There are quite a few poachers turned gamekeepers around in the ad business these days and two of the highest profile are Mike Greenlees and Nick Manning, CEO and international president respectively, of AIM-quoted ad monitoring business Ebiquity.
Greenlees (left) joined Ebiquity (then the former Thomson Intermedia, a smallish media monitoring business) in 2007 after floating around in the upper echelons of TBWA and then owner Omnicom, to whom he had sold the agency he co-founded, Gold Greenlees Trott, back in the 1990s. Manning joined later after also selling his media agency Manning Gottlieb to Omnicom’s OMD.
And the boys done well. Ebiquity has grown through a series of acquisitions to turn over £60 plus a year with profits last year of £6.6m. The company is valued at around £74m although that may rise sharply now that it has announced it is undertaking a ‘strategic review’ which may result in a sale.
The reason for this seems to be the desire of minority shareholder VSS, an American private equity fund, to cash in. VSS had backed a predecessor of Ebiquity’s called XTreme Information Services which lost a fortune. This was then sold to Ebiquity in 2010, giving the company a much bigger international business. VSS then became a minority shareholder in Ebiquity.
We don’t know whether Greenlees (a legendary account man in his day, enjoying the soubriquet ‘Leggsy’ in his days at BMP), wants to cash out too or if Manning does.
Ebiquity has grown to a scale where it can compete with the likes of Accenture for juicy client advisory roles and there seems to be an almost limitless appetite among said clients for more advertising, marketing and media monitoring (and all the social/online bells and whistles that now come with it). Obviously they’re still convinced that these wily agency folk – of whom Greenlees and Manning used to be two – are still ripping them off.
So being a gamekeeper is a good thing to be.
It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, buys Ebiquity. Would WPP’s Kantar be interested? Given that WPP is one of the world’s biggest ad and media suppliers this would require some fairly vertiginous Chinese walls but, no doubt, Sir Martin will be taking a look.
Had forgotten that the Thomson business Greenlees and Manning turned into Ebiquity included John Billett’s media monitoring consultancy. At the time Greenlees and Manning picked up 3m share options between them at 32p.
Billett, of course, recently bought into another media monitoring business ID Comms, supposedly as a consultant. My spies tell me that he has bigger ambitions than this though. There’s money in that there media.