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Integrate, Unlimited and Gravity – a spate of M&A deals shows B2B is booming

Three significant acquisitions in recent weeks shows the B2B marketing services sector is hot, but also highly competitive, writes Joel Harrison. And there will certainly be more to come

Acquisitions don’t come along every day in B2B marketing, so it’s worth taking time to examine the spate that has happened in a short space of time.

The highest profile of these was US-based Integrate’s

$34 million acquisition of event data platform Akkroo

  – which is based in the previously unknown martech hotspot of Brixton. Integrate (which itself is based in Colorado) is rapidly emerging as a hotshot in the B2B martech world, and has made no secret of its plans to grow by acquisition, having previously purchased ABM and programmatic ad platform ListenLoop for an undisclosed sum.

This deal confirms the seriousness of Integrate’s intent, and the boldness of its ambition, and not only does it provide another complementary product to add to its offering in its US heartland, it also gives this fast-growing tech brand an instant footprint in the UK and Europe – potentially a win-win situation, if they manage the integration properly (no pun intended).

From a UK-centric point of view, this deal puts the UK on the map as a B2B martech hub. There’s a growing martech community based in the UK, which goes beyond the European arms of the large US vendors, and

which I’ve sought to document and map

in recent years. It will be interesting to note if this acquisition is just a one-off, or anyone else from this nascent UK B2B martech scene can follow in Akkroo’s footsteps by being acquired by a US group for a healthy price tag, or go one better and grow a real global presence. These days, anything is possible.

B2B agencies are also consolidating

Of course, it’s not just in martech where M&A is taking place – agency land has also seen some significant developments to this end. Most recent of these was

Unlimited Group’s purchase this month of Berkshire-based Direction Group

, whose clients include Microsoft, Fujitsu and Tata Communications. The fee for the acquisition was undisclosed.

Unlimited Group already includes B2B agencies Nelson Bostock and First Base, and is the latest example of the development of such mid-sized networks incorporating multiple B2B-specialist operations – for example The Mission (which includes Bray Leino and Big Dog) and Next 15 (which includes Velocity and Twogether). There are clear advantages for mid-sized agencies to collaborate and share management best practice in what has become an increasingly competitive B2B marketing landscape.

Direction Group has been long been a stalwart of the B2B agency sector – I’ve had the pleasure of working with MD Trish Harris and her colleagues on a number of occasions over the years, and I’ve always been impressed. Undoubtedly membership of this larger group will likely provide scale, opportunities and reach to help move the agency forward.

But this was far from the only agency acquisition in recent months – in February,

Gravity London acquired 45-strong Oxford-based JJ Marketing

, citing ‘increasing capacity’ as the key rationale. Gravity London today is virtually unrecognisable from the days in the noughties when it operated as AGA Group – but then so is the B2B marketing sector generally. It is now a true powerhouse, with global ambitions and a genuine track record to match, and this move just confirms that. I’ve long regarded CEO Mark Lethbridge as the Roger Sterling (of Mad Men fame) of the UK B2B sector – and he now has the agency empire to go with his flash Shoreditch offices to prove it once and for all. But more seriously: growing a B2B agency to this size, scale and credibility, where it cleaned up at the B2B Marketing Awards for the last couple of years, is a significant achievement. The new agency’s combined gross income of £20 million, and headcount of 110, would put it in fourth place in

B2B Agencies League Table

, if it were calculated today. All possible kudos, credit and congratulations to Mark and his team.

Looking at the big picture, what all these deals confirm is that B2B is big business, and that those firms conducting it are in demand as never before. And if the companies are in demand, then the people are too – and that’s good news for all of us.

  • As I closed this blog for publication, I also learned that CI Group, which includes agency Corporate Innovations, has acquired 12-strong Diginut, which has strong B2B credentials. Clearly acquisitions are going on at every level of the B2B marketing industry.

The B2B Marketing UK Agencies Benchmarking Report 2019

This year’s league table features a record-breaking 95 agencies, and is chock-full of analysis, commentary and interviews with the agencies themselves and on the state of the market.

Found out the UK’s top B2B marketing agencies

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