Australia’s marketing and analytics leaders responded with a mixture of surprise, relief, uncertainty and even some disbelief to the news the Australian Computer Society (ACS) has bought the nation’s premier marketing and data analytics industry associations.

Yesterday we reported the deal which will see the ACS acquire the AADL group of marketing and data associations — including ADMA, IAPA (Institute of Analytics Professionals Australia), DGA (Data Governance Australia) and D+TC (formerly AIMIA).

Which-50 interviewed more than 30 senior marketing and analytics leaders, technology industry participants, ADMA members, former ADMA directors and executives, as well as other industry figures to gauge reaction to the news.

While almost everyone expressed surprise at the announcement, some said that once they thought it through they understood the logic of the move. Most, notably, said they saw potential bumps in the road ahead especially around the cultural alignment of the respective memberships.

And there was some confusion over positioning and over what would happen to the individual AADL brands. We put that question directly to the ADMA chief.

Andrea Martens, ADMA CEO, acknowledged the significance of the announcement and the fact that it came as a surprise to many. And while ACS has acquired the associations she stressed that the brands are not merging. “The individual associations will be uplifted through the resources and investment ACS provides. The ADMA brand, and all its services and products such as ADMA IQ, Global Forum, AC&E – will continue. That’s the same for IAPA, DGA, and D+TC.”

“To some, the decision to go with ACS might seem a surprise. We felt that to make the incremental shift needed for marketers in this industry, we had to look outside the smaller groups. We had conversations, but to deliver to our members the broad vision we have, a complementary partner was key. The ACS is both complementary but also incremental.”

Stepping into unfamiliar territory can be hard, she said. “It can feel uncomfortable and may take a little time to adjust. But we won’t find the solutions to some of these big issues alone. With ACS, we can leverage its business partners and insights to drive collaboration between the CIO, CDO, and CMO. Because we need to collaborate – to work outside our current silos and leverage all functions to deliver incredible business and customer outcomes. ”

Martens told Which-50, “ADMA will continue to expand its position as the preeminent collective of marketing professionals, renowned for enabling members, irrespective of industry or scale of enterprise, to unlock organisational growth and realise the potential of data-driven marketing.”

Industry response

The reaction of Christian Bowman, the General Manager of Customer Experience and engagement at Ladbrokes, was typical of many.

Christian Bowman, the General Manager of Customer Experience and Engagement at Ladbrokes

“I was initially surprised by the announcement, but as I thought about where ADMA has been heading, it’s logical that an organisation that is data-focused is part of a leading IT society.

His questions about the impact of the acquisition also echoed much of the sentiment. “I think that ADMA has evolved into more data-focused and less creative and marketing focused. With the acquisition, I’m hoping that the key marketing and data events don’t lose sight of the needs and discussions of the key industries that the associations facilitate, and the members they represent. ”

Data analytics professionals, typically, saw the move in more positive terms than some of their marketing peers.

Sriraman Annaswamy, the founder and Director of Swarmy and Associates, a Sydney based Advanced Analytics, AI, Machine Learning and BPM research and advisory service, said the reaction would primarily be one of relief — “particularly for those of us who dealt predominantly with IAPA.”

Apart from the financial stability and scope for acceleration that a larger body like ACS would bring to IAPA, he said he believed there is a very sound strategic logic underlying this deal.

“At least on paper, this merger brings the three relevant sets of professionals — Data Engineers (ACS), Data Scientists (ADMA/IAPA), and Marketers (ADMA) — together under the one umbrella.”

Kate Burleigh, Country Manager of Amazon Alexa, was effusive. In an email to Which-50 she wrote, “My immediate reaction was one of being highly impressed, wanting to pick the phone up to both bodies and say well done.”

Kate Burleigh, Country Manager, Amazon Alexa

This is a highly strategic and relevant acquisition which will see both parties gain, she said. “The merging of technology and marketing cannot be underestimated, and I can see immediately how both organisations can stand to gain from each other’s expertise.”

Mylan Vu, Managing Director of communication company Hotwire Australia, told us, “It’s unsurprising to see organisations like ACS acquire organisations like ADMA,” while Irina Hayward, Executive Director — Digital and Direct Strategy, BMF said “The ADMA acquisition reflects exactly where the industry is going: highlighting the right synergy between technology and data-led solutions.”

