By Suzanne Vranica and Alexandra Bruell
Ascential PLC has agreed to acquire MediaLink LLC, an influential advertising and media consulting firm with strong ties to media companies, big brands and agency bigwigs at a time when all three types of businesses face massive changes.
Ascential, which went public on the London Stock Exchange last year, is the parent company of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the largest and most prestigious event in the advertising and marketing industries.
Through the acquisition of MediaLink, Ascential is pairing the ad industry's top event and information services provider with a consulting firm that has some of the deepest ties across the industry. With his high-profile connections ranging from Madison Avenue to Hollywood, Michael Kassan, MediaLink's chief executive officer, is considered one of the most looped-in executives in the ad and media business.
"We were attracted to MediaLink for its deep relationships with marketers," said Ascential CEO Duncan Painter.
The deal includes a cash payment of $69 million, but that can reach $207 million over the course of three years if the company hits certain targets, according to MediaLink.
Founded in 2003, closely held MediaLink employs more than 120 people in the U.S. and had revenue of about $54 million last year, MediaLink said. Its clients have included a wide range of companies such as Time Inc., Condé Nast, Unilever, AT&T and 21st Century Fox.
Mr. Kassan said he was attracted to the deal because he needed to expand his business globally. "The reality is this is about getting feet on the street in London and Hong Kong," he said.
Ascential has offices 16 countries and does business in 160 countries around the world.
Mr. Kassan has signed a four-year deal with Ascential and will continue as CEO of MediaLink, which will be run independently within Ascential.
MediaLink started out largely a one-man show, but over the past few years, it has aggressively expanded into new areas, including offering media companies strategic services such as helping firms revamp to adapt to the digital age. Last year, for example, MediaLink worked with Condé Nast to help reorganize its ranks.
The company also helps marketers select which agencies they should hire and helps digital startups make connections to brands and agencies. More recently, the firm has expanded into executive recruiting.
Mr. Kassan's business got a significant boost after he hired Wenda Harris Millard, a widely-respected executive, in 2009 from Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, where she served as co-CEO and president. Before that, Ms. Millard had served as chief sales officer at Yahoo.
A number of agencies, publishers, brands and advertising technology companies pay MediaLink for access to its massive Rolodex and star-studded, VIP events at large industry conferences like the Cannes Lions festival and the CES trade show, as well as for connections to prospective clients and business advice.
More than ever, publishers are looking for advice on how to rethink their businesses to rake in more digital ad revenue as people consume content online and eschew traditional ads. Advertisers are looking for insight into how media companies are evolving, and they're also making digital investments. They're also rethinking their agency relationships as they move more dollars online and grapple with complexities surrounding digital advertising and media. Agencies, meanwhile, are facing more competition than ever from media companies and consultancies, and even clients are bringing agency services in-house.
MediaLink finds itself in the middle of all these issues, offering Ascential a leg up in a complex industry.
In 2008, Mr. Kassan and his firm helped Microsoft lobby Madison Avenue's advertising and media-buying executives, as well as marketers, to oppose an advertising deal between Google and Yahoo as the Justice Department was considering whether to go to court to block the agreement. He played a role in getting the Association of National Advertisers, a trade group that represents major companies like Procter & Gamble and General Motors, to send a letter to the Justice Department at the time calling the deal bad for advertisers and recommending that it be blocked. The deal eventually fell apart in the face of opposition from antitrust regulators.
Write to Suzanne Vranica at firstname.lastname@example.org and Alexandra Bruell at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 07, 2017 08:46 ET (13:46 GMT)
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