Smart embarks on acquisition trail

By AdNews | 30 January 2009
Independent agency Smart is making the most of the economic downturn, revealing plans to buy a fellow indie in a bid to bolster its skills base and geographic footprint. While holding companies STW and Photon appear to have shut their chequebooks, Smart believes now is a great time to expand. The agency is on the hunt for successful independents wanting to be part of a bigger organisation, with Melbourne, Sydney, Queensland and New Zealand agencies in its sights. Chief executive Ben Lilley said acquiring another agency is a cost-effective way to bring talent into the business. “Ironically, it’s easier to raise the money to buy into a new agency than borrow the money I’d need from the bank to hire new talent.” Lilley, who is adamant he wants Smart to remain independent, says he aims to keep the business mid-sized. “There have been a lot of mergers and consolidations in the market, but not many acquisitions lately. We know we’re a smarter and leaner organisation than the multinationals and when we’re pitching, that’s what works in our favour. We see a massive opportunity to continue to offer a viable alternative in the market. “We want to bring the right people and clients into the business as opportunities present along the way, but we don’t want to become a big agency.” Lilley launched Smart nearly nine years ago with executive creative director John Mescall. Smart purchased Queensland agency Logan Meo Walters in October last year, and merged it with its existing northern agency, Smart Sands. The merged entity, which offers advertising, design, digital and brand strategy, now trades as Smart Sands Walters. Twelve months earlier, Smart purchased boutique Sydney agency Kindred, with Smart’s Sydney office absorbing the agency, bolstering its client base to include Coca-Cola and Unilever. Smart, which launched as a strategic and creative alternative to traditional agency thinking, originally positioned itself as a youth agency, but has shifted its focus, snaring clients with broader remits, such as News Limited, government business, Vodafone and ANZ’s One Direct brand. Last financial year Smart’s gross turnover was $12 million.

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