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Why has New Zealand’s Attivo bought storied US agencies Hill Holliday and Deutsch NY?

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By Sam Bradley, Journalist

January 4, 2024 | 8 min read

The Auckland-headquartered marketing services group has raised eyebrows with an ambitious double deal. Now, it hopes to raise its profile in the States.

Two men stand next to a company masthead in an office

Chris Wallrapp of Hill Holliday and Cam Murchison of Attivo / Attivo

Deutsch NY and Hill Holliday, two American agencies with more than 100 years of history between them, have been sold by holding company Interpublic Group (IPG) to New Zealand’s up-and-coming Attivo. The acquisitions signify the start of the most ambitious expansion phase yet for Attivo, which was only founded in 2020 and owns eight other agency businesses across its homeland and Australia.

A spokesperson for the firm told The Drum that it had been looking to enter the North American market through a suitable acquisition target for three years.

“Buying into the US is the culmination of a three-year search within the US to find businesses that complement Attivo’s challenger mindset, with a blend of skills across creativity, strategy, data, tech and AI,” they said. “Buying Hill Holliday and Deutsch New York allows Attivo to achieve rapid scale in the US. It is also the logical next step and natural evolution for Attivo as it looks to push into the US and beyond while supporting the global requirements of its expanding client base.

“Further expansion into other international markets is expected in the near future.”

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Who (or what) is Attivo?

Attivo operates a number of agency businesses including Gorilla Studios, Harvey Cameron, Farrimond, Rhubarb Lane and Rainmakers. It’s run by chief executive Cam Murchison, a former Ogilvy and Harvey Cameron executive.

The firm was established in 2020 and has history with IPG, acquiring 303 Mullenlowe in New South Wales and a stake in Mediahub Australia in 2021. IPG boss Philippe Krakowsky described Attivo as a “trusted partner” of the holding firm. “We’re excited for Cam and his team at Attivo to move Hill Holliday and DNY forward, with affiliate relationships to IPG,” he added.

Murchison said that the group would enable Hill Holliday and Deutsch NY to find commercial growth with an “entrepreneurial spirit and challenger mindset.”

He added: “The dynamic business landscape our clients are competing in gives us a unique opportunity to think differently, to expand the breadth and depth of our capabilities, continue to help our clients succeed in more ways, and continuing the legacy of these businesses.”

The terms of each acquisition deal have not yet been disclosed. But Attivo’s spokesperson said the firm plans to provide additional investment in each agency going forward. “Attivo is committed to investing in and supporting the tools, talent and collaborations that align with growth plans. Both agencies will be empowered with more flexibility to act independently, creating new opportunities to pursue new innovations and proactively respond to changes in the market,” they said.

Affiliate relationships, while not as attention-grabbing as M&A deals, are a common means of expanding a corporate network. Stagwell, for example, has dozens of affiliates enabling it to do business with select clients beyond its core US market. Attivo’s spokesperson said the relationship would mean “both agencies will continue to have access to the IPG tools, resources and global connections that the agencies always had, now and into the future. In turn IPG may also involve Deutsch New York and Hill Holliday in collaborations where relevant, as will Attivo.

“It’s the best of both worlds. The agencies get to work with an independent mindset, while retaining the benefits of being an agency connected to a major network,” they added.

Hill Holliday and Deutsch, founded in 1968 and 1969 respectively, were previously acquired by IPG at the turn of the century as part of a deal-making spree. The pair of agencies have worked with some of the largest consumer brands in the States; the former coined Dunkin’ Donuts slogan ‘America runs on Dunkin’.

US agency groups have struggled for commercial growth over the past year; IPG’s revenues for the third quarter were “below expectations“ when they were released last autumn. Despite that, Attivo’s team believes conditions are right for a push into the US.

“At a time when agency brands are disappearing or being diluted, this is a great opportunity to retain and reinforce the power of these iconic agency brands,” the spokesperson added.

Hill Holliday has a staff of 255. According to Attivo, there are no plans to downsize either workforce. According to a statement, both companies will retain current leadership personnel and their respective agency brands. The relationship with IPG – parent company of Deutsch for 24 years and Hill Holliday for 26 – will continue, with affiliate agreements already in place. Deutsch’s LA business will remain within the IPG umbrella.

“Since 2020, Deutsch LA and DNY have been operating as separate brands and businesses, so this particular move as relates to DNY is a natural progression in that process, as Deutsch LA continues to be one of IPG’s wholly-owned creative agencies, and we’ll support their ongoing evolution and growth,” said Krakowsky.

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Hill Holliday chief executive officer Chris Wallrapp said the deal would “give our agency and employees tools to innovate, unique flexibility in how we grow our business and strategic advantages for our clients. At a time of uncertainty for many well-known agency brands, this move is also a strong vote of confidence in the power and endurance of the Hill Holliday name. We couldn’t be more excited to be part of the Attivo family.”

Val DiFebo, chief exec of Deutsch NY, said the investment proved that “more nimble, entrepreneurial, scrappy agencies are highly attractive and productive for both the fast pace of commerce, and brands’ needs today.”

“We are thrilled to be one of the pioneer agencies that will benefit from Attivo’s investment in our talent and our future. We are so excited that our ‘hands-on hustle’ mantra is compatible with Cam’s leadership approach and his refreshing business philosophy. We see this as the best of both worlds as we become part of a new startup, and still maintain our association with IPG, now as an affiliate,” she said.

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