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‘Creating a loose federation’: Stagwell Group’s Jason Reid is buying pieces of the next agency holding company

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‘Creating a loose federation’: Stagwell Group’s Jason Reid is buying pieces of the next agency holding company

This story is part of Digiday’s Masters of Uncertainty series, a look at people and companies at the center of media’s defining storylines. Find the rest here.

Thanks to its potent political and PR chops — founder Mark Penn has a long track record in running political campaigns from behind the scenes — and an expected $8 billion avalanche of political ad spending set to blanket the U.S., Stagwell Inc., the new-ish agency holding company, enters the new year primed to succeed at what it’s good at.  

But beyond political marketing windfalls, the holding company has its eyes set on an even larger prize — widening the aperture of Stagwell’s offerings, both geographically by expanding into Latin America, Asia-Pacific and EMEA, as well as by discipline, as the company loads up on digital-first assets. That way it can continue to laser focus on its strengths but also compete on a level playing field with its rival holdcos in its array of services for clients. 

“We’re looking to connect the consumer all the way through the entire [Stagwell] enterprise” for its agencies’ clients, said Jason Reid, Stagwell’s chief investment officer. “We’ve made some secular bets: political, communications, research. And now we’re adding ancillary services to our portfolio to become a marketing services provider that can win contracts anywhere from $20-$30 million on up.”

For the last six years, Reid, who handles an annual investment warchest of between $50 million and $100 million, has been responsible for finding suitable candidates for purchase, then negotiating and closing the deals. 

In that time, observers say Reid has carved out an identity for Stagwell that’s distinct from legacy competitors like WPP, as well as newcomers like S4 Capital. But those observers also think Stagwell is still searching for bigger jewels to enhance its crown, particularly when it comes to its media business. And as it keeps growing, it has to continue proving that the assets it acquires can be greater than the sum of their parts. 

“We’re a different animal,” Reid said. “We aren’t like WPP, because with them you’re basically selling yourself to a company with four or five competitors in your space already. We’re creating a loose federation to win business locally.”

Reid and Penn go back six years to when they met and worked together at Microsoft — Penn the chief strategy officer and Reid the senior business strategy manager. But when Penn became president and managing partner at Stagwell in 2015, he took Reid along. 

In the time since, Reid and his team have cut some 35 transactions for Stagwell, said Penn, including Code and Theory, as well as a decent media agency network formed out of The Media Kitchen, Assembly, Gale Partners and ForwardPMX, handling some $5 billion in media spend.

“Jason takes a studied, highly intellectual approach to evaluating M&A for Stagwell,” said Penn. “He really has the numbers skills that you need. On the other hand, making acquisitions is often a leap of faith, and I think he really understands the personal aspects of that as well. For the people [being acquired], it’s usually the only transaction they’re ever going to do in their life and so its important we understand them, and they understand us.” 

Dan Gardner, CEO of Code and Theory, not only went through being acquired by Stagwell through Reid and his team, he’s also gone hunting with Reid to expand Code and Theory’s terrain in the communications landscape, acquiring specialty shops like TrueLogic and, more recently, Kettle. He declares himself a believer in their approach and methods.

“Jason’s very creative and flexible in partnering to figure out how to make the best deal,” said Gardner. “There’s closing the deal and then structuring it so incentives and performance align with business outcomes — whether it’s how to integrate certain centralized capabilities together, or outcome of the performance of the economics, or even how to ladder up to a broader Stagwell perspective. He’s very good at making sure the deal’s structure gets done in a way that’s most effective for the longer-term operating.”

The pace of acquisition for Stagwell won’t let up anytime soon. Besides looking in Asia, the Middle East and Russia, Reid said Latin America is an especially intriguing region to look for digitally-savvy shops to acquire. “Not only is it in similar time zones, but the talent pool is incredible down there,” said Reid. “People grew up on their cellphones —and the younger generation is so digitally focused.”

Stagwell knows it’s not the only holding company looking for shops to scoop up. But Penn and Reid feel confident they have a winning approach. Both dismissed the likes of S4 Capital and the traditional holding companies as considerable competition when it comes to finding new businesses to buy. 

“We built a $2 billion network in the last six years that dwarfs what [Sorrell] has done,” said Penn. “Our biggest competitor is usually the errant private-equity firm that thinks they know something about the space. They tend to pay more than is appropriate. But then [the acquisition] targets tend to find out the [PE firms] don’t have the strategic system like we have.

