This excerpt is from an article originally published by Ad Age.

The ability to put data to work for clients is a key selling point at agencies in 2019 and has led to billions in acquisitions at the major holding companies over the past five years. Dentsu Aegis bought a $1.5 billion majority stake in Merkle in 2016; IPG acquired Acxiom’s Marketing Solutions unit for $2.3 billion in 2018; and Publicis Groupe acquired Epsilon Data Management earlier this year for $4.4 billion.

“The whole data strategy is in a state of flux right now based on the acquisitions of Merkle, Epsilon and Acxiom all going into the holding companies,” says Greg Paull, principal at R3 Worldwide, an independent marketing consultancy firm. “These types of companies are new to the holding group so there’s been a lot of onboarding challenges to really understand how to optimize these partnerships.”

Omnicom Group has been notably absent from the holding company data-acquisition spree, focusing on strategic data partnerships rather than bringing assets in-house. “We haven’t seen a situation that requires ownership of a data asset,” says Adam Gitlin, president of Annalect, Omnicom’s data technology arm. “If anything, we’ve seen the opposite happen where owning a data asset ends up being a handicap of sorts because on the client side it now introduces a conflict of interest.”

More companies are harnessing their first-party data to message to existing customers and support advertising strategies. But they are also facing increased scrutiny on their ability to protect customer data.

“We’re getting a lot of questions around what’s the impact of privacy regulations on clients and their ability to market, as well as on our own capabilities and what we’re offering to clients,” says Annalect’s Gitlin.

Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, fundamentally shifted compliance requirements for publishers and advertisers last year. And the U.S. may be next. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia introduced a bill in June that would require companies with more than 100 million unique monthly visitors to provide their users with an assessment of the economic value of their data and the ability to delete their footprint.

“I expect 2020 will be the year of consumers wanting to take back more of their data, and agencies are going to have to respond accordingly,” Paull notes.

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