Meanwhile, Flamingo AI founder and Executive Director Dr Catriona Wallace — a former ADMA Director — saw wider implications for the industry association sector itself. “I was a board member when ADMA and its affiliated associations were restructuring to provide the most effective model to support its vision and objectives. And this was very difficult.”

Catriona Wallace, Flamingo AI

Wallace said the traditional models of industry associations are archaic and becoming irrelevant. “By ADMA joining more closely with industry, in this case ACS, who will be typically more commercial-minded but who often lack the community value that associations bring — then the best of both can be cultivated.”

She also had high praise for ADMA Chairman Steve Brennen, who has overseen the group during what was arguably its most difficult period. “Steve Brennen has done a sterling job in leading ADMA through this. I cannot speak more highly of a Chair.”

Beau Ushay, the owner of Ushay Consulting Group, also focused on the opportunity the merger presented to create a new kind of association. “ACS will know what they’re getting into with this move. What I would like to see from this union is a fresh approach. Member associations have been around for eons, so how can they use this change to bring new, digitally-led ideas to the profession? Something the vendors can’t deliver on their own?

“From my external viewpoint, we see the landscape having made a significant shift to tripling down on the customer experience. How can the fusion of marketing and IT services help remove the inefficiencies and really provide marketers an unparalleled way to deliver on that experience?”

Emma Lo Russo, CEO of Digivizer, meanwhile said the move appeared to be a strategic one.

“The changes at ACS, following a number of new appointments, as well as its recent move to the Barangaroo and Docks precincts, is set to truly influence and provide greater relevance to the broader tech community. This deal with ADMA is the next step in building relevance and influence.”

Emma Lo Russo, Chief Executive Officer, Digivizer

She said she also saw the move as a great one for ADMA, enabling it to reach a broader audience, and that it connected ADMA’s recently-declared primary focus around managing data with the broader customer engagement technology story.

Not everyone was convinced though. Janine Pares, Managing Director of Thinksmart Marketing and herself a former ADMA trainer, described her response as baffled and initially confused — “… not just by the decision, but the mixed messages in the market between the ADMA announcement and then the subsequent reporting by Mumbrella. Is it a merger? An acquisition? Will ADMA retain its brand in the market?”

Janine Pares, founder and Managing Director, Thinksmart Marketing

Pares said she could see the appeal for ACS, especially with marketers controlling more of the IT budget and having a stronger influence in technology purchase decisions these days. “It makes good business sense for the IT sector to build stronger engagement with marketers — the bread and butter of ADMA’s audience.

“However, I’m not so sure it’s a smart strategic decision for ADMA, whose reputation has suffered considerably in the last year. It feels more like a financial lifeline, rather than a decision made with the best interests of the membership and a strategic agenda in mind. I’m not sure how this benefits marketers and the continued development of the marketing profession.”

Nick Mercer, head of Data Spine, Publicis Groupe ANZ  and the Chairman of MercerBell, said his surprise was tempered by the realisation that for a number of years, ADMA has been operating in difficult circumstances.

“It has gone through some horrendous leadership issues, events canceled, and a feeling of lack of direction since Jodie Sangster’s exit.”

Nick Mercer, head of Data Spine, Publicis Groupe ANZ  and the Chairman of MercerBell

Mercer was on the Board of Directors of ADMA for two years and describes himself as having been intimately involved with the organisation for over 20 years.

“So the feeling of surprise was overtaken by an interest in seeing how this acquisition by ACS will play out for ADMA members. For the reasons outlined above, I feel ADMA has lost much credibility and its reputation has been tarnished. In order to regain its position as a peak body, this would have meant considerable work and investment to achieve this.”

While he was unaware of the ACS prior to the announcement, in an email to Which-50 he wrote, “I believe there will be significant benefits for ADMA members if they are able to access the full ACS member benefits.”

Others we spoke with, while understanding the rationale, also flagged some concerns.

Michael Weeding has run the digital operations at AMP and Citibank, and these days runs his own digital consultancy, Future Ready Digital Advisory. He told Which-50, “I can see the value as it can bring together expertise. And in a world where value can be diluted with too many players, I understand the decision. I worry that the ADMA brand, which is very strong, could become diluted over time.”

This concern about ADMA’s role and identity was reflected in many of the comments we received.

