GroupM Builds A House For Tech And Data Expertise, Taps Xaxis CEO Gleason To Run It

mplatformWPP-owned GroupM said Tuesday it will centralize its tech and data expertise worldwide into a unit called [m]Platform. The division will be helmed by Xaxis CEO Brian Gleason with key executives drawn from Xaxis and across GroupM.

“The collective mission of [m]Platform revolves around technology, data and expertise,” Gleason told AdExchanger. “The mission is how to take each of those elements and put them together to provide addressability and accountability across all media.” And by “all media,” Gleason means everything from search to linear TV.

[m]Platform’s components include the [m]Core audience platform, which Gleason said is not a data management platform (DMP) and which will, in fact, work with other DMPs. [m]Core is designed to combine data across CRM systems and online channels to build a “privacy-compliant consumer identifier” called [m]ID.

“You tie in different events and behaviors, you have different demographics, you can add location, purchase data, and it’ll link with other WPP assets – whether from Wunderman, Kantar or others,” Gleason explained. It also takes into account 650 data sources and data from 50 exchanges.

[m]ID fuels the entire [m]Platform system as it enables the 360-degree customer view advertisers are vying for, Gleason said, and it connects the other elements that constitute [m]Platform.

Those other components include a media-planning and workflow management tool, an analytics application that combines online and offline campaign data for attribution and optimization and a reporting tool that plunks all that data into a dashboard.

Gleason added that [m]Platform has an open architecture so it’s compatible with other marketing tech stacks.

The details come two weeks after GroupM said it would split itself into distinct Media Investment and Platform Solutions divisions.

DNA From Xaxis, But A Different Business Model

Xaxis’ influence on [m]Platform is palpable. In addition to Gleason, Xaxis alumni will fill three key roles. Nicolle Pangis will join as global COO, Bob Hammond will come on as its CTO and Lucas Mentasti will become its LatAm president. And, of course, GroupM’s North America CEO, Brian Lesser, previously founded and ran Xaxis as CEO.

Xaxis’ tech development staff will also move into the new unit, and will have GroupM [m]Platform titles. Picture a Venn diagram with [m]Platform and GroupM, and Xaxis is the overlap.

Naturally, [m]Platform incorporates some of Xaxis’ tech. Those technologies – like DMP Turbine and first-party data capture mechanism Xanadu – will be available to clients that don’t buy media through Xaxis.

But the new structure is not simply a case of remaking GroupM in Xaxis’ image. For one thing, [m]Platform, described by GroupM as a tech/data shop, doesn’t adopt Xaxis’ business model or its use of undisclosed media costs.

“It’s not a profit center,” Gleason said. “[m]Platform is a tool set.” The language describing [m]Platform’s role in GroupM, however, is similar to that describing Xaxis: GroupM agencies will have access to its tech, but won’t be compelled to use it.

“If they feel we provide the best tools in the marketplace, they should use us,” Gleason said. “If there are better tools than what we have to offer, they should offer that to their clients.”

And [m]Platform’s C-suite is not just a landing pad for Xaxis talent. MediaCom North America CEO Phil Cowdell will be North American president. (Last week’s announcement that he’d head up GroupM’s Platform Services division was just a placeholder.) And Connect CTO Jack Smith will be [m]Platform’s chief strategy officer.

Indeed, [m]Platform is way bigger than Xaxis. It will have 5,000 employees and will completely absorb GroupM Connect and GroupM Data and Analytics. (GroupM Connect was set up last year to house all real-time ad buying across search, mobile social and programmatic. Its sudden assimilation may reflect the pressure holding companies face to continually respond to data-driven changes in advertising.)

Xaxis will live on, continuing to develop technology and buy and sell media. Several of its technology and business components – like AI decision engine Copilot, native ad platform plista, mobile performance marketing platform Light Reaction and ecom media seller Triad – will remain squarely under the Xaxis umbrella.

WPP hasn’t announced Xaxis succession plans yet, though it won’t replace Gleason’s global CEO role. It will instead appoint a global president reporting to Gleason.

While Gleason is banking on [m]Platform being live by early next year, the development road map will continue. His team is still working on a universal dashboard tool designed to provide that 360-degree view and an insights tool that can plan campaigns from search to linear TV.

By the end of 2017, he hopes to have rolled out [m]Platform globally to all the markets where GroupM participates, and across all its media-buying agencies.

“[m]Platform is a significant move because we’re empowering the agency with the best of everything,” Gleason said. “You take our data science team, engineers, the technologies we’re building and [m]ID at the scale we can provide, and you’ll have a huge impact.”

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