Publicis Groupe Acquires Poke London to Continue Beefing Up Digital Offerings

New York Office of Poke Separates, Re-Launching as Makeable

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Publicis Groupe is positively insatiable.

The Paris-based company -- while awaiting approval of a merger with Omnicom Group to make it the biggest ad giant in the world -- is continuing on a digital acquisition spree, with its latest conquest being well-respected shop Poke, London.

Jean-Yves Naouri
Jean-Yves Naouri

"Poke is a company that we have admired for some time," said Jean-Yves Naouri, Publicis Groupe's chief operating officer, in a statement. "This acquisition will further strengthen our Publicis UK offering by adding a new level of digital expertise, creativity and innovation to the Publicis UK group of agencies."

Small, digital deals in markets around the world are part of a stated strategy by Publicis to its shareholders back in April. Just last month, it bought U.S.-based digital shop Engauge.

Terms of the Poke deal were not disclosed, but Campaign magazine put the price at less than $20 million, nothing that Mother London had a 50% stake in the company, and the four founding partners would stay on with an earn-out after three years.

Poke was founded in 2001 and now has 60 staffers in London and 25 in New York. It's speciality has been social media, e-commerce, digital architecture and mobile advertising development for clients such as Orange, Mulberry, the BBC, Ted Baker and Skype.

One of its award-winning hits was Balloonacy, a campaign for the telecom Orange that was launched in 2008. It sent 40,000 virtual hot air balloon travelers across 3,000 different sites and 63 million internet miles in a mad two-week race to win a group vacation in Ibiza. The agency's been known to turn out solid talent too; one of its founders was Iain Tait, who went on to become global interactive creative director at Wieden & Kennedy before joining Google Creative Lab last year.

Folded Into Publicis UK

After a dozen years as an independent firm, Poke will now be folded into Publicis' UK operations. The agency will sit alongside Publicis London, Publicis Chemistry and Publicis Blueprint, to help inject more digital expertise into those offerings for clients.

"We've had very successful and rewarding working relationships with Publicis Conseil in France and Publicis Chemistry in the UK for some time working across Orange and Everything Everywhere and the new partnership is simply a natural and positive evolution of these relationships," said Nick Farnhill, POKE founding partner and CEO in a statement. "Particularly appealing is the opportunity to develop digital communication solutions beyond advertising with our new UK partners, the capacity to operate more effectively internationally and the potential of exciting career opportunities for our team. Digital isn't one thing. It's everything. So you can't get far without productive partnerships."

The agency's counterparts at the New York outpost of Poke, however don't share the same view as Mr. Farnhill. Execs there were not onboard with the deal and so they plan to separate from Poke, London to avoid being swept up in the Publicis deal.

New York Spinoff

Michael Kantrow and Tom Ajello, the founding partners of Poke's New York office -- which has worked with cleints such as Sephora, American Express, Dyson, Avon, Coach and the Weather Channel -- are spinning off their own digital shop and rebranding it as Makeable.

Messrs. Kantrow and Ajello, who opened Poke's Big Apple operation in 2007, completed a management buyout of the company from its parent Poke London in advance of Publicis' acquisition. Mother Holdings, which had been a shareholder in Poke New York, will remain a minority investor in the newly-formed shop Makeable. The agency has also pulled in new investors, including Rob Dickson, the former managing director at MDC partners.

"Every time you turn around there is another mega-agency 'roll-up,'" said Mr. Ajello in a statement. "Their intended message is 'bigger is better.' The truth is that it's a tremendous competitive advantage to fiercely maintain your independence and agility. That's why we are winning the all-out war for innovation engagements and outstanding design and technology talent. Our primary motivation isn't size, its quality."

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