Behind Big Fuel's Sale to Publicis Groupe

Holding Co. Takes Majority Stake, May Own 100% in Three Years

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The ink is dry. A week after Ad Age reported the two companies were in talks, Publicis Groupe announced it has taken a majority stake in New York-based social media shop Big Fuel.

Publicis has invested enough to be majority owner -- it has a 51% equity stake -- but it has the option to own the shop fully by 2014.

The deal demonstrates the urgency with which Madison Avenue believes it needs to be equipped to provide a range of digital and social-media solutions for its clients. And it also shows Publicis' seemingly insatiable appetite for acquisitions these days.

As part of the agreement, Big Fuel -- a relatively new, social media-only outfit helmed by longtime adman Jon Bond -- will fall under the Vivaki umbrella at Publicis as a social-media resource for existing agencies in the group, including Digitas, Razorfish, Starcom MediaVest Group and Zenith Optimedia.

The shop has grown very quickly. Big Fuel has more than 170 employees today, up from 30 in early 2010. Revenue this year is expected to hit $30 million, up five times from 2010 revenue, according to a statement from Publicis. Big Fuel is social-media agency of record for T-Mobile and General Motors, a major client for Publicis. Investment bank Jordan Edmiston Group represented Big Fuel in the transaction.

Under the deal, Mr. Bond, Big Fuel's CEO, will report to Laura Lang, global CEO of Digitas and a Vivaki board member.

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