Under S4, MightyHive Plots Expansion Beyond Its Google-Centric Roots

Martin Sorrell’s S4 Capital acquired the programmatic agency MightyHive last December to marry hands-on-keyboard expertise with dynamic creative expertise from MediaMonks.

The acquisition kicked off a formal working relationship between S4 CEO Sorrell and MightyHive CEO Pete Kim – who are bonding over their similar Type A personalities.

Sorrell’s reputation for all-hours emails and constant input into his companies’ business is going over just fine with Kim. He says he’s typing out just as many midnight emails as Sorrell.

“I call it entrepreneurship,” Kim said, who admires Sorrell’s “raw passion to win.”

Sorrell feels the same way. “I like to know what’s going on, and he likes to know what’s going on, too. We’re the same type.”

MightyHive now makes decisions with the benefit of Sorrell’s decades of experience building up the world’s largest advertising holding company, Kim said. And the ex-WPP CEO’s network also attracts new clients.

S4’s recent client wins include P&G, Braun, Nestlé, Avon and the International Olympic Committee, Sorrell said. Plus, MightyHive and MediaMonks had little client overlap, so S4 is working to expand client relationships across both the creative and media sides of the new holding company’s business.

Going beyond Google

MightyHive originated by handling media execution for Google customers who wanted help. Google referred clients to Kim, a former Google employee himself.

If some in the industry dismiss MightyHive as a Google shop today, that criticism will ring less true as the services agency grows.

“We’ve often gotten asked, ‘Will you work on all the other platforms? You’re so good with the one you started with,’” Kim said. “We started with Google but we’ve got relationships with other partners and we’re grateful for them.”

But Google also captures the biggest advertising market share of all the platforms, Sorrell said. “The biggest platform seems like a logical place to start,” he said.

Client referrals increasingly come from other clients, not Google, Kim said – another sign of MightyHive’s growth. “There is a hunger for the services we provide … and you add to it the unbelievable things that S4 Capital can do.”

Bringing media and creative together

Dynamic creative customized to different audiences has been hampered by the cost and complexity of execution. Before MightyHive and Google, Kim worked on dynamic creative at Yahoo and saw clients were resistant to change.

But S4 believes clients won’t need to increase budgets to benefit from dynamic creative – they simply need to deploy them differently. Instead of a few big creative productions each year, marketers will produce creative more frequently with a larger variety. Marketers’ greater willingness to experiment now will help with this shift, Sorrell said.

But S4 Capital won’t buy tech to fulfill this vision, despite WPP’s liberal acquisition of technology during Sorrell’s tenure. (Although a company with “pools of first-party data we could use or buy at a decent valuation” would be tempting, Sorrell said.)

A “tech-agnostic” approach satisfies marketers’ demands for neutrality. “That is the right way to go given the transparency and trust issues,” Sorrell said. “I happen to think it is overdone,” he added.

The challenges of offering technology and services in tandem is a lesson learned from experience, when WPP bought tech 24/7 Real Media, and turned it into Xaxis. Even though Xaxis was opt-in, not “surreptitious,” Sorrell said, it made marketers skittish.

So Sorrell is confident when MightyHive and MediaMonks lead with the quality of their services

“I’m 150% confident that when they get in, they win,” Sorrell said.

And Sorrell likes winning.

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