Grip deal shows Dentsu Aegis serious about diversification

Acquiring the creative agency signals shift for media-focused holdco

Grip Executive TeamToronto-based Grip Limited has been acquired by the Dentsu Aegis Network, a multinational holding company looking to make 2016 a year of transition and growth.

The 150-person Grip will operate among Dentsu Aegis’ “specialist brand” companies, which include 360i, Amnet, ICUC and Amplifi. It’s a relatively small operating unit within the Canadian branch of the London, U.K.-based network that mostly accommodates global agency brands that specialize in one discipline.

Generally, Dentsu Aegis is media-focused in Canada; while it does own DentsuBos and Isobar, the bulk of its staff sit in offices for the Carat, Dentsu Media and Vizeum media agencies. Grip is only its second full-service agency.

Annette Warring, CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network Canada, told Marketing her network seeks to double its headcount by 2018 through smart acquisitions and business development — goals the Grip acquisition was meant to accelerate thanks to its digitally savvy staff and record of strong, award-winning creative work.

Warring said the network is not on a shopping spree and there are currently no more acquisition announcements in the pipeline. But, with two creative agencies now on the roster, Warring said Dentsu Aegis has identified a few key areas to develop next: CRM, experiential and data.

“Data is probably our single-largest and most important focus right now. All aspects of it,” she said. “We want to scale that as fast [and] as effectively as we can.

“We’ve talked to some agencies and we’ll continue to talk to others. But, we’re not aggressively approaching all agencies in a category. We’ve very strategic about it, very mindful, very aware of what we need and don’t believe in wasting people’s time. We don’t just acquire because somebody checks a box or can grow revenue for revenue’s sake.”

Grip will still be led by the existing suite of partners — managing partner Bob Shanks and creative partners David Crichton, David Chiavegato, Rich Pryce-Jones, Randy Stein, Bob Goulart, David Hamilton and Scott Dube — all of whom no longer own stakes in the agency and ultimately report to Warring.

Of key importance to those partners was retention of Grip’s name, structure and culture post-acquisition. While Dentsu Aegis has rebranded acquisitions in the past (such as Spoke in 2014 which merged with and rebranded as Isobar), Grip will not be made a part of DentsuBos or any other existing company.

Shanks told Marketing Grip’s partners liked the holding company’s offer because it would allow them to operate under the existing structure — a relatively large pool of partners without standard titles such as president or chief creative officer. Other benefits included a clear path to growing the business, something many independent agencies seek when entertaining buy-out offers.

“You always have that dream of extending the footprint of the brand outside the country,” Shanks said. “That’s always been a long-term goal of ours. And obviously, we’ve always had an absence of the media discipline; we’ve never felt we were in a position to build-out buying or planning in a way that was unique or different from the current offerings.”

The deal was worked out over approximately six months with help from R&D Venture Partners. It marks yet another large independent agency selling to a multinational organization.

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