This Ad Agency Bucked Industry Trends and Acquired a Consultancy

Kansas City's Barkley bought nearby XperienceLab

XperienceLab managing director and co-founder Michael Chandler helped launch the firm in 2013.
Barkley, XperienceLab

Talk of ad agencies competing with consultancies is nothing new. But related conversations have only grown more intense over the past year after Deloitte acquired San Francisco shop Heat, Accenture bought London’s Karmarama and consultancies started participating in traditional new business pitches.

This week, independent Kansas City agency Barkley turned the popular narrative on its head by announcing it had acquired nearby XperienceLab for an undisclosed sum. A Barkley spokesperson declined to discuss details of the deal.

XperienceLab, a St. Louis-based business that describes itself as “an experience strategy and design firm,” launched in 2013. It specializes in user-experience design and “workforce transformation” projects for clients like Monsanto, Blue Cross Blue Shield and insurance provider RGA with the goal of improving brands’ relationships with both consumers and their employees.

Barkley positions the purchase as a way to expand its service offerings for existing clients.

“Business strategy and marketing strategy have always been two separate things, and brands had to go to two separate places to get them: consultants and ad agencies,” said Barkley president and COO Dan Fromm, adding, “They don’t want to do that anymore. They want one partner who can give them all or most of it in one place. We want to be that partner. We can deliver more nimbly, with better integration, by providing all those services under one entity.”

As part of the deal, Barkley will also inherit all 16 of XperienceLab’s employees, most of whom are either management consultants or experience designers. The two offices will remain separate, and all involved parties will retain their titles.

According to Fromm, the acquisition stemmed from specific demands for a broader suite of services from Barkley clients, which currently include Hershey, Russell Athletic, Dairy Queen, Cargill and Anheuser-Busch. Ideally, the new unit will allow Barkley to expand its remit with its clients without entering new business pitches while also enabling the agency to distinguish its offerings from those of competitors in the creative and strategy field.

“[Companies] want a partner who can design viable ideas that disrupt the entire ecosystem of experience, from the front-stage interactions with a customer to the backstage of workforce experience,” said XperienceLab managing director and co-founder Michael Chandler in a statement.

Beyond the XperienceLab acquisition, Barkley also recently made two key leadership moves, naming Katy Hornaday executive creative director and promoting Paul Corrigan to executive director of its design division, Blacktop.

Blacktop is itself the product of Barkley’s acquisition of an area branding firm in 2010.