“We’re generally not the first bidder, we’re usually the second,” he added. “Because when someone is going to look at their return, it’s not going to be the cash they receive. It’s going to be how they grow. The total benefit to the deal four or five years down the road can be so much greater.”

One agency CEO, who’s observed Stagwell from afar but has been through several acquisitions himself, including having a past agency bought by a holding company (not Stagwell), credits Stagwell with its focus on PR and communications. 

“Penn drove this interesting wave in the last few years, which was really driven by PR, but then went out and bought Code and Theory, one of the best in the industry,” said the executive. “And they added a bunch of digital assets.” 

But, the CEO added, “They have all these talented agencies that have become mediocre in their ability to grow, like Crispin [Porter & Bogusky]. And media is just not a big part of their business — how are they addressing that? What’s the crown jewel at Stagwell?”

Jay Pattisall, Forrester’s principal global agency analyst, credits Stagwell for at least trying to make more of its media-side assets by putting them together in one network. “It’s considerably more than what was Assembly by itself or Forward PMX by itself. The combination doubled their size in terms of buying power,” said Pattisall. “What was once basically two separate media agencies suddenly has the presence of a smaller but significant media network.”

Nevertheless, perhaps that crown jewel just hasn’t been bought yet. Whatever businesses Stagwell purchases in the future, Penn promises that there won’t be duplication. “We’re not going to buy six of the same thing — we’re going to fill in all the skills so we can be the most effective marketing organization,” he said. “Strategically, post-combination, we’re going to look for acquisitions that really make sense in terms of growth of the business and individual needs.”

As Code and Theory’s Gardner will vouch, Reid and his team consciously avoid a templated approach, in order to accommodate the singular elements of each acquisition.“There’s flexibility in the structures of the deals — it’s not one-size fits all,” he said. “Other holding companies have a format on how they do deals. But Jason partners so well in structuring the deals, to deliver on both the business and human outcomes.”

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Check out the shopping experience at Amazon’s new retail clothing store

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Check out the shopping experience at Amazon’s new retail clothing store

Amazon does very well with its online clothing sales, but physical clothes stores still sweep up most of the business.

Keen as ever for a piece of the pie, the e-commerce giant has unveiled plans for its first-ever retail clothing store for men and women, selling garments, shoes, and accessories from well-known brands as well as emerging designers.

The 30,000-square-foot brick-and-mortar store will open at The Americana at Brand — an upmarket shopping complex in Glendale, Los Angeles — later this year.

As you can see in the video below, Amazon Style stores will only have one sample of each item on the store floor. If you want to try something on, you simply use the Amazon Shopping app to scan its QR code, select the size and color, and it’ll be sent directly to the fitting room. Inside the fitting room you’ll find a large-screen tablet that lets you call for more colors or sizes.

You can also scan to buy and collect the item almost immediately from the pickup counter. Scanning items will also prompt Amazon’s algorithms to suggest similar items that you might like to try.

“Customers enjoy doing a mix of online and in-store shopping, and that’s no different in fashion,” Simoina Vasen, the managing director of Amazon Style, told CNN. “There’s so many great brands and designers, but discovering them isn’t always easy.”

Vasen also said Amazon Style will sell “everything from the $10 basic to the designer jeans to the $400 timeless piece” in a bid to meet “every budget and every price point.”

While Amazon made its name with online shopping, in recent years the company has explored the world of physical stores with a range of openings.

It started off with bookstores in 2015 before launching the first of many cashier-free Amazon Go stores that use cameras to track your purchases so you can simply grab and go without having to line up. But it didn’t stop there. Amazon Fresh grocery stores have been popping up in states across the country, while it also launched a store called Amazon 4-star selling products that have received high ratings on its online store.

It also acquired Whole Foods in a $13 billion deal 2017, and last year was reportedly looking into the idea of opening a chain of discount stores, though the pandemic apparently prompted the company to put the idea on hold.

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How to enable TPM 2.0 on your PC

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How to enable TPM 2.0 on your PC

One of the controversial requirements to run Windows 11 is a TPM 2.0 chip. This chip, usually found on your PC’s motherboard, is a security chip that handles encryption for your fingerprint, other biometric data, and even things like Windows BitLocker. It’s usually turned on by default on most PCs, and found in most modern systems purchased in the last few years.

Yet if you’re not sure if TPM 2.0 is turned on (usually the Windows 11 updater will check for you), you can check for it manually and then enable it in a few steps. Here’s how.

