Assembly tightens up global, N. American roles to spur faster growth

For challenger holding company Stagwell, 2023 was not the greatest year — although it was far from the only holdco to have a not-great year. Net revenue was down 3.4% for the year to $2.1 billion, while organic revenue was down 5.9% with weakness in the U.S.

On the brighter side, Assembly, one of Stagwell’s biggest media agencies, helped lead the media unit to 4.5% growth for the year. But that’s not enough for either Mark Penn, Stagwell’s CEO, or Rick Acampora, the global CEO of Assembly.

That’s why Assembly is aligning some of its global structure to better fit its North American organizational structure, according to Acampora. It’s appointing a global chief client officer in Andrea Timmerman, and a global chief product officer in Tim Lippa. Under Timmerman, Kim Davis was made evp and managing partner, and charged with overseeing multi-region relationships for global clients.

The move comes on the heels of similar ones in its North American operations last week that established areas of client-category expertise under three regions. Under the new structure, Assembly set up three distinct “Assemblies” to handle regional and category strengths: the East region (focusing on finance, luxury, fashion and beauty), Midwest (brick-and-mortar retail, CPG and home) and West (health and wellness, franchises and co-ops). All of these changes sit under Val Davis, North American CEO.

The two CEOs sat down with Digiday to explain the strategic thinking behind the moves.

This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

In an otherwise mediocre year for Stagwell, media agencies including Assembly seem to be faring pretty well. What was working?

Acampora: 2023 was a good year for us — wasn’t a great year for us — but good and ahead of the market. We have higher ambitions every year than where we land and that’s part of the whole thing. New business was a record year. And we’ve had back to back really strong new business years around the globe since the merger of ForwardPMX and Assembly. A lot of that has to do with the go-to-market and the proposition and vision for the agency, and the coming together of those two agencies: Assembly’s omnichannel comms planning with ForwardPMX’s really strong DNA of performance media and all things performance. Data, talent and tech has really resonated for our people and for the market.

Davis: What we were seeing in RFPs is bringing brand and performance together. Typically, brands would have a brand agency and a performance agency. But a lot of what clients are realizing is that you need to really connect them together. And I think we are one of the few in the marketplace that have a credible answer for that because of our performance DNA.

Assembly’s heritage as a traditional media agency that now is married to the lower-funnel abilities of ForwardPMX seems fortuitous. How are you taking advantage of that?

Acampora: We see it in almost every new business pitch we get today, but a lot of clients are structured internally to be very separate on brand and performance and they therefore struggle. They’re big on the top, big on the bottom, but not connected in the middle. And they really struggle to measure the impact of one on the other and, more importantly, justify the brand investment. Because of how we’re set up, we’re better placed to identify the right changes for them to connect across, and to be able to measure it and give them that line of sight.

Explain the thinking behind the regional changes.

Davis: My mantra in North America is, we’re big enough to lead but we’re small enough to care. And these Assemblies enable that for our clients.

Connected experiences are what builds brands. And often what happens is there’s a fragmentation from planning to activation, where people get into their silos of activating within a channel. So the evp of brand experience role actually doesn’t live in client services. [Toni Box] lives in our experience and activation team that overlaps with our insights and connections team, to connect the planning to the activation to make sure we’re doing storytelling in media … creating a connected experience in media for our clients in a 360 view. She’s been doing it in an informal way for years now. It’s part of what’s been integral to some of our wins. And we really see the magic in it when we’re talking to clients. So we decided we really need to operationalize this and expand it in our business.

How about globally?

Acampora: When we merged Assembly and ForwardPMX to become the new Assembly, it was really important for us to organize ourselves in a way that delivered on our proposition of, ‘We find the change that fuels growth.’ But also gave everybody a very clear sense of where they fit and how we work together. As part of that org design, we have four main disciplines: client experience and leadership; insights and connections; data, tech and business consultancy; and experience and activation.

We weren’t actually living that org design at a global level. Having these appointments is around enabling that org design at a global level and raising the floor to the ceiling, and bringing more consistency to how we operate at a global level. With that client experience and leadership practice, [Timmerman] is looking at that in every region and across the globe, and making sure that we show up the same way and enabling our leaders to be stronger to create indispensable partnerships with our clients.

From global chief product officer Tim Lippa’s standpoint, that’s really bringing that data, tech and business consultancy practice forward, and pushing. Not just pushing our agenda forward, but pushing ahead of the market.

So you’re expecting more global growth than in North America?

Acampora: Percentage-wise in raw numbers, yes. North America last year from a new business perspective was probably 50%-plus of our overall new business growth — the other three regions adding up to the other 50%. So you get a sense for it from that standpoint. But if you look at average growth across our other three regions, it’s sort of in the neighborhood of 50% year on year. In the rest of world, the overwhelming majority of our clients are still performance clients. So there’s a lot of opportunity to cross and upsell their existing clients on expanded capabilities.

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