June 24, 2024

Publicis to Acquire Rosetta for $575 Million

PARIS — Publicis Groupe of France bolstered its already substantial investment in Internet advertising on Tuesday, saying it had agreed to buy Rosetta Marketing Group, one of the biggest independent digital marketing agencies in the United States, for at least $575 million.

Publicis, which owns ad agencies like Leo Burnett and Saatchi Saatchi, has moved more aggressively than many of its rivals in expanding its digital capabilities, betting that spending on Internet marketing will continue to gain market share from more traditional forms of advertising. The planned deal for Rosetta is its third major digital acquisition, after the purchase of Digitas for $1.3 billion in 2006 and Razorfish for $530 million in 2009.

“The transformation of the advertising market will be colossal,” Maurice Lévy, the chief executive of Publicis, said in a conference call.

Rosetta, based in Hamilton, New Jersey, specializes in areas like search engine advertising and direct marketing, and also has a strong position in the health care business, already an area of focus for Publicis. Rosetta’s clients include Bristol Myers Squibb; Hewlett-Packard; Johnson Johnson; Research In Motion, the developer of the BlackBerry; and the T-Mobile division of Deutsche Telekom.

Until recently, Chris Kuenne, who founded Rosetta in 1998 and serves as its chief executive, had appeared eager to stay on the sidelines of a merger-and-acquisition race in which big advertising companies like Publicis and WPP Group, based in London, snapped up many of the leading Internet marketing specialists.

“Everybody comes knocking and calling and we’re not really interested,” he told Advertising Age, a trade publication, last year. “There’s a race on in the agency world to assemble three key things: the right assets, the right people and the right culture. MA takes care of part one but has the potential to screw up the other two.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Kuenne changed his tune. “We recognize that in order to achieve our long-term business and geographic growth potential, we need the reach and resources of a global group,” he said in a statement.

Assuming the deal is completed, the portion of revenue that Publicis derives from digital activities would rise to more than 30 percent, from 28 percent last year, the company said. Publicis wants that total to rise to 35 percent within three years.

As with other digital acquisitions by Publicis, the price raised some concerns among investors. Rosetta is expected to generate less than €250 million in revenue this year.

But analysts said they were reassured by Mr. Lévy’s track record in bringing Razorfish and Digitas under the Publicis umbrella. They said the deal also reduced the likelihood that Publicis, the third-largest advertising company worldwide after WPP and Omnicom Group, might mount a much larger bid for the No. 4 player, Interpublic Group, which Mr. Lévy has previously run his slide rule over.

“This is just the kind of acquisition that the market wants to see them do, rather than a big merger like Interpublic, where the main benefit is cost-cutting,” said Conor O’Shea, an analyst at Kepler Capital Markets in Paris. He questioned, however, whether Publicis might be concentrating too much of its digital expansion in the United States, where Digital, Razorfish and Rosetta are strongest, rather than moving more aggressively into faster-growing Asian markets.

Under the terms of the agreement, Mr. Kuenne and other shareholders of the privately held Rosetta could receive a deferred payment, in addition to the initial $575 million, if the agency meets financial performance targets.

Rosetta has tried to position itself as a different kind of agency, providing consulting services rather than merely churning out advertising, which is seen as something of a commodity in the digital era. Unlike many agency founders, Mr. Kuenne came to the business from an advertising client, Johnson Johnson, rather than breaking away from an existing agency.

“We start with the underlying business problem — what is this brand trying to accomplish?” he said in the conference call.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=93c1220157c9fcfb3b306674a3b9e444

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