China’s BlueFocus takes another big step on world stage with We Are Social social media agency buy

There’s a new kid on the block in the global marcoms stakes and it’s China’s BlueFocus, capitalised in China at $3.7bn.

Now the PR and digital company has bought a majority stake (82.8 per cent) in the UK’s We Are social, which claims to be the world’s biggest social media agency.

AN9097971NATHAN-MC-DONALD-ABlueFocus is paying an initial £18.7m rising to a potential (and hefty) £55m for We Are Social which claims a 2013 turnover of £35m. Which means a nice payday for founders and majority shareholders Nathan McDonald and Robin Grant (left) who started the agency in 2008. It currently employs about 400 people in eight offices around the world. Leading clients include Adidas, Heinz, Kimberley-Clark and Mondelez.

BlueFocus, which claims to be China’s biggest PR agency, bought a 20 per cent stake in Peter Gummer’s Huntsworth PR group back in April. New acquisition We Are Social will continue under its own name as BlueFocus’s main digital brand under Grant and McDonald.

McDonald says:  “This partnership will increase the impact of We Are Social on the global marketing industry. With BlueFocus as our partner we’ll be able to expand into new markets and explore new opportunities, strengthening what is already a successful global agency brand.”

With the rising importance of social media PR firms across the world are re-positioning themselves as digital agencies, challenging the dominance of advertising-based groups. The deal, which is subject to Chinese regulatory approval, was brokered by Results International and Osborne Clarke for We Are Social and  BDO and Ashurst for BlueFocus.

Jim Houghton of Results International adds

Five years ago We are Social was created with a mission to  put social thinking at the centre of marketing. While everyone claims to ‘do’ social We Are Social is the only true specialist player of global scale.  The agency is socially-led, built to be social from the ground up. It has played no small part in supporting some of the biggest brands in their journey to understand social and in helping their marketing departments re-configure themselves for the new social age.

As We are Social has never conformed to the rules of conventional marketing services, for the next stage of its growth, a partnership with an established marcoms group or network was always going to be an unlikely option.

To be a truly dominant global player requires a strong presence in the largest internet market in the world, China, which is almost impenetrable from the outside.  With many shared clients, a joint ambition for growth at a rate unlike any other established marketing services group and with geographic footprints that matched perfectly, BlueFocus Communication Group was a highly attractive fit from the outset.

A brief look back at recent agency history shows us that the 90s was a creatively-led decade with names like BBH riding high. This gave way to digital in the 00s with the rise of AKQA and LBi. We believe the current decade will be socially-led as the discipline attains maturity.

Quite simply this deal could mark the same watershed for social as the digital revolution that swept through the industry over a decade ago.


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