MSL affiliate MARCO buys majority stake in Africa's ACG and eyes London opening

MARCO, the MSL affiliate with offices in Europe, the Americas and Africa, has acquired a 51 per cent stake in pan-African agency Africa Communications Media Group (ACG) and revealed plans for a London operation.

ACG chief executive Mimi Kalinda and MARCO CEO Didier Lagae

The ACG deal will create a combined entity with more than 200 employees in 16 offices, with more than 100 clients. It will be called MARCO and Africa Communications Media Group (MARCO Africa – ACG).

ACG is headquartered in South Africa, with offices in Ivory Coast and Kenya plus partners in Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Nigeria and affiliated offices in more than 40 other African countries. Its clients include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Mercedes Benz, Bloomberg and Ethiopian Airlines.

Billed as the first African-owned, pan-African and fully integrated comms firm, ACG was founded in 2015 by CEO Mimi Kalinda, whose previous roles include Africa lead at FleishmanHillard and director of comms at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences. Kalinda was the first black African woman to become a VJ on MTV in London in 2000, and was also part of the African Union's campaign against Ebola with fundraising of over $51m.

Following the deal, Kalinda will lead the comms operations supporting MARCO group clients in the sub-Saharan market, the agency said. She will work directly with MARCO founder and CEO Didier Lagae on country branding. Linda Weaver, ACG chief operations officer and second in command at the agency, will report to Samira Sitail, who heads MARCO's operations in the Maghreb region.

The two agencies have worked as partners for several years and the new deal represents a significant expansion of MARCO's activities in Africa. For the past eight years, the agency has worked with clients in the Maghreb region via its office in Casablanca, Morocco. Clients have included the Union for the Mediterranean and the European Investment Bank. MARCO has also led international outreach for COP22 in Marrakesh in 2016 and supported the government of Morocco with a five-year global support programme to encourage investment.

MARCO, which is headquartered in Madrid, pointed to the expected strong GDP growth in several African countries in 2021, led by Botswana (8.7 per cent) and followed by Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda and the Gambia (all over six per cent). This compares to growth of 2.1 per cent in Germany and 4.8 per cent in the EU.

The agency said Kenya, Ethiopia and Ghana in particular offered "huge potential for expansion within the communications sector".

"Africa is often associated with mineral or fossil fuel production, but new sectors are rapidly emerging. Media and marketing communications were valued at over $10bn in 2019. The tourism sector is also set to blossom with projections of 34.8 per cent growth in 2022 that will fuel a strong demand to promote African countries as top tourist destinations such as Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique."

The deal means MARCO now has owned offices in Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, París, Brussels, Milan, Berlin, Miami, Mexico City, Bogotá, Lima, São Paulo, Casablanca, Johannesburg, Abidjan and Nairobi, as well as affiliated MSL offices in more than 100 markets.

MARCO said it expects to grow revenue by 25 per cent organically in 2021 (excluding the ACG acquisition), with billings of almost €12m for the full year. ACG is expected to add almost 10 per cent to its overall turnover.

Financial details of the acquisition have not been disclosed although MARCO said the "multiplier is in line with market pricing".

The spokesman said "price is not the main driver" for the deal: "ACG allows MARCO to now own a proven partner who excels at delivering comms needs in sub-Saharan Africa. Fortifying our delivery across the entire African continent is the real reason for the acquisition from MARCO’s viewpoint. It now positions MARCO as the agency to go to for comms needs in and across Africa."

Lagae said: “We feel passionate about the opportunities for growth in key markets in Africa and we believe strongly in the African continent as a whole. We anticipated that the moment was right for MARCO to expand its current leadership expertise to sub-Saharan Africa. The acquisition of ACG with its direct presence in three key markets plus an indirect presence in another 40 delivers the expansion that we were looking for. International and locally based clients now have a clear partner for Africa and that partner is MARCO.”

Kalinda said: “Uniting both MARCO and Africa Communications Media Group, we are now in a position to implement communication support to both sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb region. In addition, MARCO has a global outreach through its additional 16 offices worldwide and its affiliated presence in 100 markets outside of Africa. Africa Communications Group, being part of the MARCO family, translates into real opportunities for our clients to not only build their reputations and brands in Africa but also well beyond the continent’s frontiers."

Lagae -–who previously held senior roles at Edelman and Weber Shandwick, and in-house at Levi's and The Body Shop – was named Best PR Professional – Continental Europe at the PRWeek Global Awards in 2019.

London the 'logical next step'

In the statement on the ACR deal, MARCO said it will "soon open an office in London". The agency revealed that it has opened a virtual office at Spaces, the flexible office complex in Covent Garden, with six staff so far.

"We are in the process of pulling together the senior team and plan to have the operation up and running before summer next year," said a spokesman.

"We recognise the importance of London as the center of the financial and PR world. In such a competitive market like London, brand and reputation building is now all the more crucial to differentiate and accelerate the communication needs of clients. MARCO has 16 offices worldwide and it is a logical next step to enter the British market. Now that the MARCO-ACG acquisition is in full swing our strengths lie in the fact that we can promote British companies looking to enter or expand in the African continent and provide award-winning and world-beating communications solutions.

"Brexit has made it very difficult for British companies to move goods and services within the Single European Market but also to set up bases across Europe. MARCO knows that it can add value to British clients by promoting their goods and services and building their brands in a difficult economic situation brought on by the pandemic and of course the fallout from Brexit."

This article was updated on Monday morning with more financial details and more information about plans for London.

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