MediaSense, a global pitch consultancy and advisory firm that has run many of the biggest media agency reviews of recent years, has sold a significant stake to private equity firm Apiary Capital.
Graham Brown and Andy Pearch co-founded MediaSense with two laptops during the 2009 financial downturn and have built a blue-chip client list, including Chanel, Coca-Cola, Diageo, Dyson, Honda, Just Eat, Sanofi and the UK Government.
Brown, the chief executive, and Pearch, the chief operating officer, plan to use the investment to drive “ambitious expansion plans” for the London-based firm.
The co-founders each own around 45% of the shares, according to Companies House filings. Other staff including Ryan Kangisser, managing partner, strategy, own the remaining shares.
MediaSense’s accounts show headcount jumped from 35 in 2019 to 56 in 2020 despite the pandemic, and the company said staff numbers have risen by a further 40% to around 80 people in 2021 amid a surge in the volume of pitching across the ad industry.
Brown, who used to work at Carat, said: “Thanks to our great team and loyal clients, we are very proud of what we have achieved over the past 12 years, but we remain ambitious and hungry for further expansion and growth: to achieve our goals, we wanted to find a like-minded partner for the next phase of our development. I am delighted to say that in Apiary we have found a company that is as excited about our future as we are.”
Pearch, who previously co-founded media auditing firm Billetts, which became part of Ebiquity, said: “When we set up MediaSense we created a services and systems infrastructure to meet brands’ evolving requirements within the rapidly changing media ecosystem. Apiary’s investment increases our firepower to acquire new capabilities and resources, which will accelerate and further enhance our offering to clients.”
The sale price was undisclosed but Campaign estimates the company was valued at in excess of £30m on a hypothetical multiple of eight times annual profits of £4m.
MediaSense would not comment. The most recent annual accounts show its retained earnings increased by £2.2m in 2020 – a figure that was probably closer to £2.8m before tax, and a 40% increase this year could push estimated pre-tax profits above £4m
MediaSense has capabilities in several areas, including a Model & Partners practice for consulting on marketing operations and running pitches and a Media Analytics practice that claims to manage $15bn (£10.8bn) of client expenditure.
The company has also launched DiPA, which it describes as a “next generation media auditing platform for digital”, with the support of a grant from Innovate UK, a UK Government innovation agency.
“We’ve had amazing growth in the past three years,” Brown said. “I think the market has changed for our kind of services. Complexity and lack of transparency and lack of clarity [in media and marketing] creates an opportunity for a company like MediaSense to help advertisers.”
Brown said three factors were driving client demand: coping with digital acceleration and transformation, the need for organisational change both internally and externally across “the entirety of their ecosystem”, and a desire for greater self-sufficiency by taking “more and more control” – for example, by in-housing some marketing services.
He went on: “All of these things are a perfect storm for growth when there is no precedent for [clients having to deal with] these things. We have the breadth and depth of expertise to deliver accountability, value and change.”
Geographical expansion appears likely. “We have a relatively small presence in the US and an early presence in India and no presence in the rest of Asia,” Brown said. Asked if expansion could involve M&A, he replied: “It very well could.”
Private equity firms are “incredibly active investors” in marcoms
Mark Salter, managing partner at Apiary Capital, said: “Over the past few years, we have been keenly following the marketing communications adviser sector and specifically MediaSense’s development; so, when the opportunity arose to invest in the pre-eminent company in this category, we jumped at it.
“MediaSense is a great company, well managed, with exceptional talent, large global brands as clients and lots of potential for growth. We are incredibly excited to be invested and involved with this very successful business.”
Apiary Capital’s investments have largely been in education, technology and events.
MediaSense used corporate advisory firm JEGI Clarity, which worked on the sale of Adam&Eve to Omnicom and of Walker Media to Publicis Groupe, on the deal.
Marcus Anselm, a partner at JEGI Clarity, said: “This deal shows that private equity firms continue to be incredibly active investors in the marketing and communications ecosystem.”
MediaSense’s decision to sell to a financial investor is in contrast to some other pitch consultants and advisory firms, which have sold to trade buyers in the recent past.
MediaLink was acquired by Ascential in 2017 and Oystercatchers was bought by Centaur Media in 2016.