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What does GroupM’s spanking new [m]Platform tell us about changes at WPP?

For years Sir Martin Sorrell has been telling the world that WPP’s vast research operation Kantar will eventually make the same kind of money that the rest of the massive marcoms group does. And it hasn’t.

So the reason for having it was the benefit it offered to other parts of the empire, most notably its market-leading media operation GroupM. The likes of Facebook and Google thrive, in adland anyway, thanks to their data-stuffed “walled gardens.” So WPP would create its own.

Now it looks as though a degree of rationalisation is underway with the creation of new GroupM division called (bear with us) [m]Platform. The point of this is to unify all WPP’s numerous data sources (it owns qualitative researcher Millward Brown among many others) and put them to the service of GroupM, in particular its programmatic media buying operation Xaxis. (The details are here, if you’ve an hour or so to spare.) [M]Platform will be run by Brian Gleason (below), currently boss of Xaxis, reporting, presumably, to new GroupM boss Kelly Clark.


Two interesting points emerge.

One is in a comment Gleason made to Campaign’s Gideon Spanier, that Xaxis (which still seems to be the core of [m]Platform) will “pre-buy” up to 95 per cent of the inventory it offers to clients, billions of dollars’ worth. Gleason then went on: “what it’s not is simply taking media and reselling that media.”

Well surely it is. There may be all sorts of data-fuelled [m]Platform bells and whistles, there to justify GroupM’s mark-up. But this surely is the new world of programmatic in its naked glory.

The second is that this merging of data and media may spell a rather bleak outlook for people toiling in GroupM media agencies (although they’ll be armed with more data in one place). Digital media plans will more or less write themselves if [m]Platform works. The outlook for people in Kantar isn’t too rosy either as its attempt to rival Nielsen in winning big audience research contracts finally falters and it becomes, in essence, a GroupM (or [m]Platform) handmaiden.

GroupM has had a sticky time recently losing AT&T and Volkswagen media to Omnicom. AT&T went to Omnicom’s new Hearts & Science data-driven media agency (which has also won P&G in North America from Publicis Groupe). When such things happen GroupM executives fall on their sword: hence Kelly Clark replacing Dominic Procter at GroupM (big boss Irwin Gotlieb is still there). GroupM’s MEC, which lost AT&T, also has a new boss.

The new brooms now have the task of proving that [m]Platform can surpass Hearts & Science (and maybe, even, Facebook and Google) in the data stakes, at least in terms of science. Can’t see that much of a role for “hearts.”

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