Acquisitions round-up: The best deals and juciest bargains as acquirers go on a Christmas shopping spree

10th December 2012

It’s a familiar ritual for the less organised among us. We put off our Christmas shopping and leave ourselves open to last-minute panic buying.

However, it seems that a number of businesses (none of whom we could regard as being remotely disorganised) have put off present shopping and gone for a different kind of retail therapy – there really has been a lot of buying and selling over the past couple of weeks, so best to dive in and look at some of the best deals and juiciest bargains that have been snapped up. And, as we’ve been saying ever since we started writing for The Drum on mergers and acquisitions, the action seems to be in the digital and specialist spaces.Aegis Group plc has made two purchases over the past couple of weeks, reinforcing its reputation as one of 2012’s most aggressive acquirers. First of all there was Netsociety, a performance and search agency with offices in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Netsociety is a specialist performance marketing agency whose focus is on search marketing and digital performance media. Established in 2007, Netsociety has built a fast-growing business, with a diverse client base including Thomas Cook, ING, ABN AMRO and KLM.

The combination of Netsociety and Aegis’ iProspect operation is intended to “form a leading performance marketing agency in the Netherlands”. We think it might just do that – Netsociety’s expertise and client base strengthens Aegis Media’s market position and scale in the Benelux region.

The second Aegis acquisition is IQ Mobile, one of the top-tier mobile agencies in Austria. Set up six years ago, IQ is something of a pioneer in the region in the development of apps, mobile media portals, mobile ad-server and tracking tools and messaging solutions. It’s another canny buy – it gives Aegis not only a quality full-service mobile agency, but also a real presence in the Austria-Switzerland-Germany area, as well as offering a gateway into the fast-developing former Eastern Bloc and Balkan nations.

Austria is one of the most “switched-on” nations in the world, with a web penetration of 80%, and a staggering mobile penetration of 154%. Consequently, the mobile marketing industry in the country has grown by over 100% in each of the last two years. Snaffling up IQ Mobile means that Aegis Media Austria will be the most digitally integrated full-service agency group in the Austrian market.

Still in the mobile space, Mubaloo, one of the UK’s leading mobile app development companies, has just acquired Bristol-based mobile agency, AlwaysOnMessage.

Established in 2010, AlwaysOnMessage is an award-winning agency with a superb client list that includes David Lloyd, ITN, BBC, Jamie Oliver and Wilkinson Sword.

Since it was set up in 2009, Mubaloo has enjoyed 100% growth year-on-year now employs 45 people in four offices: Bristol, London, Berlin and New York. It has a strong client list – Experian, RBS, Brighton & Hove Council, Met Office and William Hill; but AlwaysOnMessage’s is arguably even stronger, and should help the acquirer meet its ambitious growth targets – expect to see more M&A activity from Mubaloo in 2013.

One of the must-haves on any M&A shopping list this year has been a channel marketing agency – there have been two interesting acquisitions in this space over the past fortnight.
First off, “co-creation” specialist Promise Corporation has been bought (for an undisclosed amount) by Ominicom’s Diversified Agency Services (DAS) division, which acquired online community builder Communispace last year. Promise will be integrated tightly with Communispace, but there are no plans to drop the Promise name as it has a lot of brand equity in the co-creation market.

It’s not just Promise’s reputation and experience that makes this a good buy. The former is essentially a high-margin strategic consulting business with many bespoke tools and processes, which are much in demand from brands and market research companies (of which Omnicom has several – including Flamingo, Hall & Partners, MARC Research and, most pertinently here perhaps, the predictive modelling and advanced analytics firm The Modellers).

DAS said in a statement: “The integration [of Promise with the existing business] will be our most significant step to date in expanding our global capabilities… [because] having the ability to tap into consumers 24/7 has never been a more important engine for growth, as insights and marketing teams become increasingly strategic and need more meaningful and actionable interaction and engagement with today’s fast-changing consumer.”
DAS says its new integrated operation will have a combined customer book that includes nearly 200 major brands. It’ll be fascinating to see how this deal pans out, for both Omnicom and the market research/channel marketing business.
Finally, John Menzies plc’s newspaper and magazine wholesaling operation, Menzies Distribution, snapped up Orbital Marketing Services Group in what’s thought to be a multi-million pound deal.

This is an interesting one. Menzies’ core business is under pressure from a decline in the printed media business and a very diverse retail universe (most of the UK’s news and mag shops are still independent newsagents and c-stores, which have to be supplied individually).

Kent-based Orbital was established 1972 as BP Travel Trade Services, and operates nine businesses across a number of sectors and locations in the UK. Its divisions provide specialist logistics and marketing services facilities to over 3,000 UK and international organisations and employs over 500 people. Menzies’ acquisition of a strong, established and well-run business will allow it to tighten up its (low margin) core business and strengthen its own field marketing specialist The Network. Orbital has clients in areas Menzies will be keen to expand into, such as government bodies, universities, councils, charities, tourist boards and the like.

As a result, will we see venerable Menzies (which got rid of its retail outlets some time ago) morph from a distribution outfit to a marketing services one? We shall see… investors like the idea though – Menzies’ share price rose 27p when news of the deal broke last week.