WPP to Acquire AKQA

Digital agency is one of last independents

It wouldn’t be the Cannes advertising festival without some big news to create a buzz among the global industry execs gathered there. This year it’s WPP Group creating the stir: WPP announced today it is acquiring one of the industry’s last large digital independents, AKQA.

Terms of the deal, subject to regulatory approval, were not disclosed. AKQA has previously been courted by both WPP and Dentsu. In 2007, Connecticut-based private equity concern General Atlantic took a majority stake in the San Frankcisco-based agency. CEO Ajaz Ahmed, who founded AKQA in his early 20s, and chairman Tom Bedecarré are thought to own, together, 10 percent of the company. In 2010, when Dentsu expressed interest in AKQA, the Japanese company reportedly valued it at $500 million while General Atlantic was said to be seeking at least $600 million.

AKQA will continue to operate as a stand-alone brand within WPP under Ahmed and Bedecarré. In addition, the Dublin, Ireland, holding company is creating a new Silicon Valley firm, WPP Ventures, of which Bedecarré will be president. The operation will explore new digital opportunities for WPP. Other board appointments at WPP Ventures have yet to be announced.

AKQA, with gross assets of $282 million as of Dec. 31, projects revenue of about $230 million in 2012, up from $189 million last year. The company employs 1,160 people globally in San Francisco, New York, Washington D.C., London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin and Shanghai.

Founded in 2001, AKQA’s has produced integrated digital communications for clients like Delta, Diageo, EDF, Gap, Google, Microsoft Xbox, Nike, Target, Unilever and Virgin Money.