Ketchum acquires tech specialist agency Access

SAN FRANCISCO: Global firm Ketchum has acquired technology agency Access Communications.

SAN FRANCISCO: Global firm Ketchum has acquired San Francisco-based technology agency Access Communications. Access will continue to operate independently under its own name and will be led by its founder and CEO Susan Butenhoff.

Butenhoff will report to New York-based Ketchum CEO Ray Kotcher. Both parties declined to discuss the financial details of the deal, but last year Access' revenues totaled $14.13 million, and the agency has averaged 14% revenue growth during the last four years, according to Butenhoff.

While Access will remain independent from Ketchum, the two agencies will collaborate when appropriate, Kotcher said. The combination of Access' 75-person team and Ketchum's 120-person West Coast staff will make the combined entity one of the largest agencies on the West Coast, he added. Other firms that have a large presence on the West Coast include Hill & Knowlton, Burson-Marsteller, and Fleishman-Hillard.

“It is obviously an important, strategic move for Ketchum... for our clients, and for our people,” Kotcher said. “This puts the cap on 18 to 24 months of work. We met with a lot of technology firms, but we wanted to make sure we picked the right [one].”

He said the move has several advantages for Ketchum; it will further the agency's reach for consumer tech work, strengthen its global tech practice, and build a tech presence in the California market. The firm previously struggled with building an organic tech practice on the West Coast, where it has offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“Our technology practice worldwide is unbelievable – we are working with IBM, Kodak, Nokia... great brands,” Kotcher said. “But the California segment needed to be bolstered, and that's part of what this is about.”

Access' clients include Intuit, Vonage, and PayPal.

Butenhoff said Access had previously talked to agencies about possible sales, but those offers required too much compromise of its brand.

“We were not actively looking to sell the agency, but we were looking to solve our international gap,” Butenhoff said. The agency also has a New York office.

She said the acquisition would not result in layoffs, noting that the agency is currently hiring additional staff. “There... will be no changes on things that are fundamentally Access,” she said. “That means our staff, location of our offices, our culture, our priorities.

“We have our own client base that we'll continue to support,” she added. “But we're also going to be able to lock into everything Ketchum can offer as [an] agency in terms of client and staff capability.”

Kotcher said the move is strategic considering the uncertain economy, because companies will rely on their PR agencies to provide a broader range of services.

Butenhoff noted that the deal gives both agencies “the best of both worlds,” offering Access independence, but also an avenue for collaboration. She added the acquisition would give her agency's clients access to a global network and experts in areas other than technology, such as internal or financial communications. Additionally, it gives employees more opportunities for professional development.

“That's a critical element, not only with our clients in the best of times, but [also] certainly when [the economy is down],” she said. “[Clients] want to be assured that we are holding onto our staff, but also to our best and brightest.”

The two agencies will not compete for client work, but Kotcher said he would not describe Access as a conflict agency for Ketchum.

“I wouldn't call this purely a conflict strategy whatsoever,” he said. “They do have their own approach to client service and we want to maintain that integrity. But there will be times when it will make sense to bring the agencies more closely together.”

Butenhoff and Kotcher described the acquisition as a “homecoming,” because Butenhoff worked for Ketchum 25 years ago when she headed the agency's consumer marketing practice in San Francisco. Access was founded in 1991.

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