Break-up looks likely as £100m Engine auction begins

Lake Capital could sell the agency group’s divisions – creative, communication and transform – separately, although a single deal has not been ruled out.

Engine: works with brands including Santander
Engine: works with brands including Santander

Engine’s owner Lake Capital has formally started the process through which it hopes to sell its UK independent agency group. 

Lake Capital has appointed the investment bank Lazard to handle the £100m auction and issued an information memorandum earlier this month.

Engine Creative, run by former AnalogFolk managing director Ete Davies, works with brands including Santander, Warburtons, Sky, E.ON and the government. Engine is the government’s standby agency and recently took over its Covid comms from MullenLowe.

Sources suggest a likely outcome of the process is that the divisions could be sold in separate deals but that will depend on the potential acquirers that make a bid. The auction closes in early autumn in the hope it will complete by the end of the year.

An Engine spokesman said: "We are exploring future options for Engine UK's growth and strategic direction; these could include a formal sale process or a third-party investment."

Lake Capital has been looking at Engine's future for some time. In 2017 it appointed investment bank Jefferies to handle a potential sale for the global Engine business with a mooted price of up to $500m (then £400m).

After buying Engine and its global network of agency brands in 2014 for £100m, Lake Capital combined it with its existing branded content business Trailer Park and research arm ORC International. 

In 2019 UK chief executive Jim Moffatt reorganised the British business into three divisions – creative and experience design, PR, and transform (insight, data, consultancy) – and scrapped individual brands such as WCRS, Partners Andrews Aldridge, Slice and Synergy.

A similar reorganisation happened in the US in 2018.

In April, Campaign revealed Moffatt is leaving Engine to join Apple EMEA (a client of the group) in a senior marketing role. He is still at Engine, working out his notice.

At the time of the announcement of Moffatt’s departure, Engine said it planned to empower three divisional leaders ­– Davies, chief executive of Engine Creative, Alex Bigg, CEO of Engine Communications and Emma Robertson, CEO of Engine Transformation – rather than replace him. 

The PR business – Engine MHP and Engine Mischief – grew its topline by 5% in 2020 to £27.7m after picking up more than 50 new clients, such as Coinbase, Curve, IWG and Samsung. Additional wins this year have included Johnson & Johnson's OGX and open banking platform Plaid.

Lake Capital bought Engine in 2014 after a battle with former employee shareholders who felt the original deal favoured shareholders who were still at the company. The final deal offered the external shareholders terms on a par with current staff.

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