Acxiom CEO Howe On His New Role And The Business Of Partnership

AcxiomOn Wednesday, marketing data services and technology company Acxiom announced that former Microsoft and aQuantive executive, Scott Howe, has been hired as the company’s CEO and President.  Read the release.

Howe shared his thoughts on the new role and the industry with What attracted you to your new role as CEO and President at Acxiom?

SH: Above all else, the attraction dates back to my agency days, when I was running part of Avenue A | Razorfish. One of things I learned is that you are constantly judged by the company you keep.

When I looked at Acxiom, it is a who’s who of marketers from blue‑chip global brands. Moreover, Acxiom has had relationships with many of them for decades.

So, it’s the combination of these great foundation clients, plus essentially an invitation from those clients to do more. That is  powerful. And along with that, I’m walking into a situation where there’s a world class team of associates in place. Hopefully I can help be a catalyst to help those people and provide even better service and insight to their clients. The combination of clients plus a talented team? That’s really what attracted me at the end of the day.

How do you compare the challenge of this role to others you’ve experienced?

I would say every challenge is a little bit different, right? Startups have a very different challenge than joining a company that’s already moving down the track at a rapid pace. Walking into Microsoft, where there was a lot of disparate businesses, and trying to weave some commonality across those and make some sense of it all, that was a very different challenge. I would characterize this challenge as a phenomenal opportunity.

You’ve only been on the job for a few days, but are there opportunities for Acxiom in digital, in particular?

Yes. I think the challenge for us is going to be prioritizing those things and sequencing them in a logical sense. I’d be very surprised if the path we follow for innovation isn’t one that is very incremental.

What I mean by that is, although there may be companies out there that are touting the 360‑degree view of the customer and be all, end all vision where everything is connected, in reality most advertisers and marketers are a little bit siloed. They’re taking it one step at a time.

An example would be the company that currently has developed an offline segmentation approach that they think is successful and they want to apply the same template anonymously, of course, to online segments. They’re saying, “How do I do that? How do I make that first connection?” -that first extension.

If you do enough of those, over time, then you grow into something that’s pretty interesting. But our focus really will be on one client at a time, helping them solve the problems always with an eye towards how do we extend this capability, modularize it, productize it, and then release it to the rest of our client base.

What should we think of Acxiom as? A data company, an agency, an ASP?

It’s a little bit of all those. I would say, at the end of the day, we’ve got to land on the right positioning. Something that really resonates with the marketing community.  The way I think of it is, we want to be the marketing industry’s catalyst.

And everybody should be working with us. There’s hardly anybody that we can’t apply some data or some segmentation expertise and make their existing marketing campaigns more effective, whether it be an agency, a marketer, an existing industry provider.

How we conceptualize and package it – we’ve still got to work on that. I want to get to a place where we can say, we can have that vision of a PC on every desktop. People just get it. I think we’ve got some work to do on that.

In the DSP and ad exchange world – what’s your take on that space right now?  I realize you’re a Turn board member, too.

There are show companies and there are tell companies. I think Turn is a show company, I think Invite Media is probably a show company. [Show companies] do what they say, deliver value and improve ROI.  And then there’s a whole bunch of stuff out there that I’m having trouble wrapping my arms around -and our clients are confused by it.

I don’t want to name names, but where sometimes the hype exceeds the reality and the technology isn’t scalable or it doesn’t work like advertised or the whole suite of functionality doesn’t exist. Those are the tell companies. I look at the landscape and I say, there’s probably more tell companies than show companies.

Applying that to Acxiom I’d say Acxiom is the ultimate in the show companies because look at our database technology and they probably say, “Hey, that’s not all that sexy, it’s not all the new thing.” But it’s the thing that’s been proven repeatedly over the course of decades. It’s foundational at our clients. I think there’s room for more companies in the digital space to be like that and to be “show” companies. But, there’s going to be a little bit of a shakeout coming up.

Do you think about Google as a potential competitor?

I think about Google as a potential partner. I think about Microsoft as a potential partner, and I think about Yahoo as a potential partner. The message that I have to that world is, we’re open for business. We’re in the business of partnership and we want to work with you.

By John Ebbert

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