Podcast: IPG’s Huge Bet On Acxiom

Interpublic Group’s $2.3 billion purchase of Acxiom Marketing Services in 2018 shook the industry. And it reverberated into 2019 with Publicis Groupe’s follow-up acquisition of Epsilon.

This week on the podcast, IPG Chief Data and Technology Officer Arun Kumar comes into the studio for a frank discussion of the deal and the larger trend of holding companies buying data providers.

What did IPG get with Acxiom? How will clients benefit? What are the risks? It’s all in this episode.

Kumar says GDPR and heightened concerns over privacy are a rationale for the merger, not a risk factor.

“The privacy landscape is changed,” he says. “These pieces of legislation are bringing the same level of rigor to digital advertising that they brought to direct marketing way back in the ’90s. Who is the company that’s been doing that for years? Acxiom. They live in highly regulated spaces.”

Kumar directly oversees Acxiom’s 1,600 data scientists, 200-strong product team and a data asset that spans 2.2 billion people around the world, so it’s safe to say he has immense professional currency riding on Acxiom’s successful integration. But he says he relishes the chance to redefine the very discipline of marketing services.

“It’s my neck on the block,” he jokes. “But I am happy to put the target on my head. There are very, very few times in your career when you are going to get to do something that can define what this industry can and should be years from now. If you read about how the holding company came to exist way back in the 1920s and 1930s … I tell my team to think about it the same way.”

Kumar adds, “If you really want a large holding company like IPG to change the way it operates and to have some genuine assets and expertise that drives that change, you’re going to have to make a game-changing bet.”

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  1. The comment about Kumar’s overseeing 1,600 Data Scientists within Acxiom is more and more proof that the world of Data Science is being watered down and expanded so broadly that it no longer has meaning. I guess any programmer, developer or anyone who has looked at data is a Data Scientist! We as an industry need to better define this or we run the risk of watering down a really valued role and skill set!

  2. Excellent point, Tim. I’m not sure there are 1600 true Data Scientists in the entire US! There certainly aren’t that many at Acxiom (I worked there at one point).