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Nelson Schmidt Acquires Waldbillig & Besteman

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Seeking growth in a slow economy and diversified offerings in a cut-throat competitive arena, Waldbillig & Besteman has agreed to sell to Nelson Schmidt in a deal that will keep both agency names alive, executives said.

Nelson Schmidt majority owner Dan Nelson Sr.'s addition of W&B in Madison, Wis., adds an estimated $23 million in billings. The company will claim total billings of $65 million, Nelson said.

Along with the acquisition comes a revamped executive team that sets a succession plan in place for Milwaukee-based Nelson Schmidt. Nelson Sr., 55, remains chairman and CEO, while his son, Dan Nelson Jr., 34, takes over as president of Nelson Schmidt. The younger Nelson previously ran the agency's interactive unit, ec-connection.

W&B remains under the aegis of president Michael Knapstein. Chief operating officer Thomas Senatori and chief financial officer David Genschaw retain their titles.

At Nelson Schmidt, chief creative Mark Gale takes over as chief operating officer. He will remain in charge of creative.

Nelson Schmidt, largely a b-to-b shop, brings a roster heavy with industrial clients, while W&B has a more consumer-oriented lineup. Nelson and Knapstein said the shops would continue to pitch business independently as well as jointly, sharing resources as demanded by clients.

Like other small to midsize regionals, the agencies see acquisition as a route to growth that will allow them to compete more effectively with larger shops. Both Nelson Schmidt and W&B had flat years in 2001 and feared the possibility of becoming marginalized as the industry consolidates, exec utives said.

Two other Milwaukee agencies have formed alliances in recent months. Blue Horse partnered with Ebel Dunnel Merrick in Chicago, and Hoffman York combined with Tom Reilly Advertising in Chicago to form Hoffman York Reilly.

"If we're going against JWT on a pitch, it's a little easier if we're doing it jointly," Knapstein said.

Said Nelson, "It gives us the critical mass to grow organically."