Blue State Digital, which made its name through its work with the 2008 Obama for America campaign, has been acquired by WPP Digital. Yet the firm comes into the WPP fold without one of its key online advertising execs who worked on the Obama team. BSD's former director of advertising and promotion, a member of Obama's online ad team, left the firm earlier this month.
Since gaining acclaim during the 2008 presidential election through its Obama campaign work, the integrated digital marketing agency has veered away from political candidate campaigns and broadened its clientele to encompass more advocacy groups, non-profits, unions, sporting organizations, educational institutions, and corporate clients.
WPP Digital will acquire all of BSD's U.S. and U.K. assets. BSD has done work in the U.K. in recent years from its London office. For instance, the firm recently began work with the "Yes to fairer votes" campaign in the U.K., in support of the referendum to adopt the Alternative Vote system for elections to the House of Commons.
Clients also include American Red Cross, Autism Speaks, Carnegie Hall, Partners In Health, Tate, United Way, and the USA Bid Committee for the FIFA World Cup. Corporate clients include HBO and AT&T.
Still, Blue State has not removed itself from candidate campaigns. The agency handles digital marketing for a political organization with one of the largest contact lists around: the post-election iteration of Obama for America, Organizing for America, which is headed by the Democratic National Committee. BSD also worked with Dilma Rousseff's successful presidential campaign in Brazil this year.
WPP expects the BSD addition to complement its marketing communications and public affairs services.
BSD, however, lost a key digital ad exec recently, when Mark Skidmore, former director of advertising and promotion, left the firm to join with two other ex-Obama digital campaign team staffers. Skidmore is now managing director for Bully Pulpit Interactive, which was founded by Andrew Bleeker, former director of Internet advertising for the Obama campaign. Completing the ex-Obama triumvirate, Bully Pulpit Partner Michael Organ, served as Obama's first Internet ad director, and later joined OFA's paid media and polling strategy team during the '08 general election.
The BSD buy will surely lead to speculation regarding acquisition or consolidation among other digital political agencies. Since the '08 election, a handful of new digital political firms has sprouted, including Swiftcurrent Strategies and Craft on the right. On the left, Trilogy Interactive merged Articulated Man, Blackrock Associates, and Mayfield Strategy Group. Bully Pulpit - also left-leaning - was founded in September 2009. The fact that most digital political agencies, especially those dealing with strategy, serve only clients on the right or left of the political spectrum could factor into any large agency or holding company's decision to acquire a political agency.
BSD was founded in 2004, and according to the company, its revenue has grown more than 30 percent annually since then. The agency has 130 employees in offices in Washington D.C., Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and London.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
March 19, 2014