Dentsu leads race for digital agency AKQA with $550m offer

Or so some people think although $550m seems an awful lot of money for a company with revenues of $165m even if they are growing at 30 per cent a year.

But digital agencies are the morsel of the moment as far as the big marcoms groups are concerned with Publicis setting the benchmark when it forked out $530m to buy Razorfish from Microsoft.

Newspaper owner Hearst Corporation upped the stakes (and the cosy cartel of marcoms buyers) when it paid $325m for iCrossing earlier this year. And Publicis, again, demonstrated that there were some aggressive cheque books around when it recently agreed to pay $200m for 200-strong Brazilian creative agency AG2.

AKQA, which is the biggest digital independent left, finds itself on the sale block as it is 70 per cent owned by private equity outfit General Atlantic which has hired Morgan Stanley to realise its investment (so it’s not really that independent at all). Founded in London in 1995 (pre-history in digital) it employs around 800 staff and acts for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Nike and Unilever.

Dentsu, if the bid numbers are to be believed, is clearly desperate to raise its digital game but doesn’t have a good record at all of expanding outside its Japanese homeland where it enjoys a huge share of the market.

So far there has been a deafening silence from WPP, Omnicom and Interpublic, all of whom will be worried about the digital power of Publicis (if not necessarily Dentsu) and therefore interested in AKQA. WPP is obviously on the lookout for digital additions, buying 51 per cent of Singapore minnow Comwerks Interactive over the weekend.

But they would all find a bid north of around $400m for AKQA testing. A lot depends on which bidder the AKQA management prefer. If they were to walk it really would be money down the drain.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.