Hillary Clinton's digital ad firm Bully Pulpit Interactive has acquired strategic communications shop The Incite Agency. The deal brings together two firms founded by former Obama campaign staffers and gives Bully Pulpit, aka BPI, a stronger foothold among corporate and issue advocacy clients.
Founded by former Obama campaign press strategists Robert Gibbs and Ben LaBolt, Incite has a dozen employees and works with corporate and non-political cause-based clients including Airbnb, Google, Eli Lilly and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Mr. Gibbs, a familiar face on NBC and MSNBC, served as White House press secretary during President Barack Obama's early years in office and worked on his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Mr. LaBolt was national press secretary for the president's 2012 re-election campaign and deputy press secretary for the first Obama presidential run.
It is rare for a native digital agency to acquire a more traditional communications firm, but the deal could signal a trend as data-centric digital marketing becomes the basis for marketing and communications in politics and the corporate world.
"Where we see that we are being asked for more from clients is the 'what should we say?' the messaging," said Andrew Bleeker, president and founder of BPI. "This is a different model in, frankly, a more digitally and data-based firm buying a strategic communications firm," he added.
In addition to serving big left-leaning groups including Emily's List and NextGen Climate, BPI handles digital advertising and digital media buying for both the Hillary Clinton campaign and its joint fundraising organization with the Democratic National Committee. The firm has collected more than $10 million from the Clinton campaign and Hillary Victory Fund combined throughout this election season, Federal Election Commission reports show.
Incite's approach to message development, reputation and crisis management, and strategic communications was inspired by the work Mr. LaBolt and Mr. Bleeker did while working with Obama's presidential campaigns. According to Mr. LaBolt, the Obama communications team worked in tandem with the digital team, developing targeted communications with complementary shared and paid digital content.
"We both start from that audience-first orientation; our mission is not just education, it's persuasion," said Mr. LaBolt. "We're not a traditional smiling-and-dialing operation."
Incite's team, based in Washington, D.C. and New York, will move into BPI's offices in D.C., New York and Chicago. The acquisition brings BPI to around 100 employees. The companies would not reveal terms of the acquisition, but according to BPI, it was facilitated by a recent infusion of cash from Chicago-based private equity firm Svoboda Capital Partners. The amount of the investment was not made public, though it most likely will fuel future partnerships or acquisitions by BPI.
It will also help boost staff, said Mr. Bleeker, noting, "We're definitely hiring."