Zed name. Zed Digital has close to 650 staff worldwide, including last year's acquisitions of Atlanta-based Moxie Interactive and French search-engine-marketing company Pole Nord.
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