CSM, a U.K.-based sport and entertainment marketing group, has acquired LeadDog Marketing Group, a U.S.-based integrated experiential marketing agency. The deal will increase CSM’s presence in the media and entertainment space and allows CSM to expand its offerings in the U.S.
The acquisition, a key piece of CSM’s North American expansion strategy, will enhance CSM’s presence in sports marketing, experiential marketing, cause marketing, strategic communications, digital and interactive marketing, partnership marketing and brand promotions.
“People have approached us over the years with the intention of acquiring us,” said Dan Mannix, founder, president & CEO, LeadDog Marketing Group. “Not only was it flattering, but it gave me an awareness of what we wanted and what we didn’t want.”
“CSM reached out to us in February,” he said. “I had heard of Harlan Stone (CSM, CEO), but we had never met. Our initial meeting turned into a three- hour meeting, and it felt like we were a great fit. I liked where they were going; what they were doing, and felt like their passion and leadership could take us to a new level.”
“We had done some work with the CSM agencies on the America’s Cup and the Bloomberg Square Mile Relay,” said Mannix. It felt right every step of the way, and our talks kept flowing naturally. Figuring out this was the right partner was pretty quick.”
The process took three months and became official last week. LeadDog clients include Audi, PGA of America, Adidas/Reebok, WWE and Intel. Mannix said that the LeadDog name will stay, but they’ll probably add CSM into their name in the future. He also expects LeadDog to retain much of its autonomy.
LeadDog, headquartered in New York City, has 180 employees and offices in San Francisco, Denver, Boston, Chicago, Miami, and Washington. Mannix does not anticipate any redundancies and “to continue to grow the brand and the staff.”
“We got tired of competing with LeadDog and losing business,” said Jeff Shifrin, CEO, CSM, North America. “It starts with Dan,” said Shifrin. “He is one of the truly good people in this business. He’s smart; he’s strategic; he treats his people the right way and has a phenomenal reputation in the industry. He’s built a terrific agency; he doesn’t have a problem working with other agencies; I’ve never heard anyone say anything unkind about him.”
“When there is an opportunity to add a company like LeadDog to your portfolio, I doubt there’s any company that would not jump on it,” he said. “This deal will strengthen our North American presence. CSM was built originally for Europe and Asia. We wanted to bolster North America either through growth or acquisition, and LeadDog is a perfect execution of that strategy.”
“LeadDog has been an industry leader for years, and we’re really excited to have them join CSM as they represent a critical piece of our U.S. strategy and our enhanced global capability,” he said. The acquisition will double CSM’s U.S. workforce. “CSM had only 100 people in the U.S. in January and now we have 375.”
CSM recently bought motor sports agency JMI, U.S. Club Soccer and Jay Howard Productions. “We’ve effectively quadrupled our North American presence in the last 10 months,” said Shifrin. CSM clients include Verizon, HSBC, Hisense and Unilever.
“The hope is that we can build our businesses organically and figure out a way to collaborate within the network and add a few companies on the acquisition side,” he said. “Having 350 people is a lot of people in North America, and we need to make them all work together and efficiently.
“We’re going to integrate LeadDog wherever possible,” said Shifrin. “LeadDog also does work internationally, and we have to figure out how to integrate that as well. You can’t be a global sports marketing agency without a great agency in the U.S.”
“Our focus is on doing great work, and we believe growth will flow from that,” said Mannix. “We’re going to bring energy, passion, creativity and a unique perspective to the sports marketing industry. Our product is our people.”
“CSM is nimble and has proven to us that they have a great passion and hunger to do great work,” he said. “There’s a competitive fire that is woven through their DNA. They have a lot of world experience that we will be able to tap into.”
LeadDog has been in business for 17 years. Mannix said that memorable campaigns include Super Bowl 50 at MetLife Stadium; an Oprah tour to eight cities across the country and their work for Audi, which was tied into Audi Football Summit and Major League Soccer sponsorships.
“We did a 5,000 person pregame party with John Legend for N.J./N.Y. Super Bowl in 2014,” said Mannix. “We took over Broadway and had large video installations. We also visited all the regions around N.Y./N.J. with a mobile tour.”
Mannix was also proud of the work LeadDog did late last year in Mumbai, India, where they did a brand launch for JIO, the new communications platform for Reliance Industries. “It was a huge high pressure launch and we knocked it out of the park.”
“I’m super excited,” he said. “We’re just scratching the surface. The future has major potential. With CSM on board, we’re dreaming big and wondering where we can go.”
Interviewed for this story: Dan Mannix, (212) 488-6530; Jeff Shifrin, (203) 920-4309