IPG acquires Acxiom's marketing services unit, digging deeper into data business

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Interpublic Group of Cos., the world's fourth-largest agency company, just got bigger with a planned $2.3 billion acquisition of Acxiom Corp.'s Marketing Solutions business. The deal, announced Monday, will put Acxiom's 2,100-person data analytics and management group under IPG's umbrella, alongside agency networks McCann Worldgroup, FCB and IPG Mediabrands.

Michael Roth
Michael Roth Credit: Courtesy IPG

"In a world where everything is becoming data-driven, Acxiom Marketing Solutions offers the deepest set of capabilities for helping companies navigate the complexity of creating personalized brand experiences across every consumer touchpoint," Michael Roth, IPG's chairman and CEO, said in a press release. "Combining AMS with a range of IPG assets will help us shape the future of our industry."

IPG expects to complete the deal by year-end 2018. IPG said Acxiom Marketing Solutions will be a stand-alone division aligned with IPG Mediabrands.

"Yowza. Big news," says Greg Paull, principal and co-founder at R3, a consultancy group. "The hibernating bear has awoken: It's a positive message from IPG to the industry that they are here to stay and here to invest. They, like Omnicom, have been extremely reticent in the past, to explore M&A as a growth engine."

The deal comes amid new scrutiny about the use of consumer data to drive marketing campaigns. The privacy debate has been sparked by Europe's adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation, as well as continued fallout at Facebook from the Cambridge Analytica saga. California recently put in place its own data privacy law. Against that backdrop, IPG took pains to cast Acxiom's practices as above-board. "Acxiom's leadership on data ethics is second to none, its business is solid and growing and it has long played a fundamental role in the marketing ecosystem," Roth said in the press release.

"It means they've done their diligence to explore synergies with Acxiom," suggests R3's Paull.

Acxiom reorganized on April 1, splitting the marketing solutions business into a separate business unit. The other unit is called LiveRamp and provides customer-data services for digital marketing applications. It will remain a part of Acxiom Corp., which will change its corporate name to LiveRamp following the sale.

Acxiom in February said it would "actively explore options to further strengthen Acxiom Marketing Solutions and deliver greater value to its clients. These options may include a strategic partnership, acquisition, tax-free merger, joint venture, tax-free spin-off, sale or other potential strategic combinations."

The Wall Street Journal last week reported that IPG and Dentsu were bidding for Acxiom's marketing solutions unit. IPG's acquisition, while sizable, will not vault the holding company past Publicis Groupe as the third-ranked agency company measured by worldwide revenue.

Acxiom Corp.'s total worldwide revenue for year ended March 2018, including the portions it is not selling to IPG, was $917 million. IPG had $7.9 billion in global revenue for 2017, putting it $3 billion short of third-ranked Publicis Groupe, according to the Ad Age Datacenter.

IPG is buying the Acxiom Marketing Solutions business, which consists of Acxiom's Marketing Services operation and lines of business from Acxiom's Audience Solutions operation. Acxiom's Marketing Services and Audience Solutions segments had worldwide revenue of $706 million in the year ended March 2018. Acxiom on Monday said LiveRamp had trailing 12-month revenue of $220 million.

Contributing: Bradley Johnson

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