“If you com­pare us with the tra­di­tional com­pe­ti­tion, we bal­ance well the right and left parts of the brain.”

DAVID FREGONAS, head of Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive, on data, tech­nol­ogy and cre­ativ­ity.

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE -

In May 2016, Ad­ver­tis­ing Age named Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive as the world’s largest and fastest-growing dig­i­tal ad agency net­work. But it does not fall un­der any of the big hold­ing groups. Rather, it is part of Ac­cen­ture Dig­i­tal, it­self founded in 2013 as a sub­sidiary of pro­fes­sional ser­vices firm Ac­cen­ture.

David Fregonas, head of Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive MENA, says the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s key goal is “to be re­ally laser-fo­cused on help­ing our clients create the best cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence on the planet”. And al­though he is keen to show off aug­mented re­al­ity work Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive has re­cently car­ried out for BMW and Nes­tle’s Dolce Gusto cof­fee brand, he em­pha­sises that the com­pany’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties go be­yond any spe­cific tech­nol­ogy.

He says: “A lot of com­pa­nies are ask­ing me di­rectly: ‘So, you are into aug­mented re­al­ity, right?’ And I say yes, to the ex­tent that it helps our clients to bring the right cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence to the mar­ket. ‘Ah, so you are also into ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence?’ Yes, we are; we work on self-care to the ex­tent that it brings the best cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence to our clients.”

But he adds: “We don’t want to be seen as some­one who is spe­cialised in one spe­cific tech­nol­ogy, be­cause it will evolve over time. We want to make sure we are fa­mous for ex­pe­ri­ence; that is our real mis­sion.”

Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive can see projects through from end to end. From vi­sion to op­er­a­tion. “When you are in a C-suite meet­ing [with other agen­cies] and you ask a ques­tion around who can de­sign a mar­ket­ing cam­paign, then you have lots of hands go­ing up,” says Fregonas. “And then you ask who can do that with the tech­nolo­gies [the client has found], and a few hands drop. And then you ask: can you run this in 20 lan­guages, in sev­eral coun­tries with dif­fer­ent reg­u­la­tions? Then you have one or two. And then ul­ti­mately you can en­gage on re­sults.”

Not all clients nec­es­sar­ily want that, though, so the firm can sim­ply de­velop a straight tech so­lu­tion such as a chat bot or an aug­mented re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ence. Or it can be­gin fur­ther up­stream, help­ing a client de­velop a strat­egy to lift cus­tomer en­gage­ment.

If tra­di­tional me­dia and mar­ket­ing hold­ing groups of­fer a whole spec­trum of ser­vices, Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive brings ul­tra­vi­o­let and in­frared to its rain­bow. It is part of Ac­cen­ture, the man­age­ment con­sult­ing firm now head­quar­tered in Ire­land. Ac­cen­ture it­self was founded as a tech­nol­ogy con­sult­ing busi­ness of US ac­count­ing firm Arthur An­der­sen in the 1950s, and is now a fully fledged pro­fes­sional ser­vices firm with a turnover of $33bn.

This means con­sul­tancy is in its blood, and solid fi­nan­cial back­ing means that scal­a­bil­ity has not been an is­sue for Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive.

“Are we growing a lot?” asks Fregonas. “Ab­so­lutely. Dou­bledigit. Some­times it is pure or­ganic growth, some­times it is in­or­ganic. This is al­ways look­ing at all the spec­trum, from telling the story to driv­ing cus­tomer en­gage­ment.”

In re­cent years Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive has been mak­ing mar­ket­ing head­lines through its ac­qui­si­tions of agen­cies such as Lon­don-based de­sign con­sul­tancy Fjord in 2013, Hong Kong dig­i­tal net­work Paci­ficLink in 2015 and the UK’s Kar­marama last year.

Some of Fjord’s clients are still work­ing with Fjord. Oth­ers are work­ing with Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive, be­ing ser­viced by the same team. Fjord is present in the UAE, but it is not yet branded as such. When Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive moves to new of­fices in the com­ing months, Fjord will of­fi­cially launch in the re­gion. But while the likes of Fjord and Kar­marama may be call­ing cards to present at dig­i­tal pitches, they are still part of a greater whole.

“Brand­ing has an im­pact,” says Fregonas. “We pre­serve the brand­ing and we pre­serve the cul­ture, but it serves a common goal.”

Fregonas says that dig­i­tal brings with it a flexible at­ti­tude. “Dig­i­tal is more than soft­ware,” he says. “It is the mind­set as well, and in­ter­ac­tiv­ity, the way we work.”

