John Preston is wrong: independents can do data, and do it well

Simon RutherfordSlingshot CEO Simon Rutherford takes issue with Match Media founder John Preston’s claim it had to sell to Publicis Groupe last week because independents cannot compete with bigger agencies on data and technology.

One can only admire and congratulate the Match team on their recent sale and on taking out the Mumbrella Media Agency of the year award, it’s well deserved and just rewards for all of their efforts.

Over the past 12 years and in particular for the job they have done in scaling their business in the past five years.

However, on behalf of the independents I would like to challenge John Preston’s view of the reasons for the sale.

John Preston (l) and James Simmons (r)

John Preston (l) and James Simmons (r)

John suggested that his reasons for selling are because he didn’t think an independent of the scale of Match could compete with the larger agencies on data and technology going forward.

All agencies talk up their amazing proprietary toolboxes, however those tools are only worthwhile if they are used in the business day to day and have a direct positive impact on a client’s business.

I’ve seen many a global tool that doesn’t work in this market.

I also have a number of staff who have come to us via a big agency, and who talk of the smoke and mirrors at pitch time, amazing tools that either never see the light of day on a client’s business post pitch or only a few senior management actually have access to, therefore making little impact on the day to day.

I agree that data and technology are hugely important to the growth of an agency, and to scaling your product, however it’s less about data or technology being difficult to acquire, and more about making sure you attract and retain the talented senior staff that know what questions to ask, can interpret the data, make sense of it and apply it quickly and effectively for your clients.

You don’t know what you don’t know – and if you don’t ask the right questions you will never know.

Having and managing real time data is only useful for a client if it leads to effective solutions.

Independents can and are investing in their own data offerings or partnering with agnostic technology partners. Slingshot has itself built a suite of data tools that, now developed, have enabled us to extract meaningful insights for our clients in hours and days not weeks and months.

Beyond bespoke tools, the move to greater automation and machine learning only opens up our industry to better data and technology partners. There are any number of DSP, video and econometric platform partners, all wanting to work with agencies, specialists who are investing in niches and developing great products. As a mid-sized independent we have profoundly changed the way that we work now that we have full data expertise in the agency.

We have not needed a huge agency group behind us to be able to rapidly embrace data into our planning process.

In fact I think we have moved faster into data because of being independent, not slower.

These are exciting times for an independent agency with the agility to avoid becoming embroiled in the arms race to lay claim to each new niche that emerges from a proliferating ad tech stack.

Now back to the Match sale…

Strategically, it’s easy to understand why Publicis would want a great brand like Match in its stables, considering ZenithOptimedia’s recent losses (such as Lion, Nestle and Qantas), Match can become the media jewel in the group.

The rumours about Match being on the market had been around for at least 12 months now, so it was really only a matter of time. Were they waiting for the best partner? Or the one who needed them most? I can think of at least 17 to 25 million reasons (depending on who you talk to) for them to sell. And once again… well done to the Match team!

Simon Rutherford is CEO at proudly independent agency Slingshot.


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