GroupM launches new global agency brand, ESP Properties

HONG KONG - GroupM has expanded its sports and entertainment offering with the launch of new global agency brand, ESP.

JinWei Toh will helm ESP Properties in Asia-Pacific
JinWei Toh will helm ESP Properties in Asia-Pacific

The brand launches with more than 150 staff in Singapore, New York, London, Sao Paolo and Dubai, among others. 

The agency will be further built up through new hires, the integration of existing GroupM business units, including sponsorship agency IEG and the acquisition of data-driven sports marketing agency Two Circles. It will also work with GroupM Entertainment on new programming concepts, and, where mutually beneficial, provide direct finance for new projects.

The launch also builds on the agency's US$250 million investment in global sports marketing firm Bruin Sports Capital, reported the FT.  

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It will be led globally by John Kristick, global CEO of GroupM ESP (now part of ESP Properties) since 2011. In Asia-Pacific, it will be led by JinWei Toh, who will continue to report into Josh Black, CEO GroupM Content APAC.

Jonathan Hill will lead the business in EMEA and Lauren Ukman will helm North America. 

While ESP Properties will be part of WPP-owned GroupM, it will remain independent of its media buying operations. 

"Our new ESP Properties will bring creative power and commercial insight to rightsholders for the first time, providing unmatched opportunities to better tailor their offerings to the needs of today’s brand sponsors," Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, said in a press statement. "ESP will also work hand in hand with our recent investment in Bruin Sports to provide our clients with access to many high-value media and sponsorship opportunities."

According to GroupM Entertainment, ESP Properties will be GroupM’s first company dedicated to serving rightsholders from sports and entertainment, including federations, leagues, events, teams, publishers and venues. It will offer a thorough assessment of their commercial programs, and advise how to grow the revenue they generate through a full range of services across data, digital and content development. It will also offer global partnership sales both to existing WPP brand clients and beyond.

GroupM will also be expanding its support for brands to plan, negotiate and activate sports and entertainment partnerships by growing the specialist teams in its individual media agencies. Across APAC, this work will continue to sit within the GroupM Agencies specialist content teams within Maxus, MEC, Mediacom and Mindshare.

"We will ensure we work more efficiently on behalf of brands by providing even more resources for the specialist sports and entertainment practices that are embedded in our GroupM agencies, underpinned by a central team in key regions, ESP Brands," said Dominic Proctor, chairman of ESP and president of GroupM Global. 

The launch is part of WPP’s latest slew of investments in content which includes MediaPro, VICE, Indigenous Media, FullScreen and MRC. 

Update, May 20: In response to questions posed by Campaign Asia-Pacific, Black explained that the existing GroupM ESP business was formed in 2004 and focused purely on providing content solutions for brands and clients across activation, short-form digital and long-form programming space at a group centralised level. The teams started getting de-centralised into GroupM's agencies three years ago and will continue to do so as it makes sense from a commercial, scale, talent and client point-of-view.

ESP Properties however is an entirely new business that focuses on rights-holders (the sellers) and working with them to commercialise their sports and entertainment properties globally. "For us in Asia, this is totally new as we have only ever under the 'orginal ESP' consulted and provided services to brands and clients. In other words, the 'buyers'," explained Black. 

Update 2, May 20: Campaign's Jenny Chan spoke with Toh regarding China, and added the following:

An interesting phenomenon in APAC is how rightsholders are trying to make their way into the region with the pull of their global sports and entertainment assets. The Chinese market, for one, will flourish with this attention, according to Toh. The interest from Manchester United in China, for example, is second to none, he told Campaign Asia-Pacific. Other European clubs are also “very keen” to acquire Chinese sponsors, while potential sponsors are using the country’s interest in sports to upscale their brands.

A sizeable part of China’s population (be it hardcore fans or ‘pseudo fans’, a term coined during FIFA World Cup 2014) is excited about sports such as basketball and football.

“Just take a look at the reception to the Chinese Super League [CSL]," Toh said. Also, sports celebrities like Li Na who have done well on the international athletics stage have many Chinese filled with nationalistic pride. It was the rise of Chinese sports stars globally that made locals begin to view sports as not just a rigorous and back-breaking Olympics-training system but being something accessible to be passionate about.

Furthermore, regardless of how bad the economy may get, consumers in China and wider afield in Asia will still get behind their favourite sports teams and athletes. “There is nothing that will rally people like sports," Toh said. "Rightsholders and brands know that.”

Toh said he was not concerned about China’s Wanda Group's February acquisition of Infront, a Swiss sports marketing firm run by Sepp Blatter’s nephew, which owns some World Cup broadcasting rights and handles media finances for some football clubs. “It is quite difficult to find a competitor to ESP Properties in Asia," Toh said. "Ultimately, rightsholders are allowed direct access to the biggest brands in the world that we serve. We have a very clear proposition with our commercialisation capability coming from the knowledge of what brand clients want.” 


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