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News Plus 20 Jul 2021 - 4 min read

Dentsu CEO Angela Tangas flags CX, data unit Merkle as group's 'platform agnostic' growth engine via Adobe, Salesforce, Sitecore; now investing in Microsoft, Google stacks

By Josh McDonnell and Paul McIntyre

Dentsu Chief Growth Officer Stephen Knowles to exit following the merger of his former Adobe data and experience agency Accordant, which became part of Merkle last month. What's his next venture?

Dentsu is now "probably the most integrated" among all of the big global holding companies, reckons CEO Angela Tangas, with its CX, data and digital unit Merkle now the fastest growing operation across Australia and New Zealand. It comes as Stephen Knowles, co-founder of Adobe shop Accordant, acquired by Dentsu in 2018 and now folded into Merkle, moves to exit at year's end. Knowles is likely to launch a new venture in 2022.

Our investments will span all tech stacks. It won't just be Adobe but it's certainly a core part of our growth strategy.

Angela Tangas, CEO, Dentsu ANZ

What you need to know:

  • Dentsu is racing to become a "platform agnostic" operation in CX and martech, investing in capabilities across Microsoft and Google tech stacks to add to its existing Salesforce, Adobe and Sitecore expertise.
  • CEO Angela Tangas says CX, data and digital transformation are now bundled inside Merkle and is the high growth unit for Dentsu across ANZ. 
  • It comes as Stephen Knowles, Chief Growth Officer for Dentsu Australia exits the business at the end of the year and is likely to launch a new venture.
  • His exit follows the restructuring of the wider digital division within Dentsu last month.
  • Accordant, the data and experience agency co-founded by Knowles, was folded into Merkle as a result.

Dentsu Chief Growth Officer Stephen Knowles, co-founder of the Dentsu-acquired Adobe shop Accordant, is set to exit the business at year's end as group CEO Angela Tangas flagged rapid investment around capabilities in AWS, Google and Microsoft tech stacks to become "platform agnostic" across CX, commerce and analytics.

For many holding groups, software companies are replacing media as their next cash cow although the global nature of tech firms means there is less scope for horse trading that exists with local media owners.   

Tangas told Mi3: "We are probably now the most integrated holding company there is across ANZ and in my view, that provides huge strategic opportunity and benefits. With that, we're naturally doubling down on our focus on the CXM [customer experience management] practice, which is a unified Merkle proposition."

Growth challenge, restructures

Dentsu has been challenged for several years, facing a raft of senior executive and client exits, particularly in its media unit. But Tangas says a series of restructures and further investment in its CX, data and digital transformation capabilties is opening up new growth.

"I talk about us being a teaming company because our job is to make sure that we're doing all the right things on the inside of our organisation to then present the right solution back to our customers that makes it easy," she says. "CX is certainly a big growth area for our business – the biggest. And certainly we're focusing a lot of investment for growth there."

But the new tech and data flexing Dentsu is about to see the end of Chief Growth Officer, Stephen Knowles, after the latest series of restructures within Dentsu's digital division. 

Knowles became part of the Dentsu business in 2017, after the network acquired his specialist Adobe experience agency Accordant for an undisclosed amount.

Dentsu rolled the Accordant business into Isobar at the start of the year as part of a consolidation of its customer experience agencies. 

Most recently, the Isobar business was wound up and split out, with its CX team merged into Merkle, while the rest of the design function became part of creative shop BWM Dentsu, creating a new agency, BWM Isobar.

Knowles has over 20 years of experience in the marketing industry and has held several high-profile roles including Head of Digital Marketing at Adobe, CEO and Founder of Downstream Marketing and was part of the original management team of eBay Australia.

Beyond Adobe

Accordant and Dentsu were named Adobe Partner of the Year for three of the past four years but Tangas says Dentsu's plan for the overhauled Merkle is to become a "platform agnostic" company.  

"The Accordant business was brilliant to help us build our Adobe practice, which has led to it being the most successful in APAC and I think we've demonstrated that," says Tangas. "We're the most recognised and most awarded on that front. But now it's about how we materially scale from here? This is the opportunity for us. But we are platform agnostic and that's super important for our clients today. So our focus is on growing the whole practice and maintain that ability to be platform agnostic while still having really strong specialisms across each technology stack. Our investments will span all tech stacks. It won't just be Adobe but it's certainly a core part of our growth strategy."

Tangas said Dentsu had established capabilities across Salesforce, Sitecore and Adobe "and we're really starting to focus on the others" including Google and Microsoft. 

On the departure of Knowles, Tangas said it was mutually agreed after integrating Accordant into Dentsu and then Merkle that he would leave Dentsu. She hinted Knowles would launch a new venture.

"It makes sense for the both of us," Tanags said. "And I'm very happy for Steve to start the next big thing for himself at the right time." 

Knowles is the latest executive to exit Dentsu, with Chief Product and Technology Officer Patrick Darcy departing earlier this month for Beem It, the payment platform owned by the big four Australian banks.

Dentsu made further changes to the company's structure last week, splitting out its media business into a separate division, headed up by Carat CEO Sue Squillace. It also hired Gayle While to lead digital duties.

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