ICF to buy Olson for $295 million

ICF International has agreed to acquire Olson, which won PRWeek US' Agency of the Year in 2014, subject to regulatory approval.

(Left to right): Olson CEO John Partilla, ICF International CEO Sudhakar Kesavan
(Left to right): Olson CEO John Partilla, ICF International CEO Sudhakar Kesavan

MINNEAPOLIS: ICF International has agreed to acquire integrated agency Olson, including its Chicago-based PR arm Olson Engage, for $295 million in cash.

Olson will continue to operate under its name within ICF. Olson’s 545 staffers, including the more than 100 employees from its PR and social media division Olson Engage, will join the company.

The agency’s offices in Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, New York, Toronto, Austin, TX, and Los Angeles will continue to operate, an Olson spokesperson confirmed.

The deal is scheduled to close by mid-November, pending regulatory approval. ICF will purchase the agency from private equity firm KRG Capital Partners and other minority shareholders.

Based in Washington, DC, ICF International specializes in customer engagement, e-commerce, and system integration. Its strategic communications and marketing group, ICF SCM, focuses primarily on public affairs, government, and the energy and healthcare sectors.

ICF has more than 70 offices worldwide including three in the UK, while Olson’s business is concentrated in North America.

ICF SCM posted revenue growth of 12.4% to $48.1 million last year, according to PRWeek’s 2014 Agency Business Report.

Olson Engage, which won Agency of the Year at the 2014 PRWeek US Awards, serves clients in retail, consumer products, food, and travel and tourism. Its longtime PR accounts include MillerCoors and Oscar Mayer. The unit reported a 14.5% year-over-year revenue increase in 2013, to almost $17 million.

"What’s exciting is this idea of an end-to-end solutions provider. That sort of offering is what we’ve been trying to build in our digitally centered marketing services, with PR and social being a core component of that," said Olson Engage president Bryan Specht. "From a PR and social media standpoint, ICF's public affairs and public education business is complementary to our heavily consumer-focused and social media-driven work."

About 12% of Olson Engage's revenue comes from outside the US, largely in London and Brussels, Specht said. The deal with ICF will help Olson continue to grow outside the US, he explained.

"Olson has the whole brand digital advisory services aspect of it, and we have a very strong technology implementation capability. When put together we hope we can provide the full lifecycle of work," ICF International CEO Sudhakar Kesavan told PRWeek. "We will create a 1,000-person group where almost half will be creative, analytical types and the other half will be technology folks who can do the implementation of these strategies."

ICF subsidiary Ironworks Consulting, the interactive web development firm purchased in 2011, could also collaborate on Olson’s branding and marketing business, Kesavan added.

"Our strategy is to do more work for our clients," he said. "We are a consulting firm and we find our clients are trying to do more and more using web, social media, and digital platforms. We need more sophistication and scale in each of these areas, and Olson brings us that scale."

In June, real-estate website operator Trulia hired Olson Engage for consumer PR. The firm also won Kraft Foods’ Planters account this year, replacing incumbent Edelman.

Earlier this year, ICF acquired global technology consultancy CITYTECH and Brussels-based communications agency Mostra.

Last December, Olson acquired management and digital consulting firm PulsePoint Group in an effort to strengthen the agency's digital creative offerings.

This article was updated at 6:50pm ET on Tuesday with quotes from Kesavan and Specht.

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