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The campaign industry saw one of its biggest acquisitions Thursday with an investment firm led by Mark Penn announcing the capture of the advertising and public affairs firm SKDKnickerbocker.
Mergers and acquisitions activity is on pace for a record year on Wall Street, but blockbuster deals have been rare in the campaign industry. That’s something which has galled campaign technologists who say the lack of a major Silicon Valley-style exit was blocking capital that could spur more startups and subsequently more innovation.
Now, the purchase of a major Democratic firm could signal that’s about to change. In fact, Penn promised more acquisitions in the coming months as his investment firm, Stagwell Media LLC, hopes to leverage up to $750 million in acquisitions with $250 million in capital. Digital and ad buying firms are on the shopping list.
“The goal is to build a great group of companies that have a strong understanding of the digital world,” Penn told the New York Times. “It’s a bit of a Noah’s ark, but we’ll have one of each kind.”
Penn, who was the pollster on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign, formed his private equity firm with funds from Steven Ballmer, the former head of Microsoft. It’s named after his Maryland estate. The cost of the firm’s first deal wasn’t disclosed Tuesday, but the Times reported the firm has revenue of around $50 million annually.
It also has significant overhead with salaries for a roaster of well-known operatives that has included JB Poersch, Jill Zuckman, Kerri Lyon, Doug Thornell, Bill Burton, Kelley McCormick, Karen Olick, Julie Norton and Jim Mulhall and offices in D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and Albany, NY.
The firm, which was founded in 1968 by Bob Squier, is led by partners Bill Knapp and Anita Dunn, Josh Isay, Jennifer Cunningham and Hilary Rosen.
In addition to its communications services, the firm offers clients opinion research, paid advertising and brand positioning. “It will continue to operate independently within Stagwell as a stand-alone public affairs unit run by the same management team and principals, who all are under long-term contracts with the firm,” according to a release.
“The ability to work with the Stagwell team and the companies they will have under their umbrella will enhance services for our clients, particularly in the growing fields of data analytics and digital innovation,” said Isay, in a statement.
“At SKDK, we know that the long-term success of our company is predicated on our commitment to excellence on behalf of our clients and being the home of a world-class team of communications professionals. With today’s announcement, we are renewing that commitment.”