Media Agency of the Year 2019: Essence

Group M is the world’s biggest media buyer. Essence, one of its flagship agencies, has made its name as Google’s digital media agency, and for being a business with a culture and approach that is more akin to that of a technology or data company. Alongside Google, Essence’s other clients include BT, L’Oreal and T-Mobile. 

Billings grew to $4.3bln, up 5% globally and 6% in the US, increasing overall revenue by 12%, the agency said. It attributed 59% of the revenue growth in 2019 to clients beginning work that year, while 41% is down to the growth of work with existing clients.

2019 also saw a shift in Essence’s senior management, with longstanding global CEO Christian Juhl becoming global CEO at Group M and APAC CEO and chief client officer Kyoko Matsushita promoted to Essence global CEO. 

But it’s in the area of technology that the agency believes it has made its biggest impact, creating a new way to target specific web pages with specific ads, and combining this process with machine learning. "This instantly gave us the ability to save hundreds of hours of time in trafficking individual placements for specific pages, as well as targeting ads using publisher data instead of user data," the agency said. 

This approach - which doesn’t rely on the use of personal data, was used on campaigns in 2019 to market the Google Home device, producing results shown to be as effective as behaviourally-targeted campaigns. It builds on previous work from 2018 and again in 2019 for Google Store, and demonstrates the agency’s commitment to using machine learning to improve the performance and relevance of the search engine giant’s advertising. 

As well as investing in technology, Essence also picked up a raft of new business across the world in the last year - 18 briefs in total. In the UK and Europe, wins included the Sainsbury-owned Argos digital media account, with a brief to manage search, programmatic, online video and paid social account, alongside consultancy support for in-house activity. Essence also helped WPP retain L’Oreal’s £106m UK and Ireland media and buying account, previously held by sister agency Wavemaker, in a hotly-contested pitch. L’Oreal, which has a vision to become a leading beauty tech company, described Essence as ‘an agency of 2023’ and said it ‘would help the beauty brand to "advance" its "digital innovation capabilities".

Other agency of record relationships sealed in 2019 include a global brief for a disruptive hospitality brand, Eurosport in EMEA, and Tiffany in Japan. Business in India has grown too and Essence also launched offices in Beijing and Shanghai to support work with local and global companies in the Chinese market. The agency also expanded its relationship with Google into Latin America.

Thought leadership and client experience have also taken centre stage at Essence in the last year, with dedicated teams focusing on these areas. This led to the creation of a Global Client Leadership practice and the launch of "AdVentures", a new agency newsletter, as well as tailored newsletters for clients. The agency has also produced white papers and led the industry debate about the ethics of AI in advertising, hosting presentations at events such as Cannes Lions and Advertising Week. Essence has also been busy launching a new logo and website, aimed at clearly communicating its offering and highlighting its services, its work and its culture. 

In North America, the agency has continued to push on the diversity front, with 61% of its workforce female and 39% male, while just over 37% are non-white, up from 35% in 2018. Globally, 52% of its workforce is female versus 48% male and in 2019, Essence grew its overall headcount by 10%, to more than 1800 employees. When it comes to leadership, 40%  is female, with that number hitting 56% among senior vice presidents. Creative teams, meanwhile, are evenly balanced at 50% female and 50% male.