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M&C Saatchi PLC acquires independent digital player Creative Spark

M&C Saatchi, the London-based agency network, on Friday announced that it has acquired a majority stake in Creative Spark — the five-year-old digital agency founded by Matthew Buckland.

Creative Spark today has more than 40 employees with offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The agency has annual revenues of approximately R20-million. Birthed as a web development shop, Creative Spark has expanded into a full service digital agency with a specialisation in digital strategy, content marketing, social media and web, mobile and app development.

While neither party was willing to put a number on the deal, Memeburn sources and our own calculations suggest that it’s worth in the region of R50-million. Memeburn understands that the deal has been in the works since the latter part of 2014.

Both parties confirm that M&C Saatchi PLC has acquired a controlling stake and that Buckland will retain a stake in the company.

Creative Spark specialises in digital strategy, content marketing, social media and web, mobile and app development. The company also owns a digital publishing house in Burn Media, which publishes five digital brands, including Memeburn.com. The agency’s past and present clients include broadcasters like DStv, eTV, Naspers and CNN, as well as technology companies like Philips.

Under the terms of the deal, Creative Spark will continue to operate as a standalone digital agency with its Johannesburg offices based at M&C Saatchi Abel — the network’s award-winning African offering, headed by Mike Abel.

“Our Cape Town agency already has an outstanding in house digital offering,” Abel told Memeburn, explaining the reason for deal’s structure. “M&C Saatchi and Creative Spark will support through complimentary services (e.g. development) — but the Johannesburg model based on client need was to identify the best partner to support them in a fully integrated model so Creative Spark Johannesburg is housed within the [M&C Saatchi Abel] Johannesburg agency”.

According to a press release issued by M&C Saatchi, the deal is designed to bolster the network’s digital offerings in South Africa.

“With the growing trend of ‘Integrated Agencies’, the tie up locally between M&C Saatchi Abel and Creative Spark helps ensure that digital is a core pillar of the marketing, advertising and publishing conversation,” said M&C Saatchi CEO Moray MacLennan.

“Both agencies will now be able to add even more value to their existing clients in offering world class marketing solutions,” he added. “I think it’s a powerful relationship that is already reaping dividends for both companies”.

Buckland agrees that the acquisition is largely about Creative Spark being able to provide complementary skills to M&C Saatchi. “We have had many approaches throughout the history of the company,” he said, “but we decided not to execute on those for various reasons. This tie-up however makes complete sense”.

“This deal, being acquired by M&C Saatchi PLC UK, puts Creative Spark on a world stage and gives us access to a worldwide network,” he said. “It’s a prestigious agency brand, and we as a company feel privileged to be part of it. It also exposes the company to a wider talent pool, and facilitates collaboration with the clever people at M&C Saatchi Abel in Cape Town and Joburg, as well as in the UK of course”.

According to Abel, Creative Spark’s “quality leadership”, along with the fact that it’s owner-operated, has a diversified offering, “strong ambition and cultural alignment” made it a viable acquisition target.

He added that while M&C Saatchi Abel — recently named Agency of the Year at the annual Financial Mail AdFocus Awards ceremony — “is already a highly awarded agency in the digital space”, the company is “always on the look out for world-class complimentary skills in helping us solve our clients business problems”.

“We believe Creative Spark is such a company,” he said.

“We are immensely proud to become part of the M&C Saatchi Group — the fastest growing independent agency network in the world and one that inspires immense respect,” said Buckland. “We share a pan-African vision with M&C Saatchi of creating a large, world-class digital agency and a strong digital publishing platform in Burn Media like no other”.

“South Africa has been a wonderful success story for our Company,” said MacLennan. “Last week, M&C Saatchi Abel were announced as a finalist in the Financial Mail Adfocus Awards Large Agency of the Year category. With so many additional opportunities in the SA market, particularly in the digital space, it has become increasingly important for the Group to have another quality offering to look after the growing needs of our clients – both locally and internationally”.

According to MacLennan, the group saw that offering in Creative Spark and that it was willing to change its usual approach to make the acquisition.

“Our model is usually a start-up, entrepreneur-led one,” he said. “But every now and then you come across a quality independent business where the owner is looking to become part of something bigger in order to grow. Matthew Buckland is one of those rare people who has built a great company with a highly skilled team and quality clients. Creative Spark is ready to take the next step in their growth story”.

Creative Spark is the holding company for Memeburn.com

Author | Stuart Thomas

Stuart Thomas
Stuart is the editor-in-chief of Engage Me Online. After pursuing an MA in South African literature, he spent five years reporting on the global technology scene. Intrigued by the intersection of technology and work, he joined Engage Me as the editor-in-chief. He is a passionate runner, and recently ran... More

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