“The other agen­cies, they are never quick, they are never fast,” he says. “Don’t do some­thing for 12 or 13 months; that’s not the mind­set of dig­i­tal.”

How­ever, a quick-re­ac­tion men­tal­ity is easy to preach when a firm is in dou­ble-digit growth. Its rate of ex­pan­sion means that Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive must be chang­ing al­most daily as it snaps up new shops and re­cruits teams.

Fregonas and his coun­ter­parts in Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive of­fices around the world are hir­ing as the com­pany grows. One of the roles they are re­cruit­ing is “ex­pe­ri­ence ar­chi­tects”.

The roles tend to be in­dus­tryspe­cific, with tele­coms ex­pe­ri­ence ar­chi­tects ser­vic­ing tel­cos, for ex­am­ple, and those with hy­dro­car­bon back­grounds work­ing with oil com­pany clients. Their job, says Fregonas, is “know­ing how to “We don’t want to be seen as some­one who is spe­cialised in one spe­cific tech­nol­ogy, be­cause it will evolve over time. We want to make sure we are fa­mous for ex­pe­ri­ence; that is our real mis­sion.” ar­chi­tect a new ex­pe­ri­ence from the front-end per­spec­tive, know­ing how to ar­chi­tect and at the same time know­ing how to drive the right con­tent, the right search en­gine op­ti­mi­sa­tion, the right ser­vice, the right mar­ket­ing”.

Ex­pe­ri­ence ar­chi­tects are key roles. “Those types of pro­file are se­nior pro­files,” he says. “It is se­nior man­agers and above with us, and they re­ceive spe­cific train­ing and ded­i­ca­tion and at­ten­tion.”

There are three key back­grounds the agency’s staff tend to come from, re­flect­ing the breadth of its of­fer­ings and am­bi­tions. They are from cre­ative agen­cies, they are busi­ness con­sul­tants or they are tech­nol­o­gists.

Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive aims to be seen not as a ser­vice provider but as a part­ner to its clients. True, most agen­cies to­day will say the same, but Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive has an ar­ro­gance grown of ex­pe­ri­ence to back that up. Its par­ent com­pany, Ac­cen­ture, is born of closely ad­vis­ing C-suite clients, and this trick­les down to its com­po­nent parts.

The agency’s po­si­tion­ing “sets the right dis­cus­sion peer-to-peer with the chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer,” says Fregonas. “You can­not be seen as a ghost, be­cause we want to be taken as part­ners.”

To jus­tify its place at the top ta­ble, Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive needs to be more than a cre­ative agency.

“If you com­pare us with the tra­di­tional com­pe­ti­tion, I believe we bal­ance well the right and left parts of the brain,” says Fregonas. “We are not just cre­ative, the right part of the brain; we are also left-brain, ra­tio­nal, fact-based.” This means SEO spe­cial­ists, cus­tomer in­sight spe­cial­ists, data man­age­ment plat­form spe­cial­ists and other data sci­en­tists work hand-in­hand with cre­atives.

If tra­di­tional cre­ative agen­cies are the an­tithe­sis of man­age­ment con­sul­tan­cies, then the likes of Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive and its equiv­a­lents at IBM, Deloitte and other con­sul­tan­cies are the syn­the­sis of the two dis­ci­plines – where the pen­cils meet the pie charts. At the same time, more and more mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions hold­ing groups are of­fer­ing up con­sul­tancy ser­vices as part of their pack­ages, and the lines are get­ting blurred as the suits move down­stream and the cre­atives move up­stream.

Just as ad­land’s stal­warts must evolve to sur­vive, so must the pro­fes­sional ser­vices firms to stave off the in­cur­sion from the likes of Publi­cis and WPP. As such, part of Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive’s job within its par­ent com­pany is to help lead Ac­cen­ture it­self to a wholly dig­i­tal ex­is­tence – to “turn to the new”, as Fregonas says. “The type of peo­ple that we re­cruit are dif­fer­ent [from oth­ers in Ac­cen­ture],” he says. “You can see that – not just in the way they dress, but you can see right now within Ac­cen­ture, within the of­fice, who is part of Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive and who is not. I hope in the fu­ture you can’t.”

In the mean­time, he says, Ac­cen­ture In­ter­ac­tive’s main chal­lenge is to re­main rel­e­vant, in the field of ex­pe­ri­ence, to CMOs and other clients. And as for that ti­tle of big­gest and fastest-growing dig­i­tal agency, the 2017 re­sults will be out any day now. “In May we will know if we keep the num­ber one spot,” he says. “The dif­fi­culty when you are num­ber one is to stay num­ber one. And it’s dif­fi­cult to be bet­ter than num­ber one.”

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