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Carlson unit buys Navigant

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Betting on the popularity of face-to-face events for generating leads and product orders, Carlson Marketing, a Minneapolis-based marketing services agency and a division of Carlson Cos., has acquired Navigant Performance Group, an event marketing service provider. The deal was finalized in August.

The agency said it aims to be a major player in the event marketing business.

"The event business has not been a strategic priority for Carlson in the past several years," said Jim Schroer, president-CEO of Carlson Marketing. That has now changed. "As of about a year ago, we made it a strategic priority," he said.

Long known for its loyalty marketing prowess, the agency intends to broaden that reputation to the events space. "We want to be the world leader in not just handling event planning, logistics and hospitality for meetings, but for strategically positioning meetings to drive the desired behavior change and promote key marketing messages," Schroer said.

Acquisition adds 100 employees

While financial terms were not disclosed, the deal with NPG is significant. The event business post-acquisition represents about 25% of Carlson Marketing's worldwide revenue and will add 100 employees to Carlson's existing meetings and events division, which handles incentive and recognition events, business meetings, events marketing and enterprise travel services. The addition of NPG gives Carlson greater leverage and a larger presence in the events space.

"We can be more competitive on product, and staging and change management of the event for the client," Schroer said. "That has not been a skill set of ours in the past." He added that "the acquisition of the Navigant meetings and events business broadens our capabilities and strengthens our talent pool, making us not only one of the largest [shops] but the agency with the most to offer."

The result? "We are now even more competitive in managing every aspect of our clients' events, from overall strategy, to staging and production services, to ultimately measuring the 'return on event' with our Decision Sciences team of experts."

The Navigant brand will be dropped, and NPG employees become part of Carlson's Meetings & Events business. NPG President Steve Some has been named a senior VP at Carlson Marketing.

Carlson Cos. also bought back a 50% stake in Carlson Wagonlit Travel, its business travel management business, from France-based ACCOR, an outside company and a competitor to Carlson. Schroer said now that the buyback is finalized, Carlson Wagonlit Travel and Carlson Marketing's events division will be able to work much more closely as rivalry is no longer an issue. "We don't have to worry about competition," Schroer said. "We can tag-team and offer our clients a global solution." That means working closely with Carlson Wagonlit's 22,000 worldwide employees, who handle corporate travel.

He said partnering with Carlson Wagonlit would be key in growing the event business in the next 24 months. "We want to increase revenue another 25% in the next two years by partnering with Carlson Wagonlit Travel," Schroer said. The partners have already begun to work with two clients, Nortel Networks and Oracle Corp., on combined event management services.

Competing with traditional agencies

The event marketing push is part of a larger strategy by Carlson Marketing to become more competitive with traditional agencies.

"Our vision is to be the `below-the-line' agency of record that creates 'marketing with an edge,' " Schroer said. "We want to be known for creating and implementing sales and marketing programs for world-class clients that get talked about and deliver results."

He said a big part of making that vision a reality will be investment in software and technology-based interactive marketing solutions for clients.

"There's enormous client pressure to move towards that capability [interactive marketing] right now," Schroer said.

As part of that focus on interactive, Carlson announced it has recruited Doug Rozen to be VP-interactive marketing. Rozen was previously senior partner and managing director of J. Walter Thompson USA's RMG Connect in Chicago. His interactive marketing experience also includes stints at General Motors Corp. and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

"Now that we've added people like Doug Rozen and Andy Wright to the mix, as well as other key people we've brought on board recently, we're well poised to challenge the return on marketing spend of the big ad agencies," Schroer said.

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