Cheil Worldwide Buys McKinney

$50 million deal adds North Carolina-based agency

After months of speculation, Cheil Worldwide formally announced its acquisition of McKinney in an estimated $50 million deal that positions the Durham, N.C. agency as the U.S. flagship of the South Korean network. McKinney, which will retain its name, works for marketers like Nationwide, Ruby Tuesday, GNC, Sherwin Williams and Gold’s Gym.

Cheil, like Japan’s Dentsu, has struggled in growing globally outside its dominant home market position in Asia. Like Dentsu, which elevated its U.S. profile after buying mcgarrybowen in 2008, Cheil Americas CEO Buz Sawyer has been searching for an agency acquisition. The former Wieden + Kennedy exec, who joined the company in January 2011, was tasked with building Cheil. The agency has operated in the states for some 20 years but has never attracted clients beyond South Korean marketers like Samsung, with which it is affiliated. Cheil also has offices in Canada, Mexico, Central America and Brazil.

“This isn’t just another financial transaction in a summer of consolidation, though Cheil will provide McKinney with rocket fuel to take their business to the next level," Sawyer said in a statement.

McKinney has been independent since 2008, when management bought the agency back from Havas. The French holding company purchased what was then called McKinney & Silver in 2001 from digital communications firm marchFirst, which went bankrupt and was dissolved that year. Following Cheil’s acquisition, the management of McKinney, led by chief executive Brad Brinegar, will remain in place.

Cheil has made other U.S. investments. In 2009, the company bought a majority stake in digital shop The Barbarian Group.

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