Arun Sudhaman 05 Dec 2012 // 12:00AM GMT
LONDON--We Are Social, the UK social media firm that has recorded eye-catching growth since launching in 2008, is considering selling a stake in the business to fund its continued expansion.
The Holmes Report understands that the agency has brought in M&A specialists Results International to guide the process, which remains at an early stage.
A prospectus document entitled Project Stellar has been drawn up and circulated among potential commercial partners, as We Are Social weighs up its options for future growth.
Founded in 2008 by Robin Grant and Nathan McDonald, We Are Social has grown to become a £12m consultancy that counts almost 300 staffers across eight worldwide offices in Europe, Asia, Latin America and, since earlier this year, the US.
In the process, the firm has won considerable recognition, including EMEA Digital Consultancy of the Year at the 2012 SABRE Awards, and sizeable social media mandates from such clients as Adidas, Heineken, Expedia, Heinz, Kia, and Indesit. High-profile work include its Marmarati effort for Marmite and Get Well Soup initiative for Heinz.
Grant told the Holmes Report that all options were currently on the table, including debt financing, private equity investment, and the sale of a majority stake to a marcomms holding group.
“We believe we have the opportunity to turn We Are Social into a global agency brand of the likes of AKQA, BBH or Razorfish, but that we'll only achieve this through investing in growth,” said Grant. “We're currently at the very early stages of exploring our options to secure the funding we need to do this, and we're looking at everything from private equity through to a strategic partnership.”
In particular, it is understood that We Are Social hopes to fulfil its ambition of becoming - arguably - the first truly global social media firm, by broadening its social media service offering in such areas as strategy, insight and creativity.
“What’s most important is that it’s the right fit for We Are Social,” added Grant. “Nathan, myself and the rest of the management team around the world are looking forward to leading this next stage of our growth.”
Ownership of We Are Social is currently split equally between Grant and McDonald, who initially met while working at Tribal DDB. Both founders, said Grant, are committed to driving the agency’s next stage of growth, along with key senior leaders.
Until now, the firm has financed its growth via existing client revenue, a scenario that does not appear to have unduly slowed its rapid expansion. We Are Social was one of many social media specialists to launch in London around the same time; none have matched its global growth. In its financial year to June 2012 alone, fee income and headcount doubled.
“Like any medium-sized business they need a cash injection to get them to the next level,” said one source familiar with the situation. “What’s attractive is they instantly deliver scale and they have done impressive work.”
Sources said that We Are Social’s profit margin stands at around 20 percent, translating to around £2m for its financial year to June 2012. Based on current estimates this would see a valuation of around £15-20m for the entire business, possibly rising once a ‘digital premium’ is factored in.
The agency regularly competes with digital specialists such as LBi and Razorfish, along with PR firms like Edelman and [email protected], and ad shops such as MindShare and Tribal DDB.
Meetings with interested third parties are scheduled for early 2013 in New York.