Newly merged Amp agency is comfortable sandwiched between holdcos and other indies

The freshly merged Amp agency, a full service operation that’s a fusion of five shops, aims to go after mid-market clients — just like every single holding company and fellow large-sized independent out there.

An assemblage of five agencies brought together back in March — the original and oldest at 30 Amp Agency, the similarly aged Midwest creative shop Upshot, Genome, and SmallTalk, both of which specialize in UX and UI work, and Hatch — the merged Amp is owned by Advantage Solutions, which generated $4.2 billion in revenue in 2023. 

The five agencies operate under one name and P&L, explained Doug Grumet, the agency’s evp and general manager and a veteran of the holding company world thanks to time spent at Publicis and Dentsu. Grumet helms the day-to-day operations under president Michael Mish.

Grumet believes Amp can elbow just enough room between the holdcos that are bigger than Amp and the smaller independent shops to secure enough midsized clients to grow the merged operation, which offers pretty much anything a client could want: media, creative, programmatic, experiential, UX/UI, retail/e-commerce, etc). 

Amp’s clients include Just For Men, regional supermarket chain Stop & Shop, and Caleres, which owns multiple footwear brands.

The following interview with Grumet has been edited for space and clarity.

What was the thinking behind merging the five agencies to form Amp?

It’s an interesting time frame. The merger in and of itself leverages the rich history of Amp and Upshot in particular — both of those agencies are 30 years old this year, and really gives us the scale, the agility and the overall capabilities to innovate at the pace that our client businesses require.

Bringing all of these agencies together really accelerates that integrated service offering, gives us more scale that we can combine, or collaborate, in conjunction with our media practice to elevate the overall scale of the agency. And really bring to market services that are fit for purpose, to compete with both the holdcos as well as that mid market realm.

Unlike the holdcos, you chose to go with a single brand. So are they your competition or are other agencies your competition? 

As we’ve worked through the merger, we believe that we’re well positioned within the mid market. The size of our business essentially validates that. We know, through the lens of the new business circuit and the pitch environment, that we are competing with holding companies. They’re looking for smaller clients. Their models are predicated on things like data automation, technology automation. So holding companies’ ability to compete for budgets that probably three or four years ago they weren’t competing for are much more prevalent and paramount, and we have to up our game, so to speak, to make sure we are competitively fit for purpose, to punch at that weight and compete with holding companies. And we are pitching and winning against holding companies. 

At the same time, larger independents are core to our competitive set as well, and servicing the mid market, I think, is more of a distinction when we talk about larger independents. how we want to compete for mid market business.

What’s your take on the growing scrutiny around ad-tech and programmatic lack of transparency, now that it seems to be getting louder?

I think a lot of what you’re referring to as it relates to the world of programmatic is around accountability … We’ve seen it manifest itself in a couple of different areas lately. One is through the lens of made-for-advertising sites. Should brands be on them? Is there value or accountability in those types of consumer experiences?

Secondarily there are the more elevated metrics in the world of programmatic, focusing on things like attention. How are we measuring attention in the world of programmatic beyond just is the impression viewable? Is it a human, or is it a bot? If we can satisfy those elements, which are foundational to us in the world of programmatic, you then can take the conversation to another level in terms of one, driving accountability within programmatic, and two, having conversations that are more meaningful to clients and brands.

We’ve been able to elevate the programmatic discussion to areas like accountability of the investment. And to extending our programmatic capabilities in areas where our clients are requiring it and we’re seeing dollars flow. Areas like programmatic activation within CTV, and the frame up of retail media and programmatic activation. Those are areas from a development perspective that we were very focused on.

We have always been transparent from a programmatic perspective. I’ve been at Amp for almost nine years this August. One of the first things I did when I came in was to reinforce or enforce a world of transparent programmatic. We execute all programmatic in house. And so our in-house trading team is hands on keyboards, pulling the levers. And we clearly state how the agency is compensated.

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