Microsoft Veteran Plans to Turn Acxiom Into Digital Powerhouse

Howe Wants Data Giant to Be 'Connective Tissue' With Brands

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Little Rock, Ark.-based Acxiom is the biggest company you've never heard of , but Scott Howe wants to turn the sleeping data giant into an online ad powerhouse. The 42-year-old data and direct marketing company announced today that Mr. Howe, who last ran advertising platforms at Microsoft, is joining the company as CEO.

Scott Howe
Scott Howe Credit: Microsoft

But Mr. Howe said this time around he's going to do things a bit differently than Microsoft or Google, which have spent hundreds of millions assembling the back-end infrastructure to power online advertising. "Where Microsoft or Google might feel they have to control the stack and own every single piece ... we want to be the connective tissue," Mr. Howe said. "We want to be the engine and the fuel that powers the engine but we don't want to be the whole car."

Acxiom works with many of the biggest marketers in the world, and it has been in the direct-mail and marketing business since it was founded in 1969. It sits at the nexus between offline information on consumers and preferences and their behaviors online and has more than $1 billion in sales, but that 's been on the decline since 2007, according to its annual reports.

"The technology may not be all that sexy but it is a staple deeply embedded with clients and off of which new capabilities can be extended," he said. Mr. Howe said that as a top exec at aQuantive and then at Microsoft, he would watched the company for years and mostly wondered, "Why aren't they doing X or why aren't they doing Y?" The company could easily, for example, position itself as a data-management platform for brands, or DMP, one of the trendier sectors of marketing today. "Sometimes it's how we market ourselves," he said. "There's an opportunity to follow our major clients and do what they're asking us to do."

Because Acxiom sits on a lot of data, both on- and offline, it is often the target of privacy advocates, and any privacy law proposed in Washington will have a big impact on its business. Acxiom can, for example, connect an online user with an offline profile. Mr. Howe said that unlike most web firms, Acxiom has been dealing with those for 30 years. "These are grownups," he said.

Mr. Howe said he'll spend the next 60 to 90 days visiting all of Acxiom's major clients and locations around the world to come up with a concrete strategy and get a better sense of how to partner with brands and other technology providers like Google and Microsoft. "One of the reasons I'm excited is that I'm not sure what form those partnerships will take," he said.

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