Langdon follows ‘buy and build’ route to a digital future

Digital Marketing Group’s (DMG) acquisition of digital media planning and buying agency Cheeze and data analysis consultancy Jaywing for £24m last week made more than its fair share of headlines.

It was not just the pricetag that got people talking. The deal marked the return to the front line of one of advertising’s most controversial figures – Ben Langdon, who launched DMG in October last year.

The digital direct marketing group started with two agencies in its portfolio – Dig For Fire and HSM – but the £24m paid for Cheeze and Jaywing shows that Langdon, the group’s executive, has serious funds to play with.

For Langdon, this is a new path. Following a stint as chief executive of McCann Erickson London in 1996, he was promoted to regional director for Europe, Middle East and Africa in 2001, only to be pushed out two years later.

He then teamed up with Mark Wnek to launch Ben Mark Orlando but quit after just ten weeks to take Wnek’s old job at newly merged Euro RSCG. However, he was ousted at the end of 2005 after an ill-fated 17 months.

Achilles heel
Langdon’s difficulties at traditional above-the-line agencies were the result of his “lack of people skills”, say observers. “His track record has made it clear he cannot nurture people,” adds one. “It is his proven Achilles heel. He is not a diplomat.”

But Langdon is treading a new path and plans to “buy and build in a very specialised and focused area: digital, data and direct”. He says: “We are not trying to grow as a marketing services group. I am not doing it just to be a consolidator [like Cello or Creston]. I’m doing it to create a co-ordinated business around a core product [digital direct].” He also says that DMG is looking to add mobile and Web design companies to the group.

Cheeze co-founder Katherine Jerman says that its founders had no intention of selling up – until they met Langdon.

“When we met him, we were immediately impressed with his strategic vision of what the group can do. It has four main companies, which are all very different but complementary.”

Client focus
One previous colleague of Langdon’s says that, despite his reputation for coming to blows with people, “he is one of the brightest people in adland”. The source believes Langdon is adopting the Sir Martin Sorrell approach to building a business and thinks it could work. “He could well be the driving force of a company where there is interaction with businesses rather than people. But what he can do is understand clients’ needs and wants.” Jerman agrees, saying the DMG’s proposition is one where clients come first and have the freedom to choose one DMG shop or adopt an integrated approach.

She adds: “There is a feeling that digital is a focus for clients, as it is a very fast way to build a brand. We’re moving away from TV being the bedrock of a campaign.” Jerman is echoed by Langdon: “Marketing spend is going digital. The big marketing services groups are trying to set up digital divisions but it’s very hard to adapt to the new digital way of doing business.

“Our direct competitors are the arms of the big agency groups. But we are more fleet of foot. We are not encumbered by the weight of history.”

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