Windows 10's Security Menu.


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Check for TPM using the Windows Security App

Before diving into our guide, you might want to check for a TPM 2.0 chip on your PC. You can do this manually through the Windows 10 settings. This will let you know if you can continue with the Windows 11 install process.

Step 1: Open Windows 10 settings with Windows Key and I on your keyboard. Then go to Update and Security.

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Step 2: From Update and Security click Windows Security followed by Device Security and Security Processor Details. If you don’t see a Security Processor section on this screen, your TPM 2.0 chip might be disabled or unavailable. If you see a spec that’s lower than 2.0, then your device can’t run Windows 11.

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Windows 10's Security Options.


Arif Bacchus/Digital Trends

Get to BIOS to enable TPM

Once you verify or confirm that you have a TPM 2.0 chip on your system, then you’ll need to get into your PC’s BIOS to enable it. You can do this directly through Windows without the need for a keyboard combination on boot. Here’s how.

Step 1: Go into Windows 10 Settings. Head to Update and Security, followed by Recovery and then Restart Now. Your system will restart.

Windows 10's Advanced Security Options Menu.


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Step 2: On the next screen, you’ll want to choose Troubleshoot, followed by Advanced Options and then UEFI Firmware Settings. Click on the Restart button, and this will boot your PC into the system BIOS to check on TPM 2.0.

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Dell's BIOS settings.


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Enable TPM 2.0 in the BIOS

Now that you’re in the System BIOS, you’ll want to look for a specific submenu. On most systems, the TPM settings can be found under settings labeled Advanced Security, Security, or Trusted Computing. Navigate to these menus using either the keyboard combinations listed on the screen or the mouse if your BIOS supports it.

If you’re unsure about which menu to get into, you can visit the links below. Each link will take you to a PC manufacturer’s page with guidance on how to enable TPM 2.0.

Step 1: Once you’re in the respective menu in the BIOS, you can check the box or flip the switch for one of the following options. Sometimes TPM 2.0 can be labeled differently as one of these options: Security Device, Security Device Support, TPM State, AMD fTPM switch, AMD PSP fTPM, Intel PTT, or Intel Platform Trust Technology.

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Step 2: If you’re not sure if you’re checking the right box for TPM 2.0 settings, then you might want to check with the support documents for the company that made your PC. We linked to some of those above.

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Step 3: Once you enable TPM 2.0, you can exit the BIOS using the commands listed at the bottom of the screen. Usually, the Esc key will do the trick, and you’ll be prompted to Save and Exit. Your system will then restart and boot you back into Windows.

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Now that you confirmed that your PC has a TPM 2.0 chip, you can proceed with the Windows 11 installation process. We have a guide on how you can do that, and another piece that explains the differences between Windows 10 and Windows 11.

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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4: What we want from the new foldable

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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4: What we want from the new foldable

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 has been my daily driver for a while now –and I love it. Unfolding it to get a bigger display still feels futuristic every time I do it. The cameras get the work done, and it is an amazing mobile device for productivity. But despite being the best of its kind, all things can use some improvement, and that’s the case for the Galaxy Z Fold 3 as well.

Here’s what I hope Samsung improves on with the Galaxy Z Fold 4.

A wider cover display … with a caveat

From left, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Oppo Find N open from the back.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Front displays on foldables are meant to get things done quickly, without having to go to the next step of unfolding the phone. For instance, replying to that message on WhatsApp, checking the time, swiping through notifications, and anything that requires little effort. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 flies through quick tasks on the slim 6.2-inch display — unless I have to quickly type something on it.

Typing on the cover display of the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a troublesome task. Due to the slimness of the screen, you don’t get the usable width on the keyboard, which results in a lot of typos that end up frustrating me. Making the cover display wider solves the problem of typos, but also leads to a wider foldable display.

Based on my experience with the Oppo Find N, it might not be a good idea despite the usability improvement. The web is built to operate vertically. You scroll down on stuff, be it your Twitter feed, TikTok, Instagram Reels, reading on a browser, or anything else. Personally, I’ve yet to come across an app or a webpage where I prefer a wider aspect ratio to a taller one. I like the taller aspect ratio of the Fold 3 rather than the wider aspect ratio on the Find N.

If Samsung could shrink the size of the left bezel on the cover display and increase its width, while keeping the dimensions the same as the Galaxy Z Fold 3, I’ll be glad. If not, I’ll just unfold the display to type quick replies as I have been doing.

