Elevated to Global Role, GroupM’s Norman Plans to Ease Vendor Chaos

GroupM has promoted North America CEO  Rob Norman to run its digital kit and kaboodle on a global level. Among his objectives is closer management of dealings between GroupM’s thousands of digital specialists and the spangled array of ad technology partners.

The WPP-owned media agency network has never had a Chief Digital Officer before. Speaking with AdExchanger, Norman described plans to get the teams at Maxus, Xaxis, MEC, Mediacom, Catalyst, and Mindshare on the same page — or landing page as the case may be.

“That community needs to be brought together in terms of systems and processes… and in the way it faces up to the vendor community,” he says. “It also needs to be brought together for people who came into the experience as digital people and don’t have access to the whole suite of analog as well. They need to start becoming more connected to that area.”

On vendors, he says GroupM can improve by reducing the number of contact points for companies like Facebook. “They have to face out to an amazing number of people within the GroupM organization.”

Another goal is disseminating vendor releases and learnings internally – things like ad products, data sources, and measurement methodologies. But Norman is clear about the limits of global coordination, especially when it comes to large platform companies.

“I’m not suggesting all of our financial dealings with Google will be global. In some markets we trade in a consolidated fashion. In some markets we trade in a client-by-client fashion. It’s really about presenting a consistent voice,” he says.

As Norman steps into his new role, GroupM has promoted Maxus Global CEO Kelly Clark to fill his shoes as CEO of GroupM North America. His vacated role will in turn be filled byVikram Sakhuja, currently CEO of GroupM India and South Asia.

On Buying Audience and Xaxis

Norman characterizes exchange-based media buying as a subset of audience buying, which he says extends back decades and is not only about digital.

To illustrate, he observes that as with targeted digital ads, the splashiest TV inventory such as that associated with American Idol and the Super Bowl represent an insignificant wedge of available impressions.

“As a percentage of the spots and inventory they’re the tiniest fractions. The difference comes when you are looking at something that is absolutely content-specific that would require a greater activation around the product. You don’t just buy the Super Bowl, you do many other activations around it.”

However: “There are very many, the vast majority that you don’t do other activations around,” he says. “That vast majority are what we would call audience buying in digital.”

GroupM’s Xaxis unit is the agency network’s executional arm for exchange-traded digital buys around the world, and naturally its work extends to many other WPP operating agencies as well. It’s a close working relationship. Norman sits on the board of Xaxis, and Xaxis CEO Brian Lesser sits on GroupM’s global digital executive committee.


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