Chicago’s Designkitchen Is Gulped by Wunderman

Sixteen-year-old Chicago-based digital agency Designkitchen is the latest independent firm to be snapped up by Wunderman, which has purchased five companies since May 2007.

Designkitchen founder and CEO Sam Landers said he had been courted by a number of prospective buyers but was uncomfortable with all the others. Only WPP-owned Wunderman came to the table stressing it didn’t want to swallow Designkitchen and destroy its unique identity.

“Some of the other companies operate in same space as WPP,” said Landers, who founded Designkitchen in 1992. “They were very interested in our talent and the plans I entertained were of the integration model: bringing our people in and absorbing them.”

He said he shied away from those overtures because keeping Designkitchen intact means a lot.

“We worked so hard over the past few years to build our position in Chicago,” said Landers.

While Landers said Designkitchen is possibly the largest independent agency in Chicago outside of companies such as Avenue A/Razorfish that are owned by big holding companies, it has remained nimble. “We’ve competed in the past regularly with Razorfish and some of the larger entities,” he said. “While we’ve done pretty well in Chicago as an independent shop, in the back of our minds we always had the attitude that we are going to work harder and smarter.”

He added, “Working with Wunderman over the past six months already, we’ve been able to access CRM, direct response and research capabilities that are just fantastic for us to leverage for our clients.”

Wunderman spokesman Andrew Sexton said Wunderman CEO Daniel Morel has “snatched up some great digital talent” during the past several years, but stressed the acquisitions are not just a matter of upsizing. It bought Aqua