Longer-lasting battery and faster charging

Typing on the closed Galaxy Z Fold 3.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Fold 3 battery life is above average, but not the best. If you push it to the limits or have a busy day without access to Wi-Fi, it’ll drain the battery before you get to bed. And unfortunately, the fast-charging support is limited to 25 watts.

With Chinese smartphone manufacturers raising the bar on fast charging to a mind-boggling 120W, I hope to see the Galaxy Z Fold 4 offer up to 45W fast charging at least. I’m fine with a 4,400mAh battery if I get support for fast charging that can get my phone from 10% to 60% within 35 minutes or so. Samsung has done it before with the Galaxy S20 Ultra, so there’s no reason it can’t bring 45W fast-charging support to the Galaxy Z Fold 4.

An upgrade to 11W fast wireless charging would also be much appreciated.

Make it lighter

Galaxy Z Fold 3 outer display showing ParkyPrakhar Twitter.

The first thing you realize when you start using the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is its weight. Depending on how you hold the phone, your pinkie finger could feel strain when using it folded for longer durations. That shouldn’t be the case with any foldable. It unfolds! Use it that way.

A reduction in the current 271-gram would be a welcome change and provide some relief to people’s pinkie fingers. I have had no major issues with the weight on my current Fold 3, but a lighter model would just feel better in the hands.

Better app optimization

An open Galaxy Z Fold 3 with apps on the screen.
An open Galaxy Z Fold 3 with apps on the screen. Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

This one has much more to do with Android app developers than Samsung, but apps could definitely use some optimization. And by app optimization, I don’t mean a full-screen Instagram (although, you can do that in the Samsung Lab in Settings).

Apps like WhatsApp, which is used by billions of people, need to step things up. On the Galaxy Z Fold 3, if I’m clicking a photo from the app, it magnifies everything. The viewfinder doesn’t give you an accurate estimate of what your photo is going to look like. Everything is blown up and magnified – even on video calls! If the user at the other end is holding the smartphone at the usual distance, you’ll see a cropped version on the folding display.

I hope WhatsApp can push out an update that fixes things, especially when its sister app — Instagram — has it all figured out in the Stories section. Instagram Stories don’t crop or magnify your image in the viewfinder.

There’s a decent chance the situation will start to improve with Android 12L, but a lot still rides on app developers implementing these changes.

Creaseless folding display

A Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 device with the display turned off lying on some leaves.

The crease on the Fold 3 folding display is much like the notch on Apple devices – you stop noticing it after a while. However, it is still noticeable when there’s a dark background, especially when reading something on the Kindle app, which is a common use case for me. Despite the crease bothering me sometimes, I love reading on the Fold 3.

On the other hand, the Oppo Find N‘s foldable display doesn’t have a deep crease like the Fold, though that might change after long-term use. But out of the box, the Find N has a much more seamless foldable display that looks and feels more pleasant to use. I just wish Samsung could figure out a way to minimize the crease to make my reading experience more pleasant.

Better UDC selfie shooter on the inside

Galaxy Z Fold 3 on a pavement.

When Samsung debuted the 4MP under-display camera (UDC) on the Fold 3, it was making a huge bet by adding an innovative new feature while also sacrificing usability. It’s beautiful to have a 7.6-inch display without any cutout bothering you and makes full-screen content appear more thrilling.

However, the quality of the selfies taken from the UDC isn’t great, as we noted in our review. Fortunately, Samsung is likely already working on a next-gen UDC with better image quality output, and I hope it debuts on the Galaxy Z Fold 4.

Built-in dock for S-Pen

Samsung introduced the capability of S-Pen support from its Note lineup to the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the Galaxy Z Fold 3. However, both of them missed out on a huge functional design feature that the Note had – a place to keep the S-Pen. If the Galaxy S22 Ultra renders are anything to go by, Samsung is already working on a place you can slot the S Pen without needing to shell out for a special case. That’ll make the S22 Ultra feel much more like the presumably defunct Note series, while the Z Fold 4 could get this slot, too, and serve as a more effective note-taking slate.

When will Galaxy Z Fold 4 launch?

The Galaxy Z Fold 4 has largely replaced the Galaxy Note lineup, which used to serve as the second flagship series lineup for Samsung. Now, the Galaxy Z Fold 4 is expected to launch alongside the Galaxy Z Flip 4 toward the end of 2022.

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