Davinci moves to fill new need for marketers

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Davinci Selectwork figures it's filling a void in the growing arena of communications-channel management, an area that got a big shot in the arm recently after Procter & Gamble Co. awarded its $4 billion account to Starcom and Carat.

Majority-owed by Omnicom Group, Duesseldorf-based Davinci isn't a traditional media agency. Instead, it acts more like a project manager, working with a marketer's unbundled media buyers, planners and creative shops. Alex Crowther, one of three Davinci partners worldwide and CEO of its Americas arm, said his firm gets specific communications' missions from the marketers on its roster, including DaimlerChrysler and Henkel, then it identifies the best resources to fill that mission. "We make it happen. We make it work and we always deliver a return on investment," he said. "We are the single point of control for unbundled communications services."

Davinci, which saved DaimlerChrysler $20 million outside the U.S. last year, is a new breed of agency that negotiates the scope of work with its clients to set financial deliverables. "If we're not getting efficiencies, we're not getting paid," Mr. Crowther said, noting that hasn't happened to date.

The expertise has been more popular in Europe but started gaining momentum in the U.S. in 2000, experts said. While many traditional media agencies have dabbled in communications-channel management, there wasn't enough of a revenue stream so the field has had a "slow uptick," one added.

Mike Elms, nonexecutive director of Davinci based in London, conceded his team adds an extra layer in a marketer's agency mix. "Most clients say their agencies don't communicate, so that's not efficient. We squeeze efficiencies and project manage the networks." He said most big clients "are very siloed," which leads to inconsistent communications.

Shepherding communications used to fall to top corporate marketing executives at clients who traditionally worked with agency account directors, industry experts said. But the complexity of their roles increased with the move to unbundled and more specialized services-sometimes at competing holding companies. Marketers' willingness to use broader, non-traditional media options in the past few years has also contributed to the growth of communications channel services, they added.

$15 million savings target

In late April, Davinci was named communications-channel-optimization agency of record for Mitsubishi Motors North America, when the automaker announced a new media model. (Mitsubishi also uses Davinci in other markets outside the U.S. and has targeted $15 million in savings annually.) Omnicom's PHD USA and sibling Pentacom Canada won buying from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, Los Angeles, which still has planning.

Mr. Crowther said the savings mostly come from efficiencies in communications, such as cross-platform and multimarket deals, but said the firm has negotiated lower fees with agencies in a few instances.

"There's a status quo in the media space that resists change," said Ian Beavis, senior VP-marketing, product planning and public relations at Mitsubishi. "Planners and buyers see Davinci as a threat, but I don't care because I see real value in what they bring to the party." He said Davinci fills a void in media buying and planning by providing a "more intellectual power" that looks at the business holistically.

Marston Allen, senior VP-director of the 3-year-old Communications Architecture arm of Interpublic's Universal McCann, said that the larger and more siloed a client is, the more difficult it is for them to achieve integration through channel planning, which is now being offered by the major agency holding companies. "The reason this is becoming more required by clients is the need for someone to speak all the different languages" in their specialized marketing disciplines, he said.

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