Korean ad company Cheil Worldwide has signed a deal to buy a majority stake in digital shop The Barbarian Group.
Cheil is a major player in South Korea, but has a small presence in the U.S. market. It has operations in 25 countries. TBG, which has 70 employees, is its first U.S. purchase.
Benjamin Palmer (pictured), TBG’s CEO, said the time was right for a sale, and Cheil is an ideal, if unlikely partner.
“It’s hard to grow beyond 70 people incrementally,” he said. “We were looking around for a little while to find the right people to do that with. Cheil is excited about us and our creative approach. They have an international infrastructure, but they’re just starting to do things like the deal we did with them.”
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. In November, blogger Stuart Smith said the deal was worth $10 million.
Palmer called that figure “untrue,” but wouldn’t elaborate or disclose the price paid.
Palmer, Rick Webb and Keith Butters founded TBG in 2001. It rose to prominence in 2004, working with Crispin Porter + Bogusky on Burger King’s “Subservient Chicken,” a project that many still identify as one of the best uses of interactive creativity. Other noteworthy efforts include an application for CNN that emblazons headlines on T-shirts and helping Esquire with its recent augmented reality issue.
Of late, TBG has moved to grow from a pure digital production shop into a multifaceted agency, taking on more direct client relationships with companies like CNN, General Electric and Kashi. It also shifted the gravity of its operations from Boston to New York, which will now be its official headquarters.
TBG’s management team is slated to stay after the acquisition closes, which is expected later this month.
Palmer said Cheil made an attractive partner because it has interests in research and development that stretch beyond the focus of the major ad holding companies.
“This will make things bigger and more exciting,” Palmer said. “We’re doing this because it seemed like the most fun.”
AdMedia Partners advised Cheil in making the deal.