The 21-year-old agency is spreading its wings thanks to a pairing with Publicis Groupe’s $4.4 billion dollar baby, Epsilon – with an incredibly romantic case study. LBB’s Laura Swinton speaks to CEO W. Joe DeMiero
Hawkeye. It’s a name that suggests a bird’s eye view – so it’s an appropriate one for an agency founded 21 years ago by former Wunderman and Rapp CEO Steve Dapper, who had the vision of combining data with technology. Turns out that was pretty farsighted. It’s also an appropriate name for the agency in its newest form, part of Publicis Groupe and plugged straight into Epsilon, the mammoth data business acquired by the Groupe in April 2019. The pitch is that a galaxy of data cross referenced through a deep human understanding (psychographics) should give the right creative minds an unprecedented, broad view of the social and commercial landscape – while also allowing laser-focused campaigns.
The souped-up agency was due to relaunch in March. The world, of course had other plans, and that big March launch date turned into the agencies release of its work from home directives. Such is life – and such is the sobering lesson that data isn’t a crystal ball.
What all that data did allow for, though, was for the agency to pivot, read the manifold and complicated changes in the market wrought by Covid-19 – and bring its clients along the way. At the helm is W. Joe DeMiero, the agency’s new 37-year-old Seattleite CEO who was hand-picked by Steve after he quite literally handed him the baton (no, really, he gave him an actual baton). In the Summer of 2019, Joe moved to Publicis Hawkeye HQ, Dallas, with his family and small baby with the rather intimidating remit of integrating the forward-facing direct marketing agency with Epsilon.
A challenging task in any environment – but Joe’s first year got a whole lot trickier when Covid hit. “Any, one of those things would have been enormously challenging: integrating legacy operations under one banner organizationally, culturally… that in and of itself would be a Herculean effort, right. But then you throw the pandemic on top of it,” says Joe. “What's interesting is that all of these things kind of are this confluence. I think of it kind of as like a crucible that is going to make Hawkeye stronger because of that, because it's forcing us to ask ourselves very fundamental questions.”
And those fundamental questions are not questions about tech or data, but questions about people. The Black Lives Matter movement has, Joe says, has caused the agency to question how well it serves its Black employees as well as those from other marginalised groups. The foundations of this goes back to the start of the re-organisation and integration, but the past five months have allowed the agency to test and refine this even further.
“One of the things that we did from the get go - this is back when we were just starting to get together. As we said, we're going to establish some common values that we are going to use across how we hire, how we reward and celebrate how we evaluate new business opportunities. How we show up to one another, how we show up with our clients, we're going to establish this core set of values. And we created these because we have this ‘human operating system’… And I will tell you that this kind of values-first approach to everything that we do has, has been a central tenet for the resiliency of the team over the course of everything that's happened.”
There are other fundament questions too – and I have to admit to Joe I have some of my own. What, I have to ask, aware of my own ignorance, is so exciting about the Epsilon data plug-in? And how can the Publicis Groupe justify the hefty and much-discussed price tag. And how does it even work, in practice? Joe takes me through the evolution of Epsilon as a company, from a simple address and then email database to a mammoth hub of thousands of data points on hundreds of millions individuals. That’s married up to an established people-centric practice at the agency that combines psychographic modelling, creativity, empathy and a commitment to data ethics. The fruits can be seen in the way Hawkeye’s flock have managed to turn their access to real time, exclusive banks of demographic and transactional data into creative springboards throughout a particularly uncertain time. While any brand can go out and buy or rent data from Epsilon, independent of Hawkeye, Hawkeye has that data flowing through it like a river. They can dive in more freely, to follow the their threads of curiosity and delve into the less obvious data points.
Joe’s got one particularly heart-warming Covid example up his sleeve – you can’t put a more human face on data than weddings, right? Jared is a US jewellery brand, and a business that makes a lot of its revenue from engagement rings and wedding jewellery. Now, at the beginning of the pandemic, it was a brand that had worked with some of Hawkeye’s sister agencies in the Publicis Groupe, but wasn’t one of their direct clients. However, the team at Hawkeye began to see some interesting patterns in the data related to weddings that presented an unignorable opportunity.
“We saw in the data two things,” says Joe. “One was this desire to still move forward, somehow, with these incredible, special moments that have been planned for months, if not years. And the second thing was the sense – and maybe this is a little bit of an American thing – of gusto. It was a little bit of like, ‘we're not going to let this pandemic slow us down’. You know, there's that kind of like that esprit de corps, and the fight for the individual kind of that comes with it.”
They saw that people would still want to get married and suggested that Jared could be the brand to facilitate that.
“To their credit, they could have laughed us out of the Zoom room. And they could have said ‘that's nice, but we don't have any budget’ but instead they said, ‘okay, we want to learn more’,” reveals Joe.
So the Hawkeye team created a platform to facilitate virtual weddings, as well as a broadcast spot. Development, legal issues, production, clearances were all condensed and accelerate so Jared got out ahead of the curve and ended up facilitating over 2,000 virtual weddings. There was also a 104% lift in consideration It’s a cute example of the colossal potential offered by Epsilon. “The data allows us to see things quickly and to do something about it,” reflects Joe. “[It] happened in literally I think four or five days. That all came together and we were off to the races! And I think another four or five days later that the broadcast spot hit market. So it was fast.”
Still the adaptation to the Covid-19 reality hasn’t been all wedding bells and rainbows. While the agency is powering ahead, there have still been tough decisions to make. Joe says that the workforce is down about 3% since the start of Covid, but that’s more of a result of rebuilding and transforming the agency and the Coronavirus downshifts that have impacted specific industries.
At the same time, the leadership have adopted regular, Friday virtual townhalls – an expansion of the more intimate ‘grab me for a coffee’ open Fridays. As a result the agency and its leadership has been able to understand and adapt to the needs of its workforce, and learn new ways to improve its inclusivity.
When I chat to Joe, he’s speaking from Hawkeye’s Dallas office – the only one in the office, driven there by an unfortunate tree that’s fallen on his home – but with the initial disruption and adrenaline dealt with deftly, thoughts are turning to the longer term transition to Covid-normal.
As part of that, the team is gearing up to the rescheduled relaunch this autumn. As the Covid cliché goes, lockdown has accelerated everything, and that’s just as true for Hawkeye’s integration of Epsilon and the team discovering the possibilities. While there’s no doubt that the lockdown, the rush to pivot have been exhausting in their own right, the breaking down of the walls between data and creative have been sparking neurons all over the shop.
“People are feeling more energized because that same notion of breaking down the silos and the old paradigms of the past that we're seeing client side, we've just had to do that organically, right? Technologists have to think about creativity, great creators have to think about the data, the data scientists. I have to think about where the data is ultimately going to live and how it's going to be expressed. It starts to create these virtuous cycles, that Renaissance mindset of art and engineering.”