2019 Review of the Year: Why data is now the real deal

digitalFurther proof, if it were needed, of the inexorable rise of data-driven marketing and technology emerged this year with a flurry of M&A activity – and the completion of some eye-watering deals – over the past 12 months.

According to an analysis by marketing effectiveness consultancy R3, this year’s deals reflect the rising importance of first-party data and martech, with information and analytics underpinning the targeting, personalisation and attribution needs of marketers who are desperate to translate big data into meaningful insights.

You & Mr Jones wants more with Oliver
The new year had barely got off the ground when brand tech group You & Mr Jones acquired Oliver and its parent firm Inside Ideas Group in a move designed to pave the way for clients to boost their inhouse martech capabilities.

Set up by former Havas global chief executive David Jones in 2015, the acquisition brought Oliver, Dare and video content agency Adjust Your Set into the You & Mr Jones fold, which already includes data company 55 London and Gravity Road.

Simon Martin, founder and chief executive Oliver and Inside Ideas Group, said: “We had a great deal of interest in our business, but for us, the opportunity to be part of a brand tech group and to connect our in-house model to the world’s leading marketing technology platform, was by far the most interesting.”

Next 15 jump into bed with Planning-Inc
Within days predictive analytics and data science firm Planning-Inc was bought by digital communications group Next 15 in a deal which could eventually be worth up £15m.

Planning-Inc joined Next 15’s 22 agency brands, which include digital shop Elvis, ad agency Story Worldwide, fashion specialist ODD London and a number of PR and research businesses.

Next 15 specialises in acquiring, incubating and growing data-driven digital agencies with a diverse range of services.

Planning-Inc managing director James Melhuish commented: “Over the last few years we have put a strong focus on developing scalable and increasingly sophisticated data and analytics solutions that deliver proven ROI for our clients.

“By joining the Next 15 group we can tap into their proven expertise at helping data and technology focused businesses scale, and we are excited at the prospect of our combined experience as well as the potential of collaborating with the other agencies within the group.”

HH Global rides the crest of a Blueberry Wave
In February, Blueberry Wave set its sights on international expansion as part of a wider deal which saw marketing execution giant HH Global acquire a majority stake in parent firm Veriteva for an undisclosed sum.

The deal allows HH Global to tap into Blueberry Wave’s data and analytics expertise, while giving the latter access to HH Global’s creative execution, print procurement and tech capabilities.

HH Global group chief executive Robert MacMillan said: “This acquisition will allow us to expand our service offering to provide data-powered marketing services to our clients. Following a thorough analysis of the market, we are confident that Veriteva is the perfect fit to support our service line expansion plans and complement our growth strategy.”

Within weeks, Blueberry Wave had opened offices in San Francisco and Hong Kong, and, more recently, the deal was strengthened even further when HH Global secured a £100m war chest to develop its data and digital multichannel marketing offering through further acquisitions.

Publicis signs ‘one of the most important deals’ in its history
While many of its agency rivals spent the year trying to reinvent their existing operations, Publicis delved deep to snap up data-driven marketing giant Epsilon for $4.4bn (£3.4bn), in a deal which chief executive Arthur Sadoun claimed was “one of the most important” in the company’s 93 year history.

The acquisition, which also included digital marketing specialist Conversant, represented an impressive return on investment for owner Alliance Data Systems, which bought Epsilon in 2004 for $300m. It had first mooted the idea of selling the business late last year.

Sadoun insisted the acquisition was driven by the desire to harness creativity. He said: “The reason why we are doing this deal is to continue on our strategy to be at the core of our clients’ digital transformations, bringing them, roughly, the best of creativity. In a dynamic world, this is something that is not easy.

“Creative is of course still the core of our business, although it is being challenged. With Epsilon, we have today a clear leader in data and platforms that will, again, accelerate our strategy and boost our creative product.”

Salesforce responds with $15.7bn trump card
Never one to be outdone, Salesforce trounced Publicis – financially, at least – by splashing a cool $15.7bn (£12.4bn) to acquire “newish kid on the block” Tableau Software in a move designed to give the CRM giant a springboard into the analytics market.

Founded in January 2003 at Stanford University, Tableau has been one of the fastest growing companies of modern times, due to the demand for its graph-type data visualisations. It set up its European HQ in Richmond, Surrey, in 2011 and worldwide has about 86,000 business customers in 150 countries, including Netflix, Charles Schwab, and Verizon.

Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky said: “Joining forces with Salesforce will enhance our ability to help people everywhere see and understand data. As part of the the number one CRM company, Tableau’s intuitive and powerful analytics will enable millions more people to discover actionable insights across their entire organisations. Our companies share very similar cultures and a relentless focus on customer success. I look forward to working together in support of our customers and communities.”

WPP offloads data giant to pay off debts
WPP, however, went in the opposite direction by offloading a majority stake in its data and analytics company Kantar to private-equity firm Bain Capital, in a deal which valued the business at $4bn (£3.19bn).

The sell-off had been flagged up last year, as part of WPP boss Mark Read’s strategy to slash debt.

WPP confirmed it has reached an agreement to sell 60% of Kantar, which will bring in about $3.1bn (£2.5bn) to the group’s coffers on completion after tax and continuing investment. Most of the money has been allocated to reduce group debt, with $1.2bn (£960,000) of the proceeds set to go to shareholders.

Kantar chief executive Eric Salama, who has since announced he will step down in the new year, said: “In Bain Capital, we have a partner who shares our ambition, brings relevant expertise and – with WPP – can help us accelerate our growth and impact for clients. We are focused on delivering ‘human understanding at scale and speed’ more consistently. We will do so by investing more in talent and by becoming a more technology-driven solutions provider.”

As R3 co-founder and principal Greg Paull summed up: “It’s a scramble for first-party data, and the increased valuation and spend on martech companies reflects that value.

“Holding companies have their focus elsewhere as they urgently need to work out new business operating models as consultancies edge into the industry and in-housing grows in popularity with clients. The high rollers of marketing M&A continue to be consultancies, private-equity groups and technology companies.”

And, if this year’s deals prove anything, it is that they are the businesses with the deepest pockets, too.

Related stories
HH Global in £100m injection to boost Blueberry Wave
Blueberry Wave expands with offices in the US and Asia
Dixon seals deal to secure Blueberry Wave expansion
Oliver Group sells majority stake to You & Mr Jones
Kantar hunts chief executive as Eric Salama steps down
WPP flogs Kantar stake to Bain Capital in $3.1bn deal
Salesforce splashes $16bn on data colossus Tableau
Publicis: $4.4bn Epsilon deal ‘better value than Acxiom’
Planning-Inc secures £15m buyout deal with Next 15

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