Dentsu Aegis Network to acquire majority stake in Columbia, MD-based marketing agency Merkle, valued ~ $1.5 billion

Tom Paine

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In the late 1980s and early 90s, database marketing was one of the hot buzzwords, and a great deal of effort went in to trying to figure what it actually consisted of. Was it a product or a service? What did it look like? There wasn't really a model to build from.

The truth was that database marketing was a difficult, often rather messy business that typically involved crunching together data from different sources, when the data was not as good and the data crunching tools weren't nearly as good as today. And disk space was at an incredible premium, governing almost every operational consideration.

David Williams
In 1988, a small Maryland data processing shop named Merkle was acquired by a 25 year old entrepreneur named David Williams.

Williams built Merkle both organically and later through strategic acquisitions, adding proprietary tools such as a cross-device identity management system, a CRM-matching database for publishers, and a database known as the M1 audience platform.

All this led Japanese holding company Dentsu Aegis Network to acquire a majority stake in Columbia-based Merkle this past week in a transaction that values Merkle at about $1.5 billion. Dentsu Aegis replaced Technology Crossover Ventures (TCV) as Merkle's primary owner, although obviously its interest is more strategic than simply financial. Merkle had $436 million in revenue in 2015, up 14% over 2014.

Merkle was originally a direct marketing play, and though that still applies today it is known more for its ability to feed hungry CRM systems, both on the consumer and BtoB sides. The term it uses to describe what it does is 'performance marketing,' as well as a CRM Agency.

Merkle has more than 3,400 employees worldwide and over 65 employees in its Philadelphia (King of Prussia) office. The Philadelphia office is led by Dean McCarney, a Senior Director within Merkle’s Vertical Markets Group.

Naturally, in Philly Merkle has a bit of a Pharma bent, and in fact is a sponsor of Digital Pharma East 2016 to be held in Philadelphia in October.

Dentsu has 8100 employees in the Americas, headquartered out of New York.

Williams, by the way, began his career at Butcher & Singer, a Philadelphia-based investment bank, and holds a Bachelor of Science in business administration from Shippensburg University.

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