by Herman Manson (@marklives) BrandsRock and Saatchi & Saatchi are merging. Publicis Groupe is acquiring 100% of BrandsRock, founded by Mike Joubert five years ago, to launch a new brand in South Africa’s advertising universe, called Saatchi & Saatchi BrandsRock.

According to Joubert, Publicis is investing in strengthening its Africa network and the new SA agency will spearhead growth in sub-Saharan Africa.

The merger will also infuse Saatchi & Saatchi with new leadership and energy, and will build upon BrandRock’s strong SA client base, SSBR-1combined with Saatchi & Saatchi’s internationally aligned business.

Who’s who

John Dixon, who recently joined BrandsRock from FCB, will be Saatchi & Saatchi Group CEO as well as CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi BrandsRock. Joubert will remain as chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi BrandsRock, Jonathan Beggs as chief creative officer, and Heidi Nelson as chief operations officer. At group level Ayanda Mbanga, deputy group CEO at Saatchi & Saatchi, remains in place as deputy group CEO and Graham Reynolds remains as group financial director. While former Saatchi & Saatchi group CEO Gail Curtis left the agency after nine years in May 2014, she has been advising the agency on the merger process through July.

Saatchi & Saatchi South Africa will have four divisions: Saatchi & Saatchi BrandsRock (ad agency), Amp Experiential (experiential agency), Ayanda Mbanga Communications (employer branding and recruitment advertising) and Saatchi & Saatchi Synergize (SEO).

BrandsRock employs around 40 people, and clients include Harley-Davidson, KWV, eBucks and Sharp. The agency recently won Momentum. Saatchi & Saatchi currently employs 120 people. Key clients include brands owned by Mondelēz International, Novartis and Procter & Gamble. The new agency will combine current offices into single spaces in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Africa as an investment destination

Dixon says the deal made sense to BrandsRock because clients are no longer just talking about Africa as an investment destination — they are actively moving budget here — and Saatchi & Saatchi has a number of internationally aligned clients with growing interest in the continent.

Publicis recently bought out digital agency Synergize to create a new unit within Saatchi & Saatchi South Africa, called Saatchi & Saatchi Synergize. Dixon had been impressed by the Synergize team and its ability to disseminate content produced by the agency through expertise in SEO, web and mobile development, and content management development.

BrandsRock, meanwhile, brings to Saatchi & Saatchi activation and experiential skills, an established local client list and a newly energised leadership team.

Had always intended to sell

Joubert bootstrapped BrandsRock since its launch in 2009 and says he had always intended to sell the business after five years; he is six months early on his self-imposed deadline. BrandsRock went with Publicis because of Joubert’s profound admiration for BBH, which is also part of Publicis Groupe (BBH does not intend building an African network, says Joubert), as well the level of integrity he felt was on display during negotiations with the group.

The addition of BrandsRock into the local Saatchi & Saatchi brand signals fundamental change in the local agency, says Dixon.

He admits that the loss of the Guinness business in Africa to Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and its sister agency Net#work BBDO, Johannesburg, has had a significant impact upon Saatchi & Saatchi.  Through this deal, the Saatchi & Saatchi group gains not only new leadership and energy but also a reinvigorated way of working, says Joubert, focused on agility, speed and results.

Single-agency, multiple-office approach

Saatchi & Saatchi BrandsRock will retain its level two BEE status. The agency will pursue a single-agency, multiple-office approach in SA, with a single CEO across Cape Town and Johannesburg. Dixon expects it to develop into a Top 10 agency in South Africa in terms of revenue — which  already tops R80 million. At the time of going to press no official announcement on the acquisition had yet been made by Publicis Groupe.

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