It is fair to say the most talked about deal of 2015 was one that did not even take place, after Tesco spent nearly ten months trying to flog off its data company, DunnHumby, only to have to withdraw it in the end due to a lack of interest.
It all started positively in January, when Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis revealed the supermarket had appointed Goldman Sachs to “explore strategic options” for DunnHumby – a move which had been predicted for months – and there was soon a £2bn price tag being hawked around.
Week by week new suitors emerged, and at one point they included (in no particular order) Hellman & Friedman, WPP, Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, Advent International, General Atlantic Partners, KKR, Silver Lake Partners, Experian, and Google.
Then came the setbacks: the demise of its partnership with US retail giant Kroger and the realisation that it was worth only a fraction without it, added to the prospect of a repitch for the Clubcard account within five years put nearly everyone off. This left Sir Martin Sorrell as the last man standing. But even he couldn’t justify the “everyday value” price of £700m, even if it was less than half the original.
As one insider said: “The whole thing has been farcical from start to finish. God knows where the £2bn valuation came from in the first place. But to then withdraw its most profitable partner and expect the winning firm to repitch for Clubcard, it is difficult to see what was left to buy.”
Still, not every deal was quite so chaotic, and Sorrell had plenty of other fish to fry anyway.
With the ink only just drying on WPP’s acquisition of digital data company BiScience, he whipped his chequebook out again to grab more of VCCP owner Chime Communications for the tidy sum of £374m.
Set up by Tory grandee Lord Bell, Chime has a number of DM and data agencies, including VCCP Me and Conduit Data Services, but it would appear Sorrell has got his eye on a bigger prize this time – the lucrative sports marketing business which Chime runs.
Havas responded with its biggest acquisition in nearly 15 years by buying Paris-based digital communications firm FullSix. Founded by Marco Tinelli, FullSix has more than 600 staff in six countries, including the UK, France, Portugal, Spain, US and Italy. Last year, revenues hit nearly €60m (£44.2m).
Meanwhile Indicia, the Bristol agency with offices in London and Edinburgh, was acquired by print management specialists Charterhouse for an undisclosed sum.
The £10m turnover agency’s clients include Majestic Wine, ITV, Nissan, Tourism Ireland, Shop Direct Group, Axa, Heineken and the Yorkshire Building Society. It has now become part of the Konica Minolta group, which operates globally with over 40,000 employees.
The co-founders of Partners Andrews Aldridge’s data arm, Fuel, also struck a deal for their latest insight venture – Ignition – to become part of the Karma Communications Group, as the firm behind the Karmarama agency looks to ratchet up its data-driven approach.
And not to be outdone, Joe Garton and Diane Charlton – the original co-founders of Chemistry Communications – secured £2.5m worth of private equity backing for their latest venture, content marketing-driven agency Once Upon A Time.
There were some noticable vanishing acts, too. Havas scrapped the EHS brand – bringing the curtain down on one of the most recognised agency names in the UK – and relaunched it as a global network Havas Helia, led by UK chief executive Tash Whitmey.
Originally launched in 1986 by David Evans, Terry Hunt and Ken Scott, EHS had been the stamping ground for many of the industry’s finest and survived two financial crises in the early years, amid accusations of lavish spending by some chiefs.
Another recognised agency brand disappeared when Arc London, the business which could trace its roots back to one of the UK’s founding sales promotion shops, IMP, was renamed Leo Burnett as part of plans to bring all London operations in the group under a single brand.
IMP was launched in 1967 as International Marketing & Promotions when most ad agencies offered sales promotion services as a free add-on.
Even Colin Lloyd hadn’t set up his KLP business by then. Oh well, tempus fugit and all that…
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Havas to buy digital shop FullSix
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Once Upon A Time seals £2.5m private equity deal
EHS brand is axed in Havas relaunch
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