Media Buying Briefing: Why Brett Marchand doesn’t see Plus Company as a holding company

This Media Buying Briefing covers the latest in agency news and media buying for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Monday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

Even with more than 20 agencies and 3,000 employees under its umbrella, Plus Company doesn’t position itself as the typical agency holding company.

Established in 2021, Plus Company set out to create an “interagency” model with integrated services that differ from traditional holding companies. In 2022, the Canadian holding company acquired independent agency Mekanism as it began charting a path for its U.S. expansion with other leadership hires. Instead of gobbling up its competition, CEO Brett Marchand said the company believes in supporting agencies from the bottom up.

“First of all, we don’t believe in competition,” Marchand told Digiday. “We have a lead agency, and each of the services is what I call swim lanes.”

This year, the company launched its predictive intelligence platform, AIOS, aimed at connecting all marketing touchpoints to measure and optimize performance in real-time. Eventually, more tools will get integrated into AIOS to centralize various services, like content distribution and other voice AI or ChatGPT-like functions, Marchand said.

In this interview, Marchand discussed the company’s cultivation of predictive intelligence tools and how the organization is strategizing its acquisitions to differentiate from other agency groups.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How do you differ in approach from traditional holding companies?

We meaningfully manage [our services] so that we sometimes have more than one brand, but we basically have one P&L and one leader. So we have one full-funnel creative agency, one media, one PR – and we do not duplicate that in markets. Because if you join our company, you know you’re the lead, and you’re surrounded by other agencies who are synergistic to you … and help your clients – they’re not going to fight for the same dollars. Most of the networks out there are holding companies that are either everyone’s on their own and they’ve got multiple competitors, or everyone is in one brand.

Talk about your interagency model and how you support the individual teams.

We believe in multiple brands as well. So not just swim lanes, but also you should keep your brand and agency brand. I believe that on every single level, decisions should be made locally. When I say support from the bottom, I also mean we’re trying to build technology. We’re trying to build capabilities around people and other things as well, that we give to the agencies. Even all the other AI work we are doing and technology work has started in an agency, and we will fund it like a startup team and give them some money.

How does AI play a role in your AIOS platform and other offerings?

We are using it for creative output, particularly creative output when it is more efficient to do so – everything from versioning to social media posting automatically. We’re also using it for cultural insight development, internal development – everything from timesheet management for our employees to how to put the checks and balances on media buying and invoicing. Then the fourth big area is measurement and optimization, which is AIOS. There is a fifth area we will start to work on, which is also using AI for distribution of content, but that’s a little further off for us right now.

What does your technology development roadmap look like?

It’s a huge focus, and we have continual improvement. Without giving too much away, AIOS has the potential to have all the plugins as we discussed – being able to then distribute the content automatically using AI, being able to write briefs, etc. One of the great things about ChatGPT is it uses conversational tools to answer your questions, so we will do the same thing with AIOS. As an example, we will get it to the point where you basically can use your voice to say, “Listen, it’s Black Friday this week. The CEO just gave me an extra $2 million. Where should I spend it?” Then you can actually build a campaign and optimize a campaign using your voice.

What else is in store for 2024?

I think it’s going to be a super interesting year. Marketers are actually spending less money right now. People are nervous about a recession and what’s going on. I think we’re going to start to see brands break out. We will see a new norm. Companies like ours, who’ve invested in technology through those last couple bumpy years, I think are the ones that are going to win. I hope that’s us, but I think the ones that haven’t are going to be gone.

Color by numbers

Time for the Black-Friday/Cyber-Monday post-mortem. It looks like the holiday shopping season is drawing a lot of mobile traffic this year, what with extended sales and discount-hungry shoppers. Stats from around the web:

  • ICSC’s annual post-Thanksgiving weekend survey found 75% of U.S. adults (195.6 million people) shopped over the five-day period, from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday.
  • Analytics platform Quantum Metric saw Black Friday traffic increase 50% year-over-year, and daily sales rates on mobile apps converted at more than two times the rate of mobile web. Android apps converted more than three times on average.
  • Criteo data on the first 12 hours of Cyber Monday found that web traffic (visiting product pages) went up 11% year-over-year, compared to 2022. Online sales transactions went up 297% compared to the average in October 2023.
  • Looking at holiday ads, NCSolutions’ U.S. consumer preferences survey revealed that 76% of people will eat their seasonal treats freely and worry about working out later. Some 60% want to try new cocktails, and 31% think holiday ads help them discover new products and recipes.

Takeoff & landing

  • GroupM’s Mindshare won Denny’s U.S. media business, retroactive to Oct. 1. The agency will handle audience and media strategy, planning, investment, measurement, and data and analytics.
  • DTC sports platform Hang Media raised $9.2 million in media investments in a Series A round of fundraising. Led by The Operating Group, investors include Clara Vista Investment Partners, Ratner Ventures, Brown Angel Group and private investor Anthony Baranello.
  • Personnel moves: Dentsu named Brian Monahan head of its expanded Retail Media Solutions group for the Americas … TelevisaUnivision named Steven Wolfe Pereira its chief client officer for its U.S. ad sales efforts … GSD&M hired MullenLowe CEO Lee Newman to be its new president.

Direct quote

“ChatGPT has made artificial intelligence a part of daily life for hundreds of millions of people. Its popularity has made AI — its benefits and its risks — central to virtually every conversation about the future of governments, business, and society. We understand the gravity of these discussions and the central role of OpenAI in the development and safety of these awe-inspiring new technologies.”

— OpenAI cofounder and CEO Sam Altman, in a blog post after retaking the helm of the company.

Speed reading

  • As X owner Elon Musk tells advertisers what he really thinks of them, Krystal Scanlon and Ronan Shields take a look at how this could be the beginning of the end of what used to be Twitter.
  • Marty Swant examines all that’s changed, for the better, the worse and in between, on the one-year anniversary of ChatGPT, the face of generative AI.
  • I explained the thinking behind Innovid’s report that showed a gap between measuring media and optimizing campaigns across various TV services and platforms.

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