Publicis Groupe Offering To Buy Social Media Marketer Big Fuel

The trend of agencies look to build up their social media capabilities with specialized marketing services acquisitions has accelerated in recent months, and that is what’s behind the news that Publicis Groupe’s VivaKi is in acquisition talks with social marketer Big Fuel, as AdAge reports, citing unidentified sources.

A VivaKi spokesperson declined to comment on the AdAge piece and Big Fuel didn’t return messages.

A number of marketing agencies that have emerged in the past few years promising to balance the traditional “paid” advertising model with the “earned” model associated with social media. That has fueled recent deals such as social marketer Say Media’s acquisition of digital agency Sideshow and Halogen Media Group’s purchase of social media ad tech firm YouCast.

And as usual, Publicis and WPP have continued to be the most eager acquirers of interactive ad shops. In some cases, they’ve even been behind some of the acquisition activity that startups themselves have been undertaking. Take for example WPP-backed Buddy Media, one of the first company’s to bill itself as a Facebook ad management system aimed at agencies and advertisers, which bought social analytics tool Spinback in May.

Publicis’ acquisition of online ad consultant Rosetta in May helped boost the amount of revenue it gets from digital to at least 28 percent of the total dollars it takes in. AdAge speculates that buying Big Fuel would increase digital revenues’ share of the agency’s total dollars to about 35 percent.

But more than that, it’s about positioning Publicis to have a broader mandate than the traditional agency model. 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.

From a practical standpoint, social media or “earned media” may not necessarily require paid placements in the usual sense, as it relies on consumer fans to promote a brand through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (NSDQ: GOOG) and personal blogs. That may be “free media,” but advertisers are becoming more willing to spend money to make the relationships that underpin that activity happen. For example, eMarketer has predicted that Facebook is set to dominate display. The amount of display ad spending on Facebook is set to grow 80.9 percent this year to $2.19 billion, demonstrating the value of synthesizing paid and earned media.