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This story was originally published in Adweek.

Omnicom Media Group (OMG) and Publicis Media emerged as industry leaders in Forrester’s latest media agency Wave report, receiving praise from analysts for their focus on integrating disciplines, their audience segmentation abilities and the tech platforms that power their planning and activation. (Disclaimer: This reporter previously worked on earlier Wave evaluations.)

In the report, released today, Forrester analyzed seven media agency networks and scored them in 19 categories. The firm named Dentsu MediaGroupMIPG Mediabrands and Havas Media Group (HMG), strong performers and identified Stagwell Media Network (SMN) a contender. Notably, SMN is smaller and younger than the other holding groups in the evaluation.

When searching for an agency partner, many marketers contend with a proverbial “sea of sameness,” and leaders rely overwhelmingly on procurement or pitch consultants to make heads or tails out of the vast agency ecosystem. With its Wave reports, Forrester fills a void for CMOs by offering its clients objective industry research showing how agencies stack up against each other. This year’s Wave reveals audience management platforms and technology are key to designing the end-to-end campaigns brands need to reach consumers wherever they are.

In Waves, Forrester buckets agencies into four categories—leaders, strong performers, contenders and challengers. But rankings can vary depending on a marketer’s needs. OMG presented the strongest current offering in Forrester’s assessment, followed by Publicis Media. Publicis and Denstu Media stood out for their exceptional strategic vision. A tool allows Forrester clients to prioritize the criteria that matter most to them, so an agency named a strong performer or a contender in the overall evaluation might actually be a certain brand’s top shop.

To be included in the research, 30 to 75% of the media networks’ total revenue must come from North America. At least 20% of revenue must stem from EMEA, and a minimum of 10% from the Asia Pacific region. Forrester also stipulated that groups have a minimum of $4.5 billion in media billings.

IPG Mediabrands’ UM led Forrester’s 2020 media agency Wave, alongside others including Omnicom Media Group’s OMD, Publicis Media’s Starcom and Dentsu Media’s Carat.

Disciplines collide

Forrester rewarded networks with strengths in disciplines like retail media and commerce marketing.

In an increasingly fragmented world, consumers’ purchase journeys are more complex. Many agencies advise their clients on how to create more comprehensive Web3 strategies. Expansive new retail media networks add to the complexity, requiring networks to develop proficiencies in retail media strategies. Simultaneously, lingering supply chain woes force media experts to expand their knowledge of commerce marketing, or even areas like merchandising and logistics.

Clients want to understand their agency partners’ relationships to some of the key retail media vendors like as Amazon, Kroger or Walmart, according to Florian Adamski, CEO of Omnicom Media Group. Retail media networks are “scaled technologically, and data-driven parts of the of the ecosystem,” he said.

Jay Pattisall, the principal analyst at Forrester who led the research, told Adweek that performance and brand media must come together to serve marketers’ desires for holistic campaign management.

“In the realm of performance, we know that every client wants to be a brand marketer and a performance marketer at the same time. And so we want to be fierce in how we dominate the intersection of brand and demand together,” said Doug Rozen, CEO of Dentsu Media in the Americas.

The ad industry is itself rife with mergers, reflecting crumbling silos.

It’s increasingly common to see agencies that specialize in performance join up with more traditional shops to combine strengths. Most recently, GroupM agencies Essence and MediaCom announced they will come together in 2023 as EssenceMediacom, pairing Essence’s performance capabilities with MediaCom’s scale as silos crumble.

“We believe in being the most integrated network. We believe that we should all rally behind whatever a client’s need is and not let our structures and our ways of working and our complexities get in the way,” said Rozen.

Wave criteria also recognized networks like Havas Media Group that prioritize media responsibility, including areas like consumer privacy, DEI, sustainability and stemming misinformation.

Networks without a dedicated privacy leader received lower marks in the evaluation. At the time of the Forrester assessment, Dentsu Media had not yet announced Deva Bronson‘s promotion to oversee the group’s global brand assurance practice, Rozen told Adweek.

Group-level competition

Pattisall opted to evaluate agencies at the group level in this evaluation to account for this shifting market, while earlier Waves often compared sister agencies like OMD, Hearts & Science and PHD to each other.

“Rightly or wrongly so, we’re in a time in which a more streamlined, organized, rationalized, coherent approach that is very easy to engage and easily navigable, tends to be a winning approach,” Pattisall said.

All of the holding companies in the report have group-level brands that individual agencies ladder up to. SMN, IPG Mediabrands and GroupM put less of an emphasis on the group level and continue to go to market frequently as individual agencies.

Marketers are looking for someone to help them “stitch together the different parts that make up a holistic marketing operation in today’s modern data-driven world,” said Adamski. “I have a hard time believing that there is a single, relevant client pitch these days—any client review—where group-level people and talent would not be part of any wider conversation,” he added.

Structural outliers IPG Mediabrands and GroupM were not active participants in Forrester’s evaluation, though Pattisall declined to say why. HMG also declined to formally participate in the research.

All agencies networks in the report, except OMG and Dentsu Media, declined to speak with Adweek about the results. Forrester also declined to elaborate further on specific scores.

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