Ricoh CMO Tori Starkey — who has been recognised as one of Australia’s top 50 marketers and who previously held senior roles at brands such as Telstra and VMware — alluded to the different cultures that exist at ADMA and ACS. “Many marketers in the IT sector have probably worked with ACS at one time or another as part of their marketing programs.

Tori Starkey, CMO and GM Marketing, Ricoh

“There is a real need for disruptive thinking, dynamic insights and the ability to help marketers deliver outcomes and value back to the business. The question is whether the ACS has the credibility to do this, or whether its staid reputation will work against this positioning,” she said.

Benefits

That said, Starkey is positive about the change. “I can see a raft of benefits, and opportunities to better engage, inform and support CMOs as our roles broaden and we are even further reliant on technology to own customer engagement from beginning to end — and to continue to deliver against digital transformation programs.”

She described big data, marketing automation, and analytics as hygiene issues for marketing these days, “… but to truly leverage and optimise, having a more technical background is advantageous.”

To that end, she said there is a huge opportunity for marketers to step out of their bubble and learn from their IT peers, “… and really understand the processes and practices within our organisations.”

This will help improve CX, deliver more value back to the organisation and also create a better understanding of end-user requirements — before, as she put it, marketers “rush into buying the latest tech ‘magic wand’.”

Cultural concerns

Most of the concerns raised with us in preparation of this story centred around the very different professional cultures that exist among the memberships of the ACS and the various AADL organisations — of which ADMA is the largest.

For instance, Nick Mercer told us, “I do have some concerns, in that ADMA and its other brands represent specific and perhaps niche parts of the marketing communications industry. I would hate for these brands to become lost and buried in the large broader IT-based body that is ACS.”

He said, “Perhaps there will be some structural changes to allow the ADMA brands to remain visible and active, with the potential to grow again. I also hope that ACS ensures ADMA continues its important role in the education of marketing and communications people.”

He also referenced the important regulatory role that ADMA plays in the market representing its members. “With the release of the ACCC Digital Platform Inquiry, we are about to see potentially a lot more government intervention into the digital and data ecosystem. Now more than ever the industry needs a strong and powerful voice to help government and industry agree on a fair position, mindful of consumer privacy and commercial interests.”

Culture was also on the mind of Sriraman Annaswamy. “The biggest [issue] is a potential culture clash. It is a big issue given that ACS membership, primarily of engineers, tends to be very process-driven with a focus on clearly defined scope and deliverables. Whereas both ADMA and IAPA membership tends to be less so.”

Sriraman Annaswamy, the founder and Director of Swarmy and Associates

According to Annaswamy, “The merger would almost replicate the significant tensions and strained relationships that as an analytics advisor I encounter every day within ASX 100 corporates — between the Enterprise IT teams, the Analytics and data science teams, and the business teams. Especially the customer and marketing teams.”

Business as usual

“For us, it’s business as usual,” ADMA’s Martens said.

“With our AC&E Awards and AMY Awards celebrations coming up in October and our education curriculum, ADMA IQ, continuing to build with new courses on offer every week.

“We will also be Building a Brave New Future with Global Forum to be held from 31 March – 1 April 2020.”

Andrea Martins
ADMA CEO Andrea Martens

She also stressed that ADMA will continue its advocacy function referencing the country’s lagging performance in digital. “Australia is falling behind in Digital Engagement rankings: 45th in digital and tech skills – behind Taiwan, Philippines and Canada and 25 per cent of employees say they don’t have the skills for the modern economy.” It’s become increasingly evident that data and technology are fundamental to the success of modern business, business that is constantly evolving.”

As part of its regulatory support, ADMA is capturing industry sentiment and providing an industry perspective in the ongoing ACCC DPI inquiry, Martens said.  “It’s a busy time and it’s about to get even busier as even though we’ve got lots in the pipeline, we will also be looking at ways in which we can offer even more benefits to our members through this move.”

 According to the ADMA chief, “Our priority is to support our members to meet today’s needs and build knowledge, know-how, and understanding for the challenges of tomorrow.

“We need to move with the market – to adapt, build greater resources and acquire the very best intelligence to ensure our members are always up to date. We’ve been doing a good job in supporting the industry through best practice insights, events, and education in marketing, analytics, and governance. But to build for the future, we were missing a key ingredient.

Disclosure:  ADMA is a client of Which-50 Media.

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