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News Plus 24 Mar 2021 - 2 min read

Acquisition alert: Publicis bolsters commerce division to 90 staff with Balance buy, eyes 'second wave' of transformation

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

Publicis' Jason Tonelli: “Yes, we saw five years worth of digital transformation condense into a few months. But not all brands were able to make the shift into ecommerce."

After quietly launching its commerce unit last year, Publicis has acquired Melbourne ecommerce shop Balance Internet, taking headcount to 90 staff across Australia, Vietnam and Ukraine. Now Chief Product Officer Jason Tonelli is eyeing the second wave of transformation - as sectors like automotive prepare for once in a century change across their entire business. Now his biggest problem is keeping up with demand.

What you need to know:

  • Publicis has bolstered its newly launched Commerce unit by buying ecommerce specialist Balance Internet.
  • The deal increases headcount for the division to over 90 full time staff across Australia, Vietnam and Ukraine.
  • Chief Product Officer Jason Tonelli is now actively hiring in a bid to scale.
  • Clients includes the Australian Government, Mitre 10 and Krispy Kreme.
  • But he thinks there is a second wave of transformation to come - which will quickly swell those ranks.

Complete commerce

Publicis is plotting a major commerce push after acquiring Melbourne-based ecommerce specialist shop Balance Internet.

Chief Product Officer Jason Tonelli told Mi3 the group aims to "act swiftly" on growing client demand in a bid to tap the looming second wave of digital transformation.

So while the deal takes Publicis’ commerce unit from a handful of full-time staff to almost 100 – with offshore units in Veitnam and Ukraine – the group is now actively hiring in a bid to scale further.

The group also has 40 commerce specialists, most of which sit across agency brands and make up its "commerce community".

While Balance has gone hard on Magento, Tonelli said it is also looking to leverage Adobe in a bid to own tap into commerce platforms across the piste.

“There are many sides to commerce, but at a basic level there is a marketplace push and a B2B push. We want to own both - and like our clients, we are looking to build commerce fast,” he said.

“We are looking to understand people at an identity level, scale that into media and help clients own the customer relationship – and Balance helps us achieve that.”

Meanwhile, he said the acquisition means Publicis can better enable brands to build their own platforms – and thereby own customer relationships – which he thinks will be fundamental in a post cookie, post-Covid world.

Transformation 2.0

After the initial Covid rush, Tonelli said many brands are now laying down more considered medium-term transformation plans.

Meanwhile, some low hanging fruit remains, with categories like automotive – where sales plunged to 30 year lows when covid hit – now stabilising and working out where they need to go.

“Yes, we saw five years worth of digital transformation condense into a few months. But not all brands were able to make the shift into ecommerce, due to financial restraints, legacy systems or collapsed consumer demand,” he said.

Those brands now represent a “second wave” of transformation, with Google’s changes to third party cookies and the knock-on effects leading brands to “quickly try and get themselves into that space and own their entire customer journey”, per Tonelli.

He reiterates that the automotive industry (Publicis has just landed all of Toyota's media and creative business in Australia) is a  market now ripe for transformation: The sector faces huge upheaval as it braces for once in a century change in the form of electric vehicles - as well as competing with DTC disruptors such as Tesla - which have changed the game forever. As such, Tonelli thinks ecommerce will impact all the way through the sector’s supply chain and distribution system, far beyond the disruption some currently envisage.

Balance, he said, can help industries facing that kind of systemic change, and the unit will work closely with ecommerce and transformation business Sapient, which Publicis acquired in 2014.

Described as the holding group’s “crown jewel" and "engine room", Tonelli said the two will "work in tandem" and that while some crossover is inevitable, the Balance deal was made to help provide a more "platform agnostic" strategy.]

"This is about ensuring we have the greatest breadth of capability, driving greater cut-through with brands across multiple verticals."

Now he just has to get that balance right.


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