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2 May 2022

Inside mSix&Partners’ North America expansion plans

The company is looking for new growth opportunities in the US and Canada and funneling resources into developing future-proof data and analytics strategies.

Last month, m/SIX, the joint media venture between GroupM and The & Partnership, unveiled a new name and full rebrand. Under the newmoniker mSix&Partners and the updated tagline “Further, Faster”, the agency has its sights set on global growth.

In 2021, the organization was among the fastest-growing UK media agencies — it saw a reported 53% lift in media billings. It counts majorglobal brands including Discovery, Puma, Toyota, the Wall Street Journal and David Yurman among its clients.

Though it’s gained significant traction in Europe, the agency has remained relatively under-the-radar across the Atlantic. The agency hopesto change that. “There's not a company [around] that's going to say that the US isn't a priority — it's just a massive marketplace,” says NadalieDias, who has served as the agency’s chief strategy officer since last summer. “We are trying to double-down and grow our Canadian effortsas well, because there are a lot of great brands based in Canada and we've got a really strong team there. [We’re] really looking to grow ourfootprint.”

Partners, not executors

The recent rebrand could help the WPP-owned agency grow awareness and connect with potential new clients in North America. Theorganization is focused on positioning itself as a different kind of agency. For one, says Dias, it’s operating at a unique intersection: “It’s often not something that people see — an independent shop partnering with one of the big five. We like to call it ‘independent at scale.’ You get all the benefits of working with a big agency, but you actually know everyone's name and you are getting a lot of hands-on contact from theleadership, which is often more attributed to smaller, boutique agencies.”

In line with this mission, mSix&Partners is hyper-focused on developing true partnerships — rather than serving clients in a sheerly delegatorycapacity. Dias argues that this is a critical moment in time to reestablish a focus on partnership-based relationships. “Over the last year,there's been so much backlash between how clients work with agencies, and people [have been] leaving the agency world in droves. There's fundamentally been a breakdown between that really important relationship. Clients started to think about their agencies asexecution arms versus advisors and partners. And you saw that reflected back in the work, because it wasn't as strong. What’s been socritical to us is cultivating that partnership and having it be a central point for us."

In support of this focus, MSix&Partners is seeking out clients that are in what Dias calls a “pivotal state” of growth. “Oftentimes, when you're going through some sort of change — whether it's perspective in your business or a need to overcome this new barrier — when you're doing it with someone else, that experience bonds you, because usually it's quite challenging. There's this connectivity that's formed between the two entities that work on something together. [We’re] looking for those types of clients — and it doesn't always have to be something massive; it could just be that they're pivoting, and they're looking for someone to go on that journey with them.”

Tackling the demise of identity in advertising

Within the partnership-based framework that grounds MSix&Partners’ approach to business development is a special focus on helping to future-proof clients’ businesses. For a media agency, one of the most pressing challenges MSix&Partners is facing today is helping clients navigate cookie depreciation and the shift away from identity-based ad targeting and measurement.

To support these efforts, the agency has made two new leadership appointments. Etienne DeLisle, who previously held an executive post at Starcom — a Publicis Groupe-owned media agency — has been named managing director of media planning. Ashley Tsai, who formerly headed North American analytics engagement for petcare at Mars, has become head of insights.

DeLisle’s and Tsai’s team will work closely to help clients tap into deeper data insights and improve their marketing strategies and media mixes — while gearing up for a privacy-centric future. “A lot of my focus is going to be on future-proofing our clients’ business… I’m working closely with [Tsai] to make sure that we're enriching our clients’ first-party datasets so that we're able to utilize that to activate across as many of our channels as possible,” says DeLisle.

Plus, as cookie deprecation complicates not only targeting but also media measurement (particularly in the world of streaming and connected television [CTV]), DeLisle’s team will focus on optimizing clients’ cross-channel measurement methods. “For some channels, like CTV specifically, brands [tend to] look at it just from a reach and impressions perspective. But we’re able to bring into some of our proprietary tools and look at how CTV is impacting site traffic that we can then attribute to e-commerce sales,” he says. In essence, he explains, there’s a major opportunity for the team to implement dual KPIs across channels. “It's [a matter of] drilling down into the connectivity between all the different channels that we have running across the various brands.”

Analytics is the other side of the coin. “[We’re] redefining what analytics means — which is asking the right questions and figuring out solutions to them, versus just analyzing data,” says Dias.

Amid the demise of identity, the team is trying to bring media and creative in closer synchronicity for clients across the board. But more broadly, the analytics arm of MSix&Partners is assessing how to link quantitative data with qualitative observations to help clients achieve the best results. “Some clients are very big on one side and not the other, and vice versa,” says Tsai, the new head of insights. “What I would love to do is really bring these two things together, so we can… understand what works when it comes to media buying, tactics and creative messaging, as well as the ‘why'."

A renaissance for creative and media strategies

Dias, for one, is excited about the possibilities of a new paradigm for advertising. “I really love identity deprecation. I'm probably a party of one,” she jokes. “The reason why I love it is because we've gotten kind of lazy. We were like, ‘We're going to target all these people, and it's going to be incredible. "And we got so fixated on how we were going to do something, we've 4 completely abandoned why we're doing it. And this is why so many consumers hate advertising, because they're like, ‘This is awful. It's not a great experience for me. I don't like the interaction that I'm having."

”By moving away from identity-based approaches, she explains, products, services and the creative that promotes them will have to stand on their own. She says that it’s forcing brands to reevaluate the reasons behind their strategies and why and how they want to connect with audiences. “It nicely aligns [with where we’re at] culturally,” she says. “Everyone who's [been at] home for two years is thinking about like, ‘What is important to me, and what is my purpose?’ That's the exact same question that we're asking ourselves right now when we think about marketing.”

And she’s hopeful for what will come of the change. “I'm hoping it will cause a renaissance in great creative and really strong media strategies that sort of push the dial forward.” MSix&Partners, for one, is not only investing more deeply in data and analytics but is exploring different strategies, including influencer marketing, which Dias says “feels more authentic” than identity-based targeting.

Dias is confident that the agency’s guiding values and people-first ethos will position it for success at this critical juncture. “Historically, there's been such a focus on the ‘how’... and making sure that we have the pragmatic skills to do something is always wonderful. But I would argue that agencies got overly reliant on their toolkit, and forgot about who's operating those tools,” she says. “A lot of organizations say that they're people-first. But we actually live and breathe that. We genuinely believe [that our] three core values — [being] brave, adaptive and inclusive — help differentiate us because we're actually looking for people that embody those values. Our people are what makes us unique, because they're constantly challenging the status quo and utilizing that perspective to bring it back to their clients.”