Publicis Groupe has made its largest ever purchase –  and one of the advertising industry’s biggest at $4.4 billion – as it acquires Alliance Data Systems’ Epsilon unit  as part of a stated strategy to become “the preferred transformation partner for its clients”.

The Epsilon business, which specialises in loyalty and email-marketing, brings the holding company a hoard of data – covering 255 million people – and an army of scientists to deal with it.

CEO Arthur Sadoun explained that the deal was an attempt to help clients through increasing consumer expectations, the rise of DTC brands, and more hands-on data regulation. “With the acquisition of Epsilon, Publicis Groupe is bringing the necessary technology, expertise and the talent to complement our offer in creativity, media and business transformation.

“The new market imperative is to deliver personalised experiences at scale. There is no way our clients will continue to grow and reduce costs if they can’t deliver this in their own markets,” he told the Financial Times.

Like some of the other holding groups, Publicis’s move follows a struggle to meet revenue goals in light of Google and Facebook’s cornering of much of the digital advertising market. To compete, traditional holding companies, whose pedigree is in creativity, are increasingly reaching for data. It follows a similar move from rival IPG, which bought Acxiom in July 2018 for $2.3 billion.

Epsilon brings an impressive arsenal. As well as more than 250 million unique consumers identified in the US across 7,000 attributes. it also boasts a popular platform, Conversant, which simplifies the management of loyalty and CRM campaigns.

Publicis’s ambition also mirrors that of certain consultancies which tout the possibilities of a fully end-to-end offer. There is a certain symmetry with Accenture Interactive’s recent acquisition of the independent creative agency Droga5. As the consultancies hit the arms race from the creative side, holding companies are bolstering their data capabilities. They are also working hard to simplify their offer away from the draw of individual agencies to embrace total capability.

“We believe you can have all the data and tech in the world, but if the message you’re delivering has no impact, you won’t sell anything,” Sadoun told Adweek. “This is why it’s interesting to see what Accenture is doing. They are buying a company that is declining by 10% on a very high multiple, because they know that creativity is important. It’s obvious we are on the same page.”

The company gave some additional details on how the acquisition will play across the total organisation:
  • On the creative side, Epsilon assets will bring customer insights to improve ideation and build more relevant campaigns. By powering the Dynamic Creative Engine, Publicis will go one step further to adapt to real time context of customers (who they are, what they do, what they buy)
  • On the media side, the connection between Epsilon’s data sets and Publicis Media’s billions of touchpoints will provide superior intelligence to build consumer IDs, segment audiences and maximize media buying ROI by accurately measuring and optimizing campaigns in real time
  • On the Digital Business Transformation side, Epsilon will allow Publicis to deliver deep proprietary customer insights to further optimize clients’ business model.
In 2018, Publicis posted revenues of  €9.9 billion, a slight fall, but managed to grow profits. In part this was a result of squeezing costs and simplifying the organisation in the face of profound industry shifts.

Sourced from Publicis, WARC, Adweek, Reuters