Inside Dentsu Aegis

Dentsu Aegis caught the attention of everyone in adland this year with the acquisition of indie agency Barnes Catmur & Friends. It was a move that seemingly came out of nowhere, and signified that the agency had some big intentions for the local market.

Barnes Catmur added another dimension to an agency group that already included media agencies Carat and Vizeum, search and performance specialist iProspect and lifestyle marketing brand MKTG.

“The acquisition of Barnes Catmur really raised our profile,” says Dentsu Aegis chief executive Rob Harvey as we sit down for yarn about the business.

“This was the first big public move in terms of gaining new capabilities through acquisition.”

The allusion to more acquisitions isn’t a slip of the tongue, with Harvey openly admitting that he’s already eyeing out a few other possibilities. 

“Barnes Catmur fills in one of the gaps we see, but there are a number of markets that we’re going to have to enter if we’re going to build a business fit for the future,” Harvey says.

After the Barnes Catmur deal became public, the most well-circulated industry assumption was that Dentsu was looking to establish a full-service agency, but Harvey says it isn’t that simple.

“A traditional full-service agency model doesn’t work like it used to,” he counters quickly. “The specialist capability required in today’s world means we can’t just have jacks-of-all-trades sitting in one agency.” 

Instead, he says, he is bringing together a collection of “deep specialists” across a varied range of disciplines with the aim of helping clients solve problems in the digital age.

Team Dentsu

As things stand, Dentsu Aegis is made up of five different agencies, which each add a different level of specialism to the mix. Here’s a rundown of each brand.    

Barnes, Catmur & Friends Dentsu: 

The newcomer to the Dentsu Aegis family has been introduced to bring some creative firepower to the group. And because this is something the team at Barnes Catmur feels very comfortable with, Harvey is not interested in changing the way they do business.    

“We still treat them as an independent agency,” Harvey says. “All the things that made them great as an agency, we want to retain: leadership, culture, and the team in its entirety.”

The difference now, however, is that managing partners Paul Catmur and Daniel Barnes have access to range of other specialists across the
group, who have access to research and insights capable of lifting the creative.   


This media arm of Dentsu Aegis was formed on the premise of “creating connections that count”. What this means is that rather than simply focusing on giving a brand or a product as much exposure as possible, Vizeum instead uses research and insights to ensure that the branding messages actually connect with the intended target consumers.


Dentsu’s other media agency recently made the news for attracting the talents of experienced media operator Alex Lawson, who has taken on the role of group business director across the Holden and ASB accounts. 

“The biggest piece that attracted him was the model that we have,” says Harvey. “Alex is a guy who’s all for collaboration and he’s already thriving in this new environment.”  

Carat’s focus is on building a strategically led approach that redefines the value of media through unlocking the power of media convergence.


As brands transition into the digital world, performance-based marketing becomes more important. If brands are always on, you need to ensure that the messages are always reaching the right people. Fortunately, this is a space that iProspect excels in. As the digital preformence specialist in the Denstu Aegis Network, iProspect not only ensures that the right messages are going out from but also that the consumers on the receiving end get what they want, where they want it and when the want. And given that digital isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, this role will only become important as Dentsu continues to evolve its offering over the next few years.      


While MKTG is generally regarded as an activations agency, it’s actually a bit more layered than that. MKTG was, in fact, formed through the fusion of ApolloNation (shopper marketing), Haystac (PR) and Synergy (brand experience) with the aim of giving consumers a more fluid solution across all those disciplines. As Harvey explains: “We saw a real blurring of the lines, so we brought them together under this new brand MKTG.” 

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Beyond ads

As illustrated time and again in this publication and across countless others, client problems extend well beyond the remit of advertising in today’s complex media landscape. However, rather than viewing this as an encumbrance, Harvey sees potential. 

“As we move forward, we’ll have less of a focus on advertising, so we can be true business partners to our clients,” he says.

Harvey encourages his team to analyse every client challenge on its own merits and then determine what the best solution might be. And if that solution isn’t related to advertising, then Harvey’s okay with that. 

“That’s absolutely fine,” he says. “In fact, we encourage it. That’s the type of relationship we want with our clients. It shouldn’t only be one based on paid transactional media.”

Harvey says his focus is based entirely on identifying client problems and then finding ways to solve them.   

“What we do is create bespoke teams for our clients to service their business based on their business needs,” he says.

