Mark Penn's Stagwell Group snapped up startup Headliner Labs to help clients take advantage of buzzy retail tech


  • ForwardPMX, a performance marketing agency that is part of Mark
    Penn’s Stagwell Group, acquired Headliner Labs, a startup that
    creates chatbots and voice-activated ecommerce tools.
  • Caroline Klatt and Dana Gibber founded Headliner Labs to meet
    growing demand for chat and voice products from retailers like Cole
    Haan and Sally Beauty.
  • As privacy laws and Google’s decision to phase out third-party
    cookies take effect, marketers are looking for other ways to gather
    data and manage consumer relationships.
  • Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Headliner will
    immediately become part of the agency, which has about 1,000 people
    in 25 offices around the world.
  • Click
    here for more BI Prime stories.

Digital marketing agency ForwardPMX, part of former political
Mark Penn’s private equity-backed Stagwell Group
, acquired
Headliner Labs, a Silicon Alley startup that creates chatbots and
other mobile commerce tools.

The acquisition is effective immediately. Terms were not

Headliner Labs CEO Caroline Klatt and chief operating officer
Dana Gibber, told Business Insider the deal came in response to
increasing demands for AI chat and voice-enabled search options
from major clients like Kenneth Cole, Saks Fifth Avenue, Cole Haan,
Sally Beauty, and Paramount Pictures.

Gibber and Klatt, who used to lead strategy and operations at, will lead ForwardPMX’s voice and chat practice, providing
consulting services and helping build the products themselves.

As retail goes mobile, more clients want bots and other tech tools
to drive sales and collect consumer data

Gibber and Klatt said they founded Headliner Labs after seeing
an opportunity in consumers having conversational interactions with
brands while on mobile devices.

The startup works across platforms including Facebook Messenger,
Amazon Alexa, Google Home, WhatsApp and Snapchat. A ForwardPMX
spokesperson said clients made about $50 million in revenue using
Headliner Labs products in 2019.

As privacy laws take effect and
tech giants like Apple and Google
limit marketers’ ability to
target ads, Klatt said brands would increasingly need to collect
and own their customers’ data. She said chatbots are valuable to
clients because, in addition to running automated direct marketing
campaigns, they can collect data that will be increasingly relevant
as cookies go away.

And Divya Gugnani, CEO of Wander Beauty, a Headliner Labs
client, said conversion rates on direct marketing campaigns were
three times higher than standard paid social media efforts in

Voice is still a fringe practice for agencies, but client demand
will keep growing

Klatt and Gibber said brands are increasingly asking digital
agencies for help taking advantage of voice-activated devices.
While the tech remains in its infancy, brands are already trying to
make sure their names come up when people use the devices to make
buying decisions.

“We’re not so far off from a time when you can ask your
refrigerator what you need and have your refrigerator order it,”
Gibber said.

As evidence of top marketers’ interest, the executives said
almost all of their clients have come from events where they
discuss voice technology.

Klatt said Stagwell Group got to know Headliner Labs because it
worked with several of the same retail companies as ForwardPMX.

ForwardPMX formed from a March 2019 merger of search firm PMX
Agency and Forward3D, which specialized in direct marketing
campaigns. In December 2019, ForwardPMX acquired appropriately
named SEO firm The Search Agency.

Stagwell Group was founded in 2015 by Penn, the longtime
political insider and former Microsoft marketing executive. Its
portfolio includes such names as politically-connected PR firm
SKDKnickerbocker, design agency Code and Theory, and Republican
strategy firm Targeted Victory.

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Mark Penn's Stagwell Group snapped up startup Headliner Labs to help clients take advantage of buzzy retail tech