Summary:

Interpublic Group’s media agency and digital hub Mediabrands has acquired social marketing agency Spring Creek Group. The deal, terms of whi…

Clay McDaniel

Interpublic Group’s media agency and digital hub Mediabrands has acquired social marketing agency Spring Creek Group. The deal, terms of which were undisclosed, is reflective of two major trends changing the traditional methods of media buying: the focus on “audience buying,” as opposed to relying on media properties to connect ads with consumers, and on the increased engagement that social media has versus traditional content companies.

The Spring Creek Group brand will remain alive, at least for now. The entity will otherwise be folded into Mediabrands’ Audience Platform, which includes IPG media and digital agencies Reprise Media, Ansible Mobile and real-time bidding trading desk Cadreon. Clay McDaniel, founding partner of Spring Creek Group, will become Managing Partner of Spring Creek Group and report to Brendan Moorcroft, CEO of Mediabrands Audience Platform

The underlying quality of all those services rests on analytics, and social media marketing tends to have have sharper data, given how much users share about their lives and interests.

While IPG has done a number of digital purchases in the past two years, it is hardly as aggressively acquisitive as rivals WPP Group and Publicis Groupe, which have been on a shopping spree for much of the past four years. But IPG and the other major ad holding company have realized that they need to at least catch up with a strategic deal every once in a while.

In any case, given the financial challenges agencies face as ad spend forecasts have been repeatedly been revised downward the past several months, being selectively acquisitive is the best way to go for most. The purchase of Spring Creek does resemble a deal Publicis did this past summer, when its VivaKi unit bought social marketer Big Fuel.

These deals highlight something else about the nature of media buying and the agency business, namely the interest in “earned media” as an advertising strategy. Typically, earned media is more of a PR approach, as it relies on things like “word of mouth,” whether through individual consumers spreading messages through the news media, which these days includes blogs.

The business of advertising has always involved a creative side and a planning and buying side. Social media marketing requires a different set of disciplines. It can almost be thought of as being in the “customer relationship management” business. As agencies have realized that social media is where clients are increasingly demanding to be, they’ve had to expand their portfolio quickly. The favored method — certainly the quickest — of enhancing the expertise of a traditional company is to buy a startup that has proven itself in a given area.

In its five years of existence, Spring Creek can claim blue chip marketers such as Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), HTC, and LiveNation on its client roster. While IPG doesn’t need to add another unit to access clients, having additional insights on social media can help it retain its current ones and attract new business.

Interestingly enough, eMarketer just came out with a social media ad spending forecast that said global social network ad revenues will reach $5.54 billion this year, with just under half that amount, $2.74 billion, coming from the US market.

The market for social ads is also heating up in the rest of the world. By 2013, non-U.S. dollars will comprise 51.9 percent of all social ad expenditures, which will hit nearly $10 billion worldwide. In the US, social networks will make $4.81 billion from ads that year.

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