Brandtech Media’s Emery is hungry for change after swallowing a Jellyfish
The Media Leader Interview
Brandtech Media founder Nick Emery reveals the strategy behind the Jellyfish acquisition, how advertisers pay for media will change, and how it fits within group founder David Jones’ vision of a delivering a new marketing and media services model.
“Jellyfish has all the stuff that, if I was at a holdoco, I’d kill for. But what it hasn’t got is the big, global clients.”
In a nutshell, Brandtech Group’s acquisition of Jellyfish is a simple scale-for-capabilities play, according to the company’s head of media Nick Emery, who officially takes charge of the day-to-day CEO duties of Jellyfish from today.
Emery, who spent 23 years at WPP’s Mindshare before founding You & Mr Jones Media (now Brandtech Media) in 2021, told The Media Leader ahead of yesterday’s completion announcement that he will spend his first few months in charge “connecting the dots” and focusing on the US market—where Jellyfish has a number of global clients—as a key growth area.
That means connecting “teams and exposing [their] work to bigger, more global clients…. There’s some fantastic technology that we can roll out… we’re looking at what we do with AI, both in the content space. But also, we’ve developed tech that we think will automate paid media — integrating generative AI into that can revolutionise the market.”
Some of this desire to innovate the way advertisers pay for media is about differentiation and leveraging Brandtech’s position in the market as a challenger agency holding company, which is supposedly more “agile” and “nimble” than established networks such as WPP, Omnicom and Publicis Groupe. “Our model isn’t dependent on full-time employees, and isn’t built upon inventory models,” Emery says, pointedly. “The holdcos don’t really have an incentive to create something like that”.
But in terms of Jellyfish itself, there’s also “a lot of marketing to be done”, Emery admits, in order to “show the world all the brilliance that Jellyfish already has.”
‘More than a Google reselling business’
Jellyfish, founded by Rob Pierre in 2005, once prided itself on being known as “Google’s ad agency”, and clocked up an impressive growth streak in the decade before the Covid-19 pandemic by specialising in Google advertising services. This led to interest from French private equity company Fimalac who acquired a majority stake in 2019 and provided capital to scale the business globally with a series of regional acquisitions.
However, Jellyfish faces a much tougher digital media environment today, with adspend growth on the mega platforms having slowed over the last 18 months and global supply chain inflation dampening advertiser demand generally. Could it be that Fimalac were more keen to offload Jellyfish because it no longer showed potential to be as high growth a business compared to previous years?
Emery, of course, disputes this.
“Fimalac helped grow the [Jellyfish] business but they’re not operators. It’s great that they’re still involved, they’ve got board seats, they’re brilliant people. But our model, a bit like with Oliver, is to buy fast-growing, disruptive companies and then pump a lot of great client contacts into those businesses.
“That model circumvents the concerns you’re raising. If we were buying just a Google reselling business, then you might have some issues, but we are buying an integrated content and data business. The more I hear and learn about them, the more brilliant they are. But you just don’t see it, they don’t market it.”
Aside from Google specialist services, Emery describes how Jellyfish sits on the Meta advanced analytics council and have “got all the licences” and employ 150 engineers. “The beauty of it is that we can integrate the content business, the tech business and the media business. But truly integrated not just pretend to integrate,” he insists.
The deal was first announced last August and completed fairly quickly compared to most similar-sized deals with which take “18 months to two years”, Emery said.
The deal will significantly increase the size of founder David Jones’s company. The combined company will create a group with revenues of over $1bn; Brandtech Group posted turnover of about half that last year.
‘The next stage is what happens with AI’
Brandtech Group’s strategy is ultimately to fulfil founder Jones’s mission when launching the company eight years ago to create a new marketing services model in which agencies can effectively integrate content, data and tech in real-time for advertisers. The business has heavily sought acquisitions in order to pick up talent and capability, having bought ad agency Gravity Road and in-house services supplier Oliver Group. Even though media is “about 50%-60% of our revenues”, Emery describes Jellyfish as the key media operation that will sit at the heart of integrating media planning and buying with brand strategy and creating content.
But that, he explains, is only fulfilling the first part of Jones’s vision.
“The next stage is what happens with AI… [The acquisition] puts a real stake in the ground about winning the space race to be the 21st century marketing organisation. There’s a real disconnect in the market — if you’re a global marketer, and you want integrated solutions, your content and media together, you want to be transparent, you want to understand platform and content, you get tech… but where is the global solution outside of big UK and US players?”
This is where differentiation become important again, according to Emery, who maintains that Brandtech Media and Jellyfish are ultimately trying to avoid lengthy and expensive pitches for major accounts, which has historically been a significant cost of doing business for advertising and media agencies.
“We don’t want to be in the business of year-long procurement-led pitches for 120-day payment terms,” Emery says. “If you are that kind of client, then don’t bother. I’d much rather be the kind of New Age version of BBH, where you don’t have to pitch if you want to.”
Key to delivering that, he says, is by selling solutions by what business outcomes they achieve rather than by how many full-time employees an account will need. “If you’re in a holdco, you’re not really incentivised to outcomes, your model is based on selling your bodies. So why would I want to try to solve a problem very quickly, when really, it’s in my interest to sell more time?”
Editor’s note: This article previously stated that Jellyfish’s revenues were over $1bn, when in fact that figure reflects combined revenue of both companies. Corrected with apologies.