Faaez Samadi
Dec 13, 2018

Top 5 agency deals of 2018

Our list of the most significant acquisitions, mergers and launches of the year.

Top 5 agency deals of 2018

It’s hard to hone a list of just five significant agency tie-ups or purchases this year, because, as with our list of top hires and exits, there were just far too many. From global deals that have implications for Asia and everywhere else, to regional changes that are reshaping the APAC industry, we’re sort of cheating (again) with this list and having some clusters, to ensure we cover the breadth of activity in 2018.

1. IPG/Acxiom Marketing Solutions

One of the biggest deals of the year, in terms of dollar value and the implications for IPG as a network. Everyone in the industry has felt the ripples from the very public issues Facebook (and to some extent Google) have had regarding their data usage and collection. Previous murmurs about the walled gardens encroaching further on the digital landscape have risen to a din.

First-party data is what people are talking about now, and that’s exactly what IPG says it has secured with its whopping US$2.3 billion acquisition of Acxiom Marketing Services. For that enormous sum, IPG gets 1,600 data specialists and its data management services. This means big things for the network globally, including Asia-Pacific. China will likely be a priority in this part of the world.

2. S4C/MediaMonks/MightyHive

Martin Sorrell and Victor Knaap

What’s the best way to get your own back on the company you built dismissing you amid scandalous allegations involving sex, money and power? Easy. Set up a new rival company that punks your old shop by gazumping them on acquisitions.

Thus comes the latest chapter in Martin Sorrell’s advertising career, with his takeover of S4 Capital. Clearly a man on a mission to build a newer, supposedly better WPP advertising firm, Sorrell captured digital agency MediaMonks, which WPP was desperately keen on securing for itself, so much so that it suggested withholding Sorrell’s bonus if he nabbed the prize.

Well, he did, and he’s clearly not done, having just announced a US$150 million takeover of MightyHive, a programmatic marketing services agency. The implications for APAC? Well, in an interview with Campaign, Sorrell said S4C “need[s] to be in” India and Japan, and he’s just poached Michel de Rijk from GroupM to be S4's APAC CEO. So watch this space in 2019. 

And speaking of WPP…

3. The great skittish WPP agency mash-up

Not so much a deal as an ordeal. WPP executives told Reuters to expect “evolution, not revolution” at the ad network in September, following Mark Read’s ascension to the throne. Guess those execs didn’t get the memo. Or several memos.

The rupturing of WPP’s existing agency structure following dismal results last year has seen consolidation on a monumental scale. The model seems to be bolting digital agencies onto existing creative behemoths, some of the biggest agency brands in advertising, but giving the digital shop the keys to the new vehicle.

Lest we forget, this comes on the heels of the Maxus/MEC merger that created Wavemaker in 2017. That appears more of a relaunch than the recent combinations, whose very names illustrate the smashed-together nature of the changes. J Walter Thompson + Wunderman = Wunder Thompson. Y&R + VML = VMLY&R (yes, really). We’ve probably all forgotten that Burson Marsteller + Cohn & Wolfe = Burson Cohn & Wolfe only took place in February.

Add to that a recent total restructure at Ogilvy, the spinning off of Kantar, and Mark Read’s recent announcement that 3,500 WPP jobs will be axed over three years, and the stripping down of the world’s biggest ad network is less a symbol, more a flaming beacon for how the marketing and communications world is being turned upside down.

4. A whole lot of ad tech action

Ad tech firms had an extremely busy 2018, globally and within Asia-Pacific, both acquiring and being acquired. To somewhat butcher Stan Lee, with great data power comes great responsibility, and the ad tech ecosystem has drawn significant attention as it matures and the wheat gets separated from the chaff.

One of the biggest deals was US telco giant AT&T’s reported US$1.6 billion acquisition of AppNexus, a huge statement that AT&T wants to seriously upgrade its digital game, particularly with advanced TV. Similarly, Australia’s Trimantium GrowthOps bought Singapore-based Asia Pacific Digital (APD) to expand its Asia presence and add APD’s ad tech skills to its arsenal.

The list continues – in August Singtel-owned ad tech platform Amobee completed its purchase of New York-based Videology, a notable merger given it’s an Asian tech company acquiring a US one. Rounding off the merger fever are another east-to-west acquisition: India’s InMobi buying Pinsight Media, the mobile data and advertising subsidiary of US telco Sprint, and Integral Ad Science selling a majority stake to Vista Equity Partners.

5. DAN brought its cheque book

DAN acquired Branded in October

After a relatively quiet 2017 in terms of acquisitions, Dentsu Aegis re-opened the coffers in a big way in 2018. According to R3, while the agency may not have broken the billion-dollar mark, it spent US$684 million on a mammoth 23 deals.

While there are too many to list them all, some of the notable additions include: Merkle buying Amicus Digital, to boost its marketing cloud offering; live media events company Branded joining MKTG; and the acquisition of sports content marketing outfit Klip Desk in Australia. Dentsu Aegis also rebranded Columbus in Australia as Merkle, and launched a strategic partnership with Spotify over data integration. Busy busy.  

Campaign Asia

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