When McKinney Sought to Buy an Influencer Agency, Here's How It Landed on August United

The transaction strengthens the agency's reach into the mid-tier and micro influencer space

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Creative and media agency McKinney has acquired August United, an influencer marketing agency previously owned by Audacious Studios. The move gives McKinney, which is part of the Cheil Worldwide network of agencies, a presence in Phoenix Ariz., where August United is headquartered, as well as a firm foothold in the growing micro and mid-tier influencer space.

In addition to August United, McKinney will absorb Tailwind, the performance media arm of Audacious Studios, to bolster its integrated offering. The move expands McKinney’s capabilities under a single management team. The August United/Tailwind office will become McKinney’s fifth U.S. office, joining its headquarters in Durham, N.C., and offices in Los Angeles, New York and Dallas.

No layoffs are planned, and all August United and Tailwind employees will be retained by the agency, adding more than 60 staffers and bringing McKinney’s base close to 300 people.

August United, which was named to Adweek’s Fastest Growing Agencies list in 2019, has been around for two decades but pivoted in 2015 to concentrate on full-service influencer marketing capabilities, from strategy to partnership management to content development and implementation.

Buy, not borrow

Since 2021, McKinney had been looking to expand its influencer capabilities as clients like Samsung and Little Caesars were asking for those services. The agency wanted to ramp up those capabilities and knew it needed to do it faster than could happen by building it from the ground up.

“When you have that three-pronged road in front of you, where you can either build, buy or borrow, this very much became a buy,” Joe Maglio, CEO of McKinney, told Adweek.

McKinney, which was named to Adweek’s shortlist for 2022 U.S. Midsize Agency of the Year, worked with an outside consultant to find potential acquisition possibilities. Maglio and his team looked at roughly 50 agencies, but when they met with the team from August United, the agency stood out. The leadership team had been in place for over a decade, and they had created a model around mid-tier and micro influencers before they became a trend, giving the agency credibility and depth in the space.

“There’s more trust, from a consumer standpoint, for a micro or mid-tier versus a big celebrity influencer. … They’re chasing business results. They’re not chasing big, splashy, shiny objects,” said Maglio, adding that August shared McKinney’s values, including a push for diversity and growing employees’ skill sets.

While August United and Tailwind bring more than 60 new people to McKinney, Maglio noted that the merging of staff is ongoing and he wants McKinney people to learn from the August team. In addition, McKinney is hiring at the Phoenix office for roles that aren’t in the influencer space, which will solidify the agency’s presence in the Southwest.

“When we refocused on influencer marketing in 2015, we knew that it would go from the fringe to the core of a brand’s social media strategy. As we scaled our offering, we decided it was time to take a bigger leap forward, and after our first couple meetings with McKinney we knew that their smarts and hearts were the right fit to take our offering to the next level,” said Margie Traylor, co-founder of Audacious Studios, in a statement.

Katie Marti, who was previously president at Audacious Studios overseeing August United and Tailwind, now becomes managing director at McKinney.

Katie Marti, formerly president at Audacious Studios overseeing August United and Tailwind, is now managing director, McKinney.

Capitalizing on a growing influencer marketplace

Influencer marketing was a $16.4 billion industry in 2022, according to Influencer Marketing Hub, demonstrating the growing buying power of Gen Z and millennials as consumption habits evolve. Micro and mid-tier influencers also help drive significant engagement and impact purchase decisions.

August United brings not only an established presence in the influencer space but also a new batch of clients to McKinney, including several high-profile CPG brands. Kroger, Circle K, All, Snuggle, Purex and Persil are brands August works with, and that bolsters McKinney’s client base, which includes Blue Diamond Growers, Pampers, Puma Running, Stop & Shop, ESPN, Samsung, Columbia Sportswear and Sherwin-Williams.

Maglio is excited about McKinney’s leap into the influencer space, especially below the celebrity level.

“You can’t talk about social and mobile without the creator economy as a component of it. When you get to the micro and mid-tier, you get more traction. Consumers pay more attention because they feel a different type of connection to that influencer,” said Maglio, noting that influencers are driving ecommerce purchases and the ROI from that will be more measurable over time.

The business upside behind influencer marketing led to the purchase of August United, but McKinney also hopes to grow in the influencer space as it builds its McKinney Health practice, which was launched last year. Maglio sees the possibilities of influencers being able to connect with consumers on healthcare issues, as well as on the media side of the business, to help with growth.

“It’s going to bring the clients a whole other world that they can step into,” Maglio said.

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