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McGarryBowen Snaps Up Digital Shop Swirl in First U.S. Acquisition

By Published on .

(L. to r.) Swirl partners Tom Sebastian, John Berg, Tasha McVeigh and Martin Lauber.
(L. to r.) Swirl partners Tom Sebastian, John Berg, Tasha McVeigh and Martin Lauber. Credit: Courtesy Swirl

Dentsu Aegis Network creative agency McGarryBowen is making its first acquisition in the U.S., buying San Francisco-based Swirl to enhance its digital, social and technology capabilities.

"In the wake of two exceptional growth years, we felt we needed to use the powerful momentum to future-proof our business and our unique brand proposition," says Simon Pearce, McGarryBowen U.S. CEO. Swirl will now be named Swirl McGarryBowen.

After a rough patch in 2015, which included the loss of its two largest accounts—JPMorgan Chase and Verizon Retail—and executive departures, McGarryBowen turned itself around in 2016, earning its title of Ad Age's 2017 Comeback Agency of the Year. The shop grew revenue 4% to $270 million in last year, won accounts including Hallmark and Clorox's specialty brand portfolio and Burt's Bees and expanded work with the likes clients Mondelez, Kraft Heinz, BlueCross BlueShield and Fiat Chrysler. And this year, the shop picked up a major account, winning the creative and strategy work for American Express' new global brand platform.

Swirl's data-driven approach and digital innovation will help McGarryBowen further strengthen the way it tells brand stories across platforms and engages with consumers, says Pearce.

Tom Sebastian, co-CEO of Swirl, says the shop helps marketers become "patrons to content," meaning their brands support and become part of content creation on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Sebastian, who will be co-CEO at the renamed Swirl McGarryBowen and take on the newly created post of global head of content for McGarryBowen, says the agency is also exploring new platforms to push out content, such as Fandor, a streaming site for millennial movie lovers.

Swirl McGarryBowen also has a number of clients on the VR platform side, such as HTC Vive, says John Berg, co-CEO and president at Swirl, who continues in those roles at the renamed agency.

"Brands with the richest, deepest, utilitarian content are growing the fastest, and ultimately they are the brands that will dictate the future," says Pearce. "From our McGarryBowen standpoint, the platforms we create are only as strong as the content that springboard off of them, so the stronger the assets, knowledge and level of invention, the stronger the business we'll have for our clients."

Swirl and its 175-plus staffers will remain in its San Francisco space and will be allowed to pitch for its own business, as well as in partnership with McGarryBowen across its U.S. offices. The shop, which was founded in 1997, works with a wide array of clietns, such as Microsoft Stores, CA Technologies, Juniper Networks, eBay and HTC.

MediaLink was a strategic partner to McGarryBowen through the deal, of which financial terms were not disclosed.

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