Gurjit Degun
Apr 5, 2023

Omnicom's TBWA Worldwide acquires Dark Horses

Sport-focused creative agency eyes global growth.

Omnicom's TBWA Worldwide acquires Dark Horses

Dark Horses, the sports marketing agency backed by Lucky Generals founders Andy Nairn, Danny Brooke-Taylor and Helen Calcraft, has been acquired by Omnicom's TBWA Worldwide.

Campaign understands the deal is worth upwards of £5m, however TBWA Worldwide declined to confirm this number.

Dark Horses is retained by Royal Ascot and Nissan and also works for the likes of the English FA, Tottenham Hotspur FC, TikTok and Just Eat.

The acquirer's motive for the deal was adding a "deep specialist" agency, according to TBWA Worldwide's global chief executive Troy Ruhanen. Dark Horses' management said guiding factors were having access to "global opportunities" while retaining the agency's identity.

Dark Horses was founded with investment from Lucky Generals in August 2016, months before Lucky Generals itself sold a majority stake to TBWA in February 2017.

Original Dark Horses leader Simon Dent, who left BBH Sport to launch the business, stepped down as managing director in September 2020 but remained a shareholder.

The agency has since been run by chief executive Melissa Robertson, executive creative director Steve Howell and chief strategy officer Matt Readman.

It is understood that the trio will have been given an earnout; however, they declined to comment on this.

Robertson explained that she is committed to the agency and said that the team "is not going anywhere".

According to the latest information filed with Companies House, the business has nine shareholders: Dent, Calcraft, Brooke-Taylor, Nairn, Simon Ellse, Nik Upton, Robertson, Readman and Howell.

As a smaller company Dark Horses does not have to report full revenue and profit figures to Companies House. However, it has disclosed that its 2022 income was £4.4m (up from 2021's £4.1m) in Campaign's just-published annual School Reports.

Accounts at Companies House do also reveal that the agency's profit and loss reserve increased from £365,408 at the end of 2020 to £694,589 at the end of 2021. This suggests it made an annual profit of £330,000 during a year when some pandemic restrictions were still in place.

The shop has 40 staff after hiring Viv Bowdler as a strategy director last week.

Robertson told Campaign that the acquisition marks the next step in the agency's growth. She said: "What excited us was that TBWA has a history of wanting to keep agencies as they are so they talk about themselves as a collective. Our identity matters to us.

"It's tough when you're a small independent in our industry... so it helps to have global opportunities. It makes me feel more supported and optimistic."

Robertson confirmed that the Dark Horses name will continue and there will be no redundancies as part of the buyout.

TBWA Worldwide's global chief executive Troy Ruhanen added: "We've been watching Dark Horses for some time. As a collection of best-in-class agencies at the top of their game, we're always looking for those deep specialists that complement us and add significant expertise to the total brand experience of our clients. I'm excited to see what growth they can unlock across the board."

Campaign UK

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