Jellyfish is taking investment from France’s Fimalac group in a deal that increases the size of the UK digital agency by more than a third to 1,100 people and puts a £500m valuation on the expanded business.
As part of the deal, Jellyfish, which employs about 780 people, chiefly in the UK and the US, will absorb Tradelab, a Fimalac subsidiary with about 300 staff. Fimalac will own about three-quarters of the agency.
Rob Pierre, chief executive of Jellyfish, who founded the agency in 2005, will stay in charge.
Jellyfish has won a reputation as one of the world’s biggest independent digital agencies and a specialist in managing marketing on Google.
Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, a French investor in his seventies, owns Fimalac, which has a diversified range of interests, and he is said to have ambitions to build a fast-growth digital marketing services group to rival Sir Martin Sorrell's S4 Capital.
"Together, Jellyfish and Tradelab are giving birth to a new kind of global business partner. In addition to Jellyfish’s integrated offering, which blends data, creative and media buying, Tradelab’s cutting-edge technologies will enhance the company’s value proposition across Google's platforms, unleashing their full potential for brands across the world," the companies said.
Pierre said: "Today’s brands need digital partners who are able to offer capabilities that go beyond the traditional agency model. Building a digital business that is fit for the 21st century means adding technology, consultancy and training to agency services and, on top of this, delivering them at scale."
He went on: "The synergies we felt with Tradelab and the shared goal of building a world-leading digital offering made this an ideal fit for our business.
"The investment and subsequent expansion will enable us to continue building our global footprint as we bring the Jellyfish brand to all four corners of the world.
"As we head towards 15 years in business, this deal marks the beginning of an exciting new phase in the Jellyfish story. As one chapter ends, another begins and I for one can’t wait to get started."
Ladreit de Lacharrière said: "Fimalac’s build-up strategy has proven highly successful in creating global leaders in financial ratings, digital media and production fields. Today, I am very proud to help Jellyfish and Tradelab join forces to build a new global leader with a unique set of expertise and talents, helping brands navigate technology and data."
Jellyfish describes itself as "a digital partner" to clients including Uber, Ebay, Disney, Spotify, Nestlé, Ford, Aviva and ASOS, "acting either as a consultancy, agency, training or technology partner".
The agency is one of a small number of officially accredited Google Marketing Partners.
GP Bullhound advised Jellyfish on the sale.
Simon Nicholls, partner at GP Bullhound, said: "This is the largest marketing services transaction in Europe this year and creates a new digital challenger of scale on the global stage.
"It’s a remarkable success story for a business that was a UK start-up in 2005 and we are delighted to have advised Jellyfish on this landmark transaction."
Other recent M&A moves in the digital agency sector have included Brainlabs’ sale of a minority stake to Livingbridge, a private equity firm, earlier this year and Mighty Hive’s merger with S4 Capital at the end of 2018.
Brainlabs and Mighty Hive are known as Google marketing specialists.