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Dentsu's Nick Brien is tired of hearing about the big bad consulting firms

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Brien: 'Moving to mattering'
Brien: 'Moving to mattering' Credit: Alfred Maskeroni/Ad Age

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"We're not in the advertisement business. We're in the engagement business," says Nick Brien, CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network Americas.

The company was formed in 2013 to manage parent Dentsu's operations outside of Japan. Dentsu now generates more than half of its revenue—59 percent last year—from outside its home market.

Yet Dentsu and Dentsu Aegis Network are less known and less understood in the U.S. than are the big holding companies WPP, Omnicom, Publicis and IPG. Dentsu, and therefore Brien, who joins us on the latest episode of the Ad Lib podcast, has a stated goal of becoming a 100 percent digital business by 2020.

"We know that the model of interruptive push-based advertising is giving way to us creating content and experiences you as a consumer want to pull into your life," says Brien. "Marketing is moving to mattering. How does a brand matter to you? And is it going to be not just a utility? Everyone's talking about the utility of brands. No, it becomes something emotionally engaging and relevant."

We also discuss creativity, something Dentsu Aegis Network is not particularly known for, and the recent string of acquisitions at the network.

"We are not a holding company. We do not hold assets. We don't hold them back. We're a network. It's about connectivity," he says. "The design of all these important acquisitions they've been making is all in line with the strategy, which is how to create a more integrated offering. Or the ability to have these expert specialist capabilities working together in a very seamless and dynamic way."

Brien also explains why he's tired of the narrative that the big, bad consulting companies are infringing on agency turf.

"It's another competitive set," he says. "I genuinely believe we need to use their arrival and their emergence into our sector as a significant wake-up call, as a real recognition that for our professional services, our clients are now looking for a different kind of model. They're looking to engage."

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