IPG: First on Facebook

Interpublic Group looked on smiling recently as the global financial elite clamored for a portion of the Goldman Sachs’ private placement shares in Facebook. The offering was rapidly oversubscribed, but IPG is enjoying the benefits of an early strategic interest that has quietly turned into a financial windfall.

In June, 2006, IPG paid under $5 million for a stake of less than half a percent in Facebook, a holding now worth around $200 million based on Goldman Sachs’ $50 billion valuation, sources said. They noted that much of IPG’s stake in Facebook has been undiluted since that original

Sources have also said IPG had no real idea of the growing value of the Facebook investment until October 2007, when Microsoft paid $240 million for a 1.6 percent stake in the company.

When IPG invested in Facebook, it was just over two years old and still limited to college and high-school students, with only around 8 million users. (IPG employees remember dredging up edu e-mail addresses just to access the site.) At the time, IPG chief executive Michael Roth said the investment presented an opportunity to understand a new media, saying, “Young and tech-savvy consumers are increasingly shunning traditional media vehicles and defining themselves and their community online.”

As part of its original commitment to Facebook in 2006, IPG also committed $10 million in advertising support. “It was the pre-Beacon Facebook era and they were knocking on a lot of agency doors. That amount was very important to them back then,” recalled a source.

Interpublic agencies quickly learned that “boring, plain-vanilla display ads” weren’t working on Facebook, remembered one source. Instead, IPG companies began experimenting with other ideas. Lowe, for instance, created the site’s first game-like approach for client Sharp, with its “Life Changing Box” and electronics prizes.

“Our early association with Facebook was a strategic decision. We didn’t take the stake as an investment alone,” said Roth.

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