Connect's holding company SKB Group - owned by Connect directors Andy Sawford, Sarah King and Laura Blake - has acquired Stratagem outright. Other details of the deal, including sale price, have not been disclosed.
The move will see Gráinne Walsh, Stratagem’s head of consultancy since 2013, take over as director from agency founder Quintin Oliver. Walsh will lead Stratagem in Belfast and join the Connect leadership team.
Connect was established in the early 1990s and was briefly part of Omnicom before becoming independent. The agency said it has grown 50 per cent since a management buyout in 2016 that saw the three directors take ownership and the departure of executive chairman Gill Morris.
Connect employs 27 consultants and has 75 clients, including Google, Microsoft and Toyota, Brompton Bicycle, the Local Government Association and UNISON.
Stratagem was founded in 1998 after Oliver led the successful ‘Yes’ campaign in the Good Friday Agreement referendum. It has eight consultants and more than 50 clients, including Coca Cola Hellenic Bottling Company, the European Commission and the British Heart Foundation. Its 2018 revenue was around £500,000.
Sawford, managing partner of Connect and formerly Labour MP for Corby until 2015, said: "Having grown our income organically by 50 per cent since 2016’s management buyout, Connect has been looking for the right opportunity to catalyse the next phase of our growth.
"There is a huge opportunity for us and Stratagem to grow together. Connect and Stratagem are a great fit, with closely aligned values, complementary products and services, and a shared commitment to setting high standards.
"Joining up with Belfast’s biggest public affairs firm creates an unrivalled client offer at a time when Northern Ireland is playing a pivotal role in UK and European affairs."
Sawford said further acquisitions would be considered "if we can find the same magic ingredients that we have with Stratagem in the team, clients and public affairs focus".
Walsh said: "Today’s news represents an exciting opportunity for Stratagem. We would like to thank and pay tribute to Quintin for his vision in founding Stratagem and leadership to make us Northern Ireland’s number one public affairs agency. Quintin’s dedication and passion for politics and our business has seen Stratagem thrive and deliver outstanding results.
"These are changing times in politics and public policy, and it is now the right time for Stratagem to become part of a UK wide team with Connect and broaden our client offer."