Building out a global footprint and augmenting its digital marketing services capability were the twin drivers of Gravity Global’s acquisition of Nurture – and are likely to be just the latest plays in a long game of expansion by CEO Mark Lethbridge
Gravity London’s acquisition of Nurture is the latest step towards an ambition which CEO Mark Lethbridge has maintained for almost a decade: to become ‘the most admired agency in B2B.’ Lethbridge’s steadfast focus on this objective holds a lesson for all aspiring marketing agency principals. I’ve personally enjoyed watching Gravity London emerge from AGA Group, which was a perfectly respectable mid-sized B2B agency in the noughties, but not even remotely comparable to the global powerhouse which he has transformed it into, winning umpteen gongs at the B2B Marketing Awards over the past five years, and at the centre of a global network of affiliated, but independent, agencies. Gravity signalled its global ambition with the acquisition of JJ Marketing Group in 2018 – a rare example of consolidation within a still remarkably fragmented UK B2B agency scene.
So, given all the success that Gravity Global is having, what’s behind the purchase of Nurture? According to Lethbridge, there are two primary drivers. The first is to build in the core discipline of ‘digital-as-a-service’, reflecting the growth in importance of martech in delivering excellent B2B marketing, and the recognition of the opportunity this presents to agencies in terms of provision of services and skills that clients may struggle to build internally (or, at least, access on a flexible basis). Arguably, this ‘digital-as-a-service’ offering gives agencies the opportunity to become omni-present in marketers’ plans and budgets, and less at the mercy of the vagaries and inconsistencies of marketing budgeting.
The second reason, says Lethbridge, is to build a wholly-owned global group at the heart of the Gravity Global network, to complement the inherently looser partner agency network. This particular aspiration obviously requires access to capital, and Lethbridge explains that, although choice in this area has generally improved (with more grounded agency valuations), finding a PE partner who is philosophically as much as fiscally aligned was critical. The announcement regarding Nurture is evidence that such a partner is now on board, and Lethbridge hints that further eye-catching deals are in the offing. Watch this space.
Gravity’s growth may not be an example of rapid empire building, but it is relentless and inexorable – and anyone with a good enough memory will likely recall the agency groups that exploded and died off just as quick in the noughties, on the back of cheap finance and irresponsible business plans. Mark Lethbridge and Gravity Global are playing the long game – and it looks like they are winning.