Tech Talk with Diana Littman and Bryan Pedersen, MSL

MSL is slashing its tech vendor roster and integrating even more with Publicis Groupe.

Bryan Pedersen and Diana Littman
Bryan Pedersen and Diana Littman

Since naming Diana Littman as U.S. CEO and Bryan Pedersen as chief innovation officer, MSL has re-focused on "discovery." 

Almost a year after parent company Publicis Groupe bought data marketing company Epsilon, Littman and Pedersen chatted about how the acquisition has affected MSL and how it’s using its tech stack. 

How much control do you have over what software you do and do not use?
Littman: The agency as a whole had access and the ability to access whatever software they were interested in. But since I joined MSL, and since I brought Bryan [Pedersen] on board, we’ve taken a very critical eye toward the software we’re using and how we’re employing our tech stack and integrating even more deeply within Publicis from a data perspective. We have access to all of the data scientists at Publicis. Since the acquisition of Epsilon, that has changed drastically. We partner with them on programming and innovation.

What made you want to come to MSL?
Pedersen: MSL is in a unique position, being the only PR agency within Publicis Groupe, because we get to work with all its [firms] such as Epsilon, Digitas and Starcom. It gives us the ability to leverage all the technology. Really, it started with conversations we had at Omnicom [in previous roles at that holding company]: How do we change PR and reimagine how we can reach impact and scale and measure it effectively? We’re in the perfect place to do that. We have the tools.

How many tools did you have when you started? How many do you have now?
Pedersen: When I first came on, there were probably closer to two dozen across the board and we had multiple vendors doing the same things. We systematically started to weed them all down into singular platforms to have a much more strategic relationship so they understand how they connect back into our tech stack, which is powered by Epsilon, and how they complement each other.

When you think about it from a PR perspective, you not only want to know how many articles are written about something, but you also want to go much deeper. You want to know how many people actually engaged with those articles, not just that they got published. And you want to see how many people read those articles and you want to see how many people talked about those articles and then what people thought about those things.

If we can bring those partners together to measure each of those steps in the consumer journey and then combine all of that and use our infrastructure like Epsilon, that’s when you start to be able to deliver a much more holistic strategy and start to measure the results of your efforts.

At the top of the conversation, you said there were close to two dozen vendors. How many are there now?
Pedersen: Much smaller. We’re much closer to the single digits when it comes to those partnerships, but we’re not always going with the biggest ones. In some cases, the smaller ones are more nimble, and they’re able to adapt and work in that tech stack.

Littman: We’re also looking at data sources within Publicis, which we pair with the data we get from vendors, so it makes for a unique offering.

Is it accurate to say Epsilon is the backbone of collaboration across Publicis?
Littman: Data is the backbone of everything we do and Epsilon has an incredible, if not the most powerful, data source as well as being the most unique. So sure, that’s accurate because data is the backbone.

The fact that [Littman reports] directly to Publicis CEO Arthur Sadoun says a lot about his faith in PR. How does comms tech solidify MSL’s seat at the table?
Littman: [Influencer offering] MSL Fluency has been a big part of the partnerships within the group, between Publicis Media and Epsilon in particular, as well as our group-level clients.

Pedersen: Influencer marketing is touching every single agency at the group, and it’s not to say they’re not doing it right, but a lot of different agencies can contract influencers. Bringing all that together — the technology to discover influencers, monitor conversation and amplify it — into Fluency has been something that’s helped forge those relationships.

We’ve taken feedback from the different groups, such as Digitas and Starcom and some of our other partners, and we built that into the platform itself. Seeing that we have a holistic approach to bringing that together has really strengthened our relationship with them.

Littman: And strengthens our position.

You mentioned smaller, more nimble tech partners. Who are they? And what makes them more nimble?
Pedersen: We’re in the process of finalizing nearly all of those. We can probably disclose those in the next couple weeks.

Littman: [Pedersen] and his team have a commitment to not only be ahead of the curve in terms of what’s happening on the social platforms, but also to be ahead of the curve in terms of what’s happening in the PR communications tech stack.

Is MSL working to better integrate itself with other comms tech platforms?
Pedersen: Absolutely. Fluency is that connectivity. We’re pushing more into other areas with it, such as social listening, which is not something you’d typically find in a platform like that. But when we think about influencer marketing, we’re really talking about influence and all of these things level up to influence. We feel like that is the area we should really own within the group and within the industry.

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