MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan's 2019 industry predictions

Find out what the industry exec believes is in store for holding companies, brands and more.

The New Year is around the corner, and if 2019 is anything like this year, everybody in the advertising and marketing industry should stay on their toes. Campaign US caught up with Michael Kassan of MediaLink, which sold to Ascential about two years ago, to see what the chairman and CEO thinks is on the horizon for advertisers, agencies, media companies and even his own company in the next 12 months.

Media companies

More consolidation is ahead for media companies in 2019, according to Kassan. "My big bang theory on the media company side is that somebody rolls up Viacom, CBS, Lionsgate and MGM," he said.

He added: "Viacom and CBS is logical; Lionsgate everyone knows is kind of for sale; and MGM we’re not sure, but when you think about that, it's a big consolidation play on the media company, entertainment side and I think we’ll see this continuing."

Advertising agencies

Similarly, further consolidation seems likely on the agency and holding company side of the business, especially after recent mergers like WPP’s VML with Y&R and JWT with Wunderman.

"Is it really necessary to have all the brands? If you look at the reason why holding companies were formed in the first place, it was about conflict avoidance. The reason why Marion Harper created IPG was to have conflict protection," said Kassan.

Holding companies are also going to build up their tech stacks in 2019, according to Kassan.

Interpublic Group’s Acxiom deal was a smart move – as was Dentsu’s purchase of Merkle in 2016 – he added, but IPG now has to "make sure one plus one equals three" since many marketers were already dealing with Acxiom previously. IPG needs to make sure it infuses its own knowledge, data and strategy to provide marketers with added Acxiom benefits going forward.

For other holding companies looking to build in this space, Kassan says they’ll likely have to do so through consolidation or their own rollout since there aren’t a lot of other players in market at the same size as Merkle or Acxiom.

Consultancies

"They’re here and they’re doing their thing," said Kassan. "I don’t think anybody should lose any additional sleep about it. It’s just that the competitive landscape has changed and there are more players to choose from."

Marketers

In-housing is "absolutely" going to continue, said Kassan, but this doesn’t mean agencies are going to be replaced. He believes the industry will see more shops adopting the The&Partnership’s method of building bespoke in-house teams for clients.

"You’re going to have the same amount of movement and disintermediation of the agencies and they need to get ready for that and adjust because I believe there’s a real roll for creative, media, and digital agencies and production and those needs are not going away. The way you source them may change, but you still need them," Kassan said.

One of Kassan and MediaLink’s ongoing beliefs for several years has been that the CMO and CIO would morph together – and that idea carries even more weight now.

"There’s a change afoot for the description and capability set of a CMO. It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile as that expression used to go," said Kassan. "The qualifications of a CMO today are much different than they were five years ago – from the standpoint of having to understand technology, privacy, security and transparency. It’s not just selling good stories."

However, storytelling is still at the core of the industry, he said. It’s just that the tools and ways of telling stories have changed, which means the CMO’s job description has to adapt accordingly.  

RFPs and AORs

Kassan believes that clients will lean into more consolidated creative-media agency reviews in 2019, but that it won’t be "a palooza, but more of a drumbeat."

Marketers, he added, may opt for "agency therapy" sessions, where they look to fix their current partnerships, or modified reviews rather than diving into extensive, costly RFP processes.

When it comes to AORs, Kassan told Campaign that he thinks there’s a role for such consistent relationships, but he knows that clients often want more choices today. He also said he believes the days of the bespoke agency units and teams, like GTB for Ford or Red Fuse for Colgate-Palmolive, are less likely going forward.

Technology

Voice, which Kassan calls "the new version of shopper marketing," is where it’s at from a tech standpoint in 2019.

The challenge for agencies and brands lies in figuring out how to make specific brands top of mind on voice assistants without a consumer specifically saying the brand name. At the moment, voice doesn’t have anything similar to SEO, which allows brands to amplify their presence on web searches.

A look back - and forward - at MediaLink

"We’re coming up on two years since we sold and what I like to say is they’re still laughing at my jokes, which is probably a good thing," said Kassan. "Ascential has been a great partner and parent and it’s allowed us to grow the business."

The company is launching a new, experiential-led offering at Cannes Lions 2019 - dubbed CLX for connect, learn and experience – in partnership with Ascential-owned Cannes.

A few other highlights from 2018 include growing MediaLink’s strategy work; helping American Express rethink its organization and partners, and of course, being a major part of Ken Auletta’s book, "Frenemies."

MediaLink’s London office has done well in the last 12 months, said Kassan, but "it’s always difficult to cross the ocean" and some parts grew slower than he’d hoped. The strategy portion of the business in London was stronger in 2018 for MediaLink than the company’s media review business, for example.

Going forward, Kassan said MediaLink is examining M&A opportunities and may move ahead with some potential acquisitions to help bolster the company on the global stage.

What else is in store for MediaLink? "We want to go intergalactic," he said (jokingly, of course, but maybe not…).  

On the philanthropic side, Kassan, who is active with the UJA Federation, said he wants to make sure he’s leading by example and continuing to do purpose-driven work in the community to help make the world a better place.

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