You & Mr Jones on buying Oliver: We're better, faster, cheaper than ad networks

David Jones explains his ambitions for his brand-tech group and says traditional ad networks will go the way of Kodak.

You & Mr Jones on buying Oliver: We're better, faster, cheaper than ad networks

You & Mr Jones has claimed that its acquisition of in-housing specialist Oliver will help the company become the "number one" marketing partner for global brands – ahead of traditional agency holding groups and management consultants.

David Jones, who launched You & Mr Jones as a "brand-tech" group in 2015 with $350m of funding, told Campaign in an interview that buying a majority stake in Oliver's parent company, Inside Ideas Group, "completes the first phase of our journey" after making more than 20 investments.

Jones explained the rationale for the acquisition, the largest deal that You & Mr Jones has done, saying that he could raise more money to fund more deals, even though he still has "multiple tens of millions" of dollars from his initial fundraising. 

Why Oliver?

Oliver, which was founded in London by Simon Martin in 2004, has made its name helping advertisers such as Unilever to set up in-house agencies, staffed by Oliver, that create and distribute content quickly and more cheaply than traditional ad agencies.

"Oliver are the genuine market leaders in building in-housing capabilities for brands, which is an enormous trend," Jones said. "And what we have built [with You & Mr Jones] is the number one marketing technology platform or ecosystem of technology and technology-enabled companies in the marketing space."

That’s a reference to You & Mr Jones acquisitions such as mobile marketing group Mobkoi and content agency Gravity Road, plus stakes in augmented-reality platform Niantic, social app Pinterest and marketing cloud platform Automat.

"You put those things together [with Oliver] and it makes us better, because it anchors our marketing technology platform right into the heart of the brand organisations," Jones said. "And it makes Simon and Oliver and Inside Ideas better – because it gives them access to the absolute latest, state-of-the-art [capabilities] in marketing technology."

Jones would not comment on speculation that everyone from Accenture to S4 Capital talked to Inside Ideas Group or on Campaign’s estimate that the group may have been valued at about £200m.

You & Mr Jones has said that Inside Ideas Group has revenue of more than $150m (£120m), 1,500 staff and average annual growth rate since launch of 60%.

A new category, not a new agency model

Jones said that You & Mr Jones and Oliver were similar because they were both "disrupting marketing".

He explained: "You’ve got to wind back to when we launched. We said: 'We think there is a fundamental problem in the marketing world.'

"The title of the [presentation] deck that I used to raise the $350m was called ‘Disrupting an industry, inventing a new category and creating significant value’. We thought there was an ability to create a brand new category.

"A lot of people say you’re building a new agency model. We’re not. We’re trying to disrupt marketing, rather than create some new kind of agency model.

"We call it ‘brand tech’. It’s a belief that you can use technology to do marketing better, faster, cheaper."

Jones, who was previously global chief executive of Havas, one of the big six global agency holding groups, said he felt vindicated by his view in 2015 that traditional agencies were no longer fit for purpose when it came to helping global brands.

"Just before we launched in 2015, WPP had announced their record, historic profit [at that time]," Jones recalled. "Fast forward three years – you can’t get up in the morning without some major client complaining about the frustrations of not being able to find the right solution.

"$20bn has come off the market cap of the three biggest companies in the whole industry [WPP, Omnicom and Publicis Groupe]. And the guy who created the largest, Martin Sorrell [formerly of WPP], has set up something [S4 Capital] which is quite inspired by what we’ve done."

A coherent set of companies 

Jones is adamant that You & Mr Jones is not an agency holding company and that brand tech is a pioneering way of using technology to do marketing better.

"When any new company comes along, we all struggle a little to categorise it or understand, so people default to things we know, which is why often we get misnamed," he said.

"My simple analogy is everybody now knows what fintech is. So fintech companies get called fintech companies, not a new kind of bank. Everyone knows what ed tech is, what med tech is," Jones said, referring to the financial technology, education technology and medical technology sectors.

He continued: "Hopefully, everybody will understand the category 'brand tech' in the same way that no-one says that Airbnb is trying to create a new hotel chain or Uber is trying to create a new black cab group."

Brand tech is "a simple and clear category" because it is "incredibly focused".

Jones explained: "We only ever invest in or acquire something that helps a brand do its marketing better, faster and cheaper. So I would push back on the ‘Wow, it seems to be doing everything’. But where that becomes quite broad is with the speed and scale and change of what is happening in technology."

He said advances in artificial intelligence were just one example, citing how some people would have said five years ago: "Don’t be silly – machines can’t generate content." But now You & Mr Jones has "multiple investments in companies that are using AI to create content".

Jones maintained that his group has three unique qualities:

• It is "both an operator and investor" that looks at up to 20 companies a week. "We’re so current in terms of what’s going on in the market," he said.

• It combines brand and technology, whereas most companies, such as agency groups or online platforms, tend only to be experts in one area, not both.

• One Young World, a charity that Jones co-founded, has equity in You & Mr Jones, giving the company an ethical purpose.

Doing things cheaper rather than better

Some critics fear that in-housing and agencies working on-site is driving down price at the expense of creativity, but Jones said: "The only thing that counts isn’t what a declining and precious industry think. It’s what do the world’s largest brands think and want.

"We’re growing insanely fast because they [clients] want access to the latest technology and to understand how to use technology to do their marketing better, cheaper, faster.

"I think Gartner said the biggest bottleneck in marketing by 2020 is going to be content. Brands are really struggling to put together the scale of content, the volume of content, that they need at the speed they need it, the quality they need it at and [with] finite budgets. Simon has a brilliant model for delivering that.

"The days of amazing blockbuster multimillion shoots that sit on horizontal screens have gone. A huge portion of the world now consume their content on small devices, where the video is vertical."

A negative view on the future for agencies 

"You’ve got the slow decline of an industry. The traditional advertising industry is now a no- or low-growth industry," Jones claimed.

"That’s why you see tens of billions [wiped] off the market caps of the big players and it will never return to growth."

"This is like Kodak," Jones said, referring to the decline of the once-dominant camera film company that went bankrupt.

"Photographic film is a thing, it stopped being a thing, there’s nothing you can do to make photographic film a thing again."

As for the big agency groups, "none of them are going to disappear any time soon", he said. "But it’s just going to be harder and harder for them to grow.

"I’m sure you’ll see a big merger, I’m sure you’ll see a management consultancy buy one of them, I’m sure you’ll see one of them go private. There will be fairly seismic change.

"When we launched in June 2015, most people thought what we were saying was nonsense and now it’s all happened [with Sorrell departing WPP and some share prices slumping]." 

What’s next?

You & Mr Jones has "multiple hundreds of millions" of dollars in annual revenues and is "strongly profitable", according to Jones.

"At the moment, we have more opportunities than we have the ability to deliver on," he said. "Now, all of a sudden [after buying Oliver], we have the ability to be plugged in and connected into the inside of the client organisations with our tech platform."

You & Mr Jones still has "multiples tens of millions" of dollars to make more acquisitions.

"We never need to raise [funds from investors] again. That said, I think there is a massive opportunity to do so," Jones said. "I wouldn’t be surprised if you see us at some stage in the next 12 to 18 months [going to] raise another significant war chest.

He went on: "One of my favourite quotes is: ‘No-one built a reputation on what they said they were going to do.' So we need to go off and do it, not talk about it.

"We now have an amazing ability to have built, five years from now, the clear number one company in brand tech or marketing technology, if you want to call it that.

"My test for that would be: if you stop any marketer in a street and said to them ‘Who are the best people in the world at helping you to drive growth using technology?’, they would turn round and say us."

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