D.C. Consultancy ICF Buying Agency Olson in Adland's Latest Nontraditional Deal

Follows Other ICF Acquisitions Such as Ironworks, Citytech and Mostra

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Olson CEO John Partilla
Olson CEO John Partilla Credit: Andrew H. Walker

Consultancy ICF is set to acquire Minneapolis-based agency group Olson, the companies said Tuesday.

The deal is expected to close in mid-November, subject to regulatory approval and other closing conditions, they said.

Olson is one of the larger independent digital agencies in North America, with over 500 staffers and $93.5 million in U.S. revenue in 2013, according to the Ad Age DataCenter.

ICF, based in the D.C. area, handles consulting work for government, health care, energy and aviation clients. It has also made a series of acquisitions in an effort to bulk up its work in more commercial and digital areas, including digital-services firm Ironworks in 2011 and content-management and stakeholder-engagement specialists Citytech and Mostra earlier this year.

The latest acquisition continues a trend in which agencies are selling to holding companies that are smaller than, and look nothing like, the traditional large networks such as WPP, Publicis Groupe and Omnicom Group. Lake Capital recently bought U.K.-based agency network Engine Group, and last year Deloitte acquired digital shop Banyan Branch.

"A deep and sophisticated understanding of consumer behavior combined with the use of digital technologies will be increasingly key to helping ICF's clients implement solutions in the future," ICF International Chairman and CEO Sudhakar Kesavan said in a statement. "Together, ICF and Olson will guide clients through this new digital revolution across all markets, offering the ability to efficiently and effectively reach out to customers and stakeholders."

Olson executives preferred ICF to a traditional advertising holding company and liked the "complementary and additive" capabilities each party brought to the deal, according to the statement.

For Olson, which will continue to operate with its current brand, the deal means global growth potential. "We are thrilled to be joining ICF, which we see as an additive and innovative move that drives value creation for our clients and future growth for us domestically, internationally and across client categories," Olson CEO John Partilla in the statement.

Over the last two years, Olson has added business from Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Bissell and Wet n Wild Beauty.

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