Ben Bold
Sep 20, 2023

'Unique ambition': TwentyFirstCenturyBrand on being acquired

TwentyFirstCenturyBrand's Jonathan Mildenhall and Neil Barrie spoke to Campaign about selling their business to new 'collective' Common Interest.

TwentyFirstCenturyBrand: Founders Mildenhall (left) and Barrie.
TwentyFirstCenturyBrand: Founders Mildenhall (left) and Barrie.

Last week brought the arrival of newly formed holding company Common Interest and, with it, news of its first acquisition–global marketing consultancy TwentyFirstCenturyBrand.

Common Interest has nine investors on board, including founder and chief executive Anthony Freedman, each of whom owns a stake no greater than 20%, and it plans to acquire businesses that "build brands in popular culture".

The new group bought an initial 51% of TwentyFirstCenturyBrand for an undisclosed sum, and plans are in place to buy out the remaining shares in the next four to five years.

TwentyFirstCenturyBrand was founded in 2018 and is led by global chief executive and co-founder Neil Barrie and chairman and co-founder Jonathan Mildenhall. Campaign spoke to the duo about selling their business to the new kid on the block.

Campaign: Can you tell us about the ownership structure of TwentyFirstCenturyBrand?

Mildenhall: TwentyFirstCenturyBrand is now 51% owned by Common Interest, with the remainder being held by our founders and leaders. Prior to the deal, TwentyFirstCenturyBrand was wholly owned by founders/leaders.

Part of the value for the 51% was in Common Interest equity. We see huge upside in Anthony's vision for the group. We are very invested in the future of Common Interest. I will be a foundational member of Common Interest's advisory board, while Neil and key leadership will also be joining Common Interest's leadership team.

What made you decide to become part of a holding company, and a new one at that? What was it about the Common Interest proposition that attracted you?

Barrie: The proposition of a collective specifically designed to help brands grow in popular culture is refreshing and necessary. While we knew from our earliest days that we might need to become part of something bigger to achieve our goals for TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, a traditional holding company did not feel right.

Common Interest has a unique ambition and Anthony is a unique leader. He immediately understood not only the work we do but our culture and our values. We are a people-first business and we'll do our best work by building on our values, not by diluting them.

Anthony's integrity and ability to build progressive and creative teams is renowned among those he's worked with. Under his leadership, Common Interest will supercharge our offer without diluting what makes us special.

How many people are employed by TwentyFirstCenturyBrand and what happens from a structural perspective following the acquisition?

Barrie: We have a growing team of around 40 people across our two offices [in London and San Francisco]. No real change in structure – current management retains day-to-day responsibility for the business, with support from Common Interest and Anthony on key strategic decisions.

Can you name some of TwentyFirstCenturyBrand's key clients? What do they think the virtues of the Common Interest deal are?

Mildenhall: TwentyFirstCenturyBrand's recent clients we're able to mention include "rising stars" that are reshaping categories, like Pinterest, Instacart, Zalando, Booking.com, Headspace and Trade Republic and established leaders such as Mars Inc, Walmart, Google and PepsiCo. All share a combination of massive growth ambitions and a commitment to a positive cultural legacy.

I couldn't be more optimistic about the impact this deal will have on our clients. It allows them to continue to draw on TwentyFirstCenturyBrand as an upstream strategic partner, while gaining access to the world's most diverse and creative talent, as well as proprietary cultural data tools to create enduring work that is both iconic and disproportionately effective.

Common Interest will build a nimble, collegiate structure, which means collaboration will be ongoing and integrated with nothing lost in translation, versus the typical baton passes.

At a time when CMOs are charged with transforming while performing and doing more with less, this couldn't be a more timely proposition.

Source:
Campaign US

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