To better analyse business problems, Dentsu invests heavily in research on consumer behaviour, Harvey says. 

“We have a piece of research called the Consumer Connection System, which we run on annual basis. It’s massive investment, but it gives us insight that no other agency group has access to.”

Harvey explains that this data becomes even more revealing when it’s combined with the data that brands have within their organisations, giving Dentsu Aegis greater insight on how to respond to the client.

“The future of our industry is going to be defined by the intersection of technology and creativity,” he says.  

“Ultimately, data is the business currency of the future. And as we increase our capability in data and analytics, that’s where we can add real value to clients.” 

Harvey elaborates on this point by referencing a retail project Dentsu Aegis is currently working on, which will see beacon technology employed on the shop floor. Through this, the research team at Dentsu Aegis will be able to analyse the movement of shoppers through the store, identify areas where they hover for longer and then determine whether the layout might need to change or whether strategic in-store promotions should be relocated.  

“That’s a business solution rather than an advertising solution,” Harvey says, before adding that agencies need to look beyond a simple campaign mindset if they are to remain relevant to their clients.

However, moving beyond the campaign means that agencies will have to start doing things that fall out of their comfort zone—and Harvey admits that agencies can’t be expected to solve all client conundrums by themselves. For this reason, he’s a major proponent of collaboration. 

More than a word 

These days, it isn’t difficult to find an agency that claims to embrace collaboration. It has become something of cliché at industry lunches, used almost as regularly as other perennial favourites ‘big data’ and ‘disruption’.

But while there is a lot of talk about collaboration bouncing around the industry, Harvey believes that very few agency groups are actually fostering a true culture of collaboration. 

“A lot of people talk about collaboration and integration across their agencies, but unless you remove the financial barriers, it just never works in practice.” 

“If you’ve still got a model where the leader of X organisation is rewarded on their financials and the leader of another organisation within the group is rewarded on their financial, then true collaboration will never happen. The only way to do that is to remove the barriers that exist.”

Because this type of setup fosters internal competition rather than collaboration, Harvey has brought all the agency brands of Dentsu Aegis in New Zealand under a single P&L. 

“The leaders of each department are then rewarded for the performance of the group, not the individual agency brand,” Harvey says. “There’s no fighting around where revenue should sit or how work should flow through the business.”

Employing this approach has had an immediate impact on how the agencies within Dentsu approach a brief.

Once a brief comes in through one of the agencies—be it creative, media or shopper-marketing—it’s analysed by the strategists across Dentsu Aegis’ agency brands who then determine what the best possible solution might be. 

“What you get from that is a solution that’s designed for the needs of the client rather than the needs of our business model,” Harvey explains.

It’s no longer a case of agencies telling clients that ads are the silver bullet that will solve all their business woes. Instead, Dentsu is trying to reposition itself as a business partner interested in actually addressing the problems at hand.

The quick or the dead

Over the last four years, the Dentsu Aegis Network has grown from around 70 local staff to 120, through a combination of business expansion and acquisitions. And while Harvey is happy with the progress being made, he isn’t yet satisfied.

“I have a real restlessness and relentlessness in wanting to grow out our group,” he says while shuffling in his chair as if to indicate that this feeling never leaves him.   

“Our global leader Jerry Buhlmann has this saying that the future belongs to the fast, which I love and absolutely buy into.”

Harvey says that the most dangerous thing you can do in advertising is to rest on your laurels and ignore what’s happening around you. 

“You have to stay hungry for change,” he says. “If you’re not a start-up, you’re a turnaround business.”

This philosophy is also reflected across the broader Dentsu Aegis Network, which is investing heavily in emerging digital marketing disciplines as indicated by its recent acquisition of tech marketing company Merkle for over US$1 billion.

“To have the support of a head office that understands the importance of diversifying the business is great, Harvey says. 

And it appears the local market is also set for a few announcements acquisition soon—although Harvey isn’t quite ready to elaborate further on these by the time our interview comes to an end.     

As Harvey walks me out of his flash new office on the fourth floor of the building on Auckland’s Sale Street, I ask him abut the continued construction happening on the lower floors.

He keeps his cards close to his chest, grins and simply says: “Watch this space.”

We certainly will, Mr Harvey; and no doubt other curious eyes across the industry will also be casting a few glances toward the continued evolution of the Dentsu Aegis Network

  • This profile was written as part of a content partnership with Dentsu Aegis. It originally featured in the Awards Issue of NZ Marketing. 

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