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The Rise of AI for Agencies

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It started in Cannes in 2017 when Publicis announced it would begin work on Marcel, an AI platform to service the Publicis network of agencies. The initiative was such a priority for Publicis that it included putting a hold on investments toward industry events and award shows until complete. The focus on agency artificial intelligence had begun.

This spring, Marcel was unveiled. Then, just a couple weeks ago, Omnicom announced “Omni" —an AI platform in development that will be made available to all Omnicom agencies.

In both cases, significant investments have been made with Marcel being announced as a roughly $20 million investment and Omni at $50 million, both platforms being multi-year initiatives. Beyond the grandiose statements, what will these platforms do for these agency networks?

Omnicom announced that Omni would use big data to help determine the right fit for creative (images and text) with an audience, and Marcel has been promoted that it will help Publicis agencies find the right domain expertise across over 100,000 employees around the world.

Before anyone discounts these offerings as just a tool for improved message resonance (Omni) or a glorified version of LinkedIn (Marcel), make no mistake, Omnicom and Publicis have embarked on long-term journeys for AI. You can expect them to add more features and capability as they go; this is just the beginning. These announcements of resource investments are a testament to the dedication top agencies have in the belief that AI is the future.

Though long-term impact on efficiency and client service is unknown, we are already seeing business development being impacted by recent announcements.

The biggest agency pitches, for the biggest brands, are including how the agency is using AI for service models. With more brands asking about the technology behind the agency efforts, an agency does not want to be in a situation to be called out by a client as being behind innovation: “Why am I paying for inefficiencies because you are using essentially a horse and buggy while others have tractors?”

This sets the stage for a world of agency “haves” and “have nots.”

As put by Karim Sanjabi, executive director of cognitive solutions at Crossmedia in a recent AdAge article, "We're going to have two different species of agencies: One that evolved with AI and one that didn’t…snubbing AI would be akin to an agency turning its back on social media 10 years ago.”

In response to this, we're seeing agencies bring on AI partners, or using components of vendor platforms that match their agency needs. Even much of the development of the above platforms is occurring via third-party partnership (e.g., Marcels’ key tech partner is Microsoft).

This is another aspect in the rise of agency AIs—an increasing level of interest to embed existing platforms within agency applications. For example, Zeta Global announced its acquisition of Boomtrain to jump start its AI tech journey and The Team Companies recently announced KAT, an industry AI with Equals 3’s Lucy as one of the notable components.

It will be interesting to see how the continued rise of AI drives the nature of agency competition in the near future. What we do know is that as AI becomes increasingly mainstream for marketers; it’s becoming expected that agencies will have this technology.

A safe prediction is that we will see a widening gap in success between agencies that planted their flag in AI early, compared to those that waited to see what will happen.

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