ICF Olson combines agencies under ICF Next banner

Individual agency brands will cease to exist in 2019 in favour of a more holistic offering.
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ICF Olson has unveiled a plan to do away with its separate agency brands, combining them under a new name: ICF Next.

The move, effective in January, will combine all existing ICF agencies – including Olson Engage, Olson1to1, Olson Digital and PulsePoint Group – under the new name.

On the global level, ICF Next will be led by president John Armstrong, who joined the agency group earlier this year after being general manager and North American strategy lead for IBM iX, the tech company’s internal creative and design division. In Canada, Daniel Welch will lead the offering, having been VP and managing director for ICF Olson in Canada since late last year.

While the individual agency brands will no longer exist, Armstrong says each of the disciplines and expertise represented by those brands will continue to be specializations within ICF Next. Those offerings include loyalty and CRM, shopper marketing, consumer engagement, digital, PR, social and creative. Leadership teams for each of the former agency brands will remain in place, and they will lead their respective disciplines in the markets ICF Next operates (including Canada, the U.S., Europe and India).

While major holding groups have been merging and consolidating their agency brands in an attempt to simplify their structures and find efficiencies, Armstrong insists this new agency launch is not a cost-cutting attempt.

“The skills we house in these groups are reasonably distinct,” he says. “They have some things in common, but we didn’t come at this looking to put things together and find cost saving opportunities.”

The main driver for the combination, Armstrong says, is an increased client demand for more holistic and integrated offerings, especially when it comes to going beyond capturing the public’s attention and actually turning them into customers. He says the process of combining agency brands has been happening for roughly 18 months.

“We began to see clients looking for a level of collaboration between the groups and outcomes that required more than one of our teams to achieve,” he says. “Had we rushed into [combining the divisions], we’d have just rebranded this thing and put it under one roof. We looked instead at what it would mean to be seamless to our clients, the barriers between the groups and how to begin pitching and delivering together.”

Armstrong says Canada has been something of a leader when it comes to integration, with Welch saying ICF’s work in Canada has benefited from bringing in things like loyalty expertise from its office in Minneapolis.

Welch also notes that, as a result of the merger, there are more opportunities for technology and broader strategic transformation work.

“Our enterprise tech partners move quickly, and I’ve noticed the Canadian market trends a bit behind of the American market when it comes to adoption,” Welch says. “I like the opportunity to borrow and bring thought leadership from a market that’s ahead of the curve to our local clients and help solve some of the martech and adtech problems. And while we do a lot of work in the digital transformation space, with Next we get access to skills in other areas of transformation. The broader strategic transformation plan has been tough for us to crack and now we have access to some really sharp people, particularly in L.A. and London, already doing great work there.”

In Canada, ICF’s clients include Boston Pizza, The Home Depot, OLG, WestJet, Ontario Energy Board, Motavi Athletic and Interac. Welch adds that, in addition to tapping into top international talent for Canadian clients, he will also look for ways to put the best Canadian talent and skillsets to work for ICF clients in other markets as part of a local growth plan.