ICF Launches New Agency Network Led by Former IBM iX Executive

John Armstrong will be group head

The new organization employs 1,700 across a dozen offices. ICF
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ICF, the international consultancy that acquired independent agency Olson in 2014, today announced the creation of a new network called ICF Next.

The organization will launch in January 2019 and combine the services of several marketing, consulting, communications, technology and customer loyalty firms including Olson Engage, Olson1to1, Olson Digital and Pulsepoint Group along with ICF Mostra of Brussels and U.K.-based shops The Future Customer and We Are Vista.

ICF Next will be led by John Armstrong, who joined ICF earlier this year after spending more than a decade with IBM and most recently led North American digital strategy for internal agency IBM iX.

"We want to remove the barriers to collaboration and create a more seamless group across geographies where we operate."
John Armstrong, group lead, ICF Next

“[ICF] has been a collection of companies, all with similar interests but operating independently, both here in North America and in Europe as well as in India,” Armstrong said, noting that company leadership first began discussing the formation of a new network after they “started to see more requests from clients that spanned two or more of the disciplines we’re in.”

ICF Next will combine 1,700 employees across more than a dozen offices serving public and private sector clients including Adobe, Skittles, Amtrak, Belize Tourism and the European Union.

“We want to remove the barriers to collaboration and create [a more] seamless group … across geographies where we operate,” said the incoming executive, who told Adweek that the purpose of the new structure is not consolidation, redundancy or cost reduction but “being there for our clients” and ensuring that those clients don’t have to go elsewhere for the services they need.

Armstrong called creative advertising “an important part of what we do” beyond the established public and government relations offerings from Olson Engage and others within the group. ICF Next has also made “a good start” on a tech team primarily versed on platforms, he said, with plans to focus more resources on emerging tools like AI, augmented reality and voice.

ICF Next will replace ICF Olson, the group formed in 2016 that included several of the same agencies. That entity went through a series of changes culminating in the departure of CEO and former McCann executive Louise Clements in February, seven months before Armstrong came aboard as evp and group lead.

This new organization will differ from ICF Olson in integrating the Mostra and U.K. operations, consultancy PulsePoint–which Olson acquired in 2013 but did not consolidate—and a strategic communications division, also known as ICF, that works almost exclusively with U.S. government agencies and utilities.

When asked what would distinguish the new brand from many others in the marketplace, Armstrong said, “telling the truth to our clients. I see few willing to do that.”

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.