Why WPP Invested in an Indianapolis-Based Shop

Largest Ad Holding Co. Is Bullish on Sports-Marketing Sector

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Two months after announcing a joint venture with IMG Worldwide, WPP has again signaled its desire to step up its sports-marketing capabilities.

The world's largest holding company today said it has taken a stake in Just Marketing International, an Indianapolis-based motorsports marketing shop.

Andrew Scott, WPP's director of corporate development, told Ad Age that the holding company has worked with JMI for more than a decade, getting to know the shop through relationships built with WPP's media agencies. Mr. Scott said the investment in JMI is a reflection that the holding company "sees opportunities in the sector" and that sports marketing globally is attracting more interest from WPP's clients. He also said that JMI's specialty, motorsports, attracts large worldwide audiences -- in the U.S. with Nascar and abroad with Formula One racing. "It's an increasingly interesting area for our clients. ... There are truly global, cross-platform, new-media opportunities," Mr. Scott said.

He declined to talk about terms of the deal.

The stake is understood to be somewhere between 20% and 25%. Spire Capital, which took a majority stake in JMI in 2008, remains the principal shareholder, and its CEO, Zak Brown, is still the second biggest shareholder. JMI has about 120 employees, and beyond its Midwest headquarters, it has small offices in London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Charlotte, N.C., and Daytona Beach, Fla. With the help of WPP, it's likely the firm could move into new markets.

Mr. Brown opened the firm's doors in 1995, and its client roster includes some shared clients with WPP agencies, including UPS, which works with Ogilvy, and DirecTV which works with Grey , as well as a number of clients WPP shops don't work with. JMI's client list includes Subway Restaurants, Farmers Insurance, LG Electronics and Johnnie Walker.

WPP, which in addition to its new affiliation with IMG and stake in JMI also owns London-based sports-marketing firm Prism, may look at other deals in the sector down the road. "We're actively looking at investment opportunities in the sports-marketing and entertainment sector," Mr. Scott said.

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