Anthony Freedman, the former chair of Havas in Australia and New Zealand, has launched a London-headquartered holding company called Common Interest and announced its first acquisition – global marketing consultancy TwentyFirstCenturyBrand.
Freedman, who has also founded businesses including One Green Bean, described privately funded Common Interest as a group with a "mission to build brands in popular culture", one that eschews a traditional paid media approach.
Common Interest has bought an initial 51% stake in TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, which has offices in London and San Francisco, and has committed to buy out the remaining 49% in the next four or five years.
TwentyFirstCenturyBrand is led by global chief executive and co-founder Neil Barrie, who will remain in overall charge of the business, alongside chairman and co-founder Jonathan Mildenhall, while it will continue to be led in the US by global managing partner Colin Chow. It will remain effectively autonomous under its new ownership, while new divisions are expected to be launched as a result of the deal.
Common Interest is funded by nine investors (none of whom owns a stake greater than 20%), including chief executive and founder Freedman, from across the "worlds of film, entertainment, tech, media, gaming and advertising".
Freedman told Campaign its model – there are no venture capitalist or private equity investors – would equip it with enough capital to acquire a number of companies, while not being overly reliant on short-term gains and shareholder returns. It is looking to buy between eight and 10 businesses in the next 24 months.
"We didn't want to go out and raise hundreds of millions and, in the process of doing that, find myself in a situation where personally I was going to be so massively diluted that it was going to rely on some kind of growth/share incentive scheme to have any real skin in the game," he said.
Freedman said he is involved in acquisition discussions with a number of other prospective businesses, which he will "hopefully be able to talk about in the coming months".
Common Interest's M&A strategy will see it acquire both established businesses and "capital that's been ring-fenced to support start-ups" that complement the work of TwentyFirstCenturyBrand.
As an entity, Common Interest will be based in London and, while it has a chief financial officer and is bringing in administrative support, its structure will, initially at least, remain light. But Freedman said that as it acquires more subsidiaries, there will the prospect of a centralised "shared service function".
Freedman described Common Interest's mission as generating "ideas that are bigger than advertising", that "aren't going to rely predominantly on paid media to reach audiences" and that are "fundamentally looking to build connections by tapping into popular culture".
"Common Interest is born out of a gap that exists in today's industry," he said. "We're in an age when technology has radically transformed the media and entertainment industry, yet brand indifference is at an all-time high. Moreover, as traditional advertising formats are diminishing in relevance, the stories behind brands matter more than ever."
TwentyFirstCenturyBrand was co-founded in 2018 by Barrie, who previously worked as chief strategy officer at TBWA\Chiat\Day; Mildenhall, the former Airbnb chief marketing officer; and Alexandra Dimiziani, former Airbnb global marketing director.
Barrie said: "From our very first days huddled around Jonathan's kitchen table, we knew one day we'd need an ally who would support, inspire and challenge us to achieve our ambitions.
"We're a people-centred business and finding a partner who truly shares our values and understands our culture was not easy. That changed when we met Anthony. Anthony is a human-first leader with a pedigree of building progressive creative businesses, and he has a unique vision of what a new iteration of the 'holding company' can be."
Mildenhall added: "The impact of TwentyFirstCenturyBrand has exceeded my wildest expectations over the past five years. This deal will help turbo-charge our mission over the next decade. I couldn't be more optimistic for our TwentyFirstCenturyBrand team and clients alike."