March 11, 2024 | Share this article


IPG Mediabrands is Ad Age’s 2024 U.S. Network of the Year

IPG Mediabrands started 2023 under the new leadership of Eileen Kiernan, who was named global CEO of the media agency network in late 2022. Kiernan didn’t wait for the dust to settle, quickly diving into what would become a year of growth and innovation for the media agency network, which houses agencies UM, Initiative, Magna and Mediahub.

Kiernan said her first step when taking on the role was to assess “the friction points” that stood between the business and its mission. The assessment whittled down to refining operations around the constants of innovation no matter how quickly the media landscape evolves: data, technology and “new standards of what it means to do media in an execution world,” said Kiernan.

The three tenets have driven numerous changes and partnerships for Mediabrands over the past year. Under Kiernan’s leadership, the media network launched a business unit devoted to the booming retail media market, struck a partnership with Google to accelerate innovation in AI and merged its data and performance marketing shops as the unified Kinesso agency.

These moves paid off in Mediabrands’ Geico media account win, which accounts for $1.4 billion in media billings.

Advertisers’ growing in-house capabilities have upped their ability to suss out what differentiated agency operations and infrastructure look like and should return, said Kiernan—noting that the shift has changed the game from getting by on talking points to proving business outcomes.

The Geico win did not just demonstrate Mediabrands’ ability to evaluate the current performance-centric media marketplace, the CEO said—it also highlighted IPG Mediabrands’ skill in mapping the impact of unique metrics “like reputation, share value, profitability—areas that are becoming of net new importance. Having the right data analytics, skills and talent to be able to achieve that is critical.”

The blend of tech, data analysis and performance was on display in recent work for CVS from agency UM. For a campaign spanning the U.S., Israel and India, the agency conducted a consumer survey to identify audience segments that were rated from least favorable to most favorable toward the pharmacy chain. Applying the data for an audience of more than 100 million to the programmatic campaign, CVS saw a 10% awareness lift in the least favorable segment, and overall reached a larger audience that equates to $18 million in potential revenue, the agency said.

Mediabrands’ other account wins last year included General MillsConstellation Brands and Bristol Myers Squibb. Among its account losses were BMW, Western Union and Sharkninja. Mediabrands’ Initiative is currently defending its long-held media partnership with Amazon, the largest U.S. and global advertiser.

“Nobody in the industry knows Amazon like we know Amazon,” said Kiernan of the account review. “We are deep into their inner workings as an organization and we believe our ability to leverage that and also bring fresh perspective on where we go next gives us a winning hand.”

From 2022 to 2023, Mediabrands’ U.S. revenue grew 24.5% (at the global level, the media network’s revenue was up 14%). And although the year ahead appears increasingly challenging, Kiernan said the burden of growth among agency holding companies rests on media’s shoulders. Announcing IPG’s year-end results in February, CEO Philippe Krakowsky said the holding company expects organic net revenue growth of 1% to 2% in 2024, emphasizing the role of investments in retail media and AI to facilitate that growth.

“The pressure on the industry is placing even more pressure on media to continue to find new ways to grow because media is really what is driving a lot of the growth,” said Kiernan. “And one of the major reasons why is because of the data and technology; we’ve been able to become extremely accountable to what the investment in media will return to a business.”