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Agency Review: Merkle
By: Luke Willoughby
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Merkle is a Fortune 500–level marketing agency, where the largest corporate accounts are managing customer bases that generate annual revenues over $50 billion. With this focus, Merkle brands itself as a Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM) agency, driving the purchase behavior across complex consumer verticals like financial institutions, pharmaceuticals, and automotive.
Led by the data-driven vision of CEO David Williams, who purchased the agency in 1998 at the age of 25, the group has developed into a digital thought-leadership powerhouse, servicing clients that are thirsty for actionable and profitable direction about their customer’s digital activity. The agency is now over 2,400 in size, takes home $350 million in annual revenue, and claims over 150 accounts — according to the site.
Management is made of the kind of talent that comes from impressive international assignments and 10 years spent developing other successful agencies. Their logistical approach doesn’t produce flashy campaigns and creative, but they’re surely well known in the right circles of CMOs.  
With a focus on the evolution of data, and given their clients' ambitious objectives, Merkle speaks to some of the most cutting-edge market strategies, like individual addressability and logged-in targeting. This means activating the wealth of personalized information available from sources like Google, Facebook, and even Comcast and DirecTV. The objective is to get marketers closer to consumers than ever before, to provide better content, special offerings, and overall brand experience in the right time and place. These are the strategies that will, in themselves, "create a competitive advantage," says Williams. "Organizational change will be required."
To demonstrate this position, consider an article written by Megan Pagliuca, VP of Display at Merkle, to counterpoint a claim made by Rob Griffin, Digital EVP of Havas. Griffin claims that the third-party ad server will soon be obsolete because programmatic solutions and site-level tracking will absorb all ad server values like distribution, reporting, and verification. Conversely, Pagliuca and her team at Merkle believe that Google’s Doubleclick and Facebook’s Atlas, through their massive, proprietary user base, will guide the evolution of the third-party ad server with the wealth of one-to-one consumer information.
Pagliuca and the team at Merkle do hold the high ground in this argument, in that logged-in data is fundamentally superior. It provides individual-level, real-time understanding of the consumer, even if someone besides buyer and seller is serving the ad. It will be interesting to see where lawmakers will stand in this next battleground for online privacy and how Facebook and Google will position themselves to the public. It’s not surprising, though, that Merkle will be at the center of these game-changing conversations. See article on Washington's review of big data.
This perspective on the future of ad serving is just one position that demonstrates the next-level thinking around CRM at Merkle. On their website is a wealth of published material and social content to which anyone could value listening, regardless of position, brand, or creative objective. As Williams prophesizes, the age of the ad campaign will soon be changing drastically, so we may all have to adapt our skill sets to align with leaders like these. 

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About the Author
Luke Willoughby works in the digital media landscape of New York across varying agencies and brands. He also has a background in video and content production, and is invested in the resurgence of the full-service advertising agency and the associated opportunities for the marketing industry. Originally from Denver, Colorado, he's a fan of most outdoor activities and otherwise enjoys reading and film.
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