The Carlyle Group’s advertising agency department explains its merger and acquisition strategy

  • The Dept ad agency has acquired more than 20 companies with private equity backing.
  • It targets agencies that focus on digital services like app design that marketers demand.
  • Its CEO explained its distinctive ownership structure and where it seeks acquisitions.

Amsterdam-based digital ad agency Dept has become one of the fastest growing challengers to established ad companies like WPP and Publicis by focusing on the digital services marketers demand.

Dept, launched in 1996 as a network of small, specialty agencies, has grown into one of the most exciting companies in the advertising industry, acquiring more than 20 digital-focused businesses over the past five years with backing Dutch private equity firm Waterland and investment giant Carlyle Group. .

CEO Dimi Albers said Dept targets small and medium-sized businesses that provide complementary digital services, like Byte and Rocket Insights, which build chatbots and apps, respectively.

“If we have some capacity in a market, we leverage that platform rather than acquiring a similar company in the same market,” Albers said.

Dept is one of the most visible examples of private equity’s growing interest in advertising. The biggest companies have started investing millions in recent years, attracted by the meteoric growth of


digital ad spend

.

Albers said Carlyle, which acquired Dept in 2020 from Waterland, provides financial support to Dept and advises management on investments, but stays out of day-to-day operations as long as the agency meets its growth goals.

Dept has two main goals: to help customers manage their digital customer experience and to expand geographically. Under Carlyle, many Dept acquisitions helped the agency expand into new areas. Prolific North, Basic, and Rocket Insights, for example, helped Dept gain a foothold in the United States.

The CEO called it a “good start,” but said the department plans to acquire to expand its base of 400 U.S. employees because the region is critical for many clients. Dept is also opening small offices in India and Singapore and plans to add branches in those countries, he said.

Albers said Dept differentiates itself from large holding companies in several ways. He says agency executives have more autonomy than the typical holding company allows, and that executives get stock in the company rather than compensation plans or bonuses that differ by team and position. region, as is usually the case in holding companies.

“We have a clear strategy: one company, one income statement and ultimately one brand,” Albers said. “There are over 100 shareholders within Dept, so every client has a relationship with someone who is personally invested in the business.”

Alex Miller, co-founder of Byte, said the agency was sold to Dept to accelerate its growth. High-profile clients like Spotify also wanted to work with Byte beyond their existing offices in London, New York and Berlin, Miller said.

Miller said the lack of profit and loss statements made Dept’s structure attractive, adding that different P&L statements caused infighting at a holding company he worked for before launching Byte. “It’s also exciting to be a part of something that isn’t finished yet. Dept has the ambition to be the number one digital agency in the world,” he said.

Marilyn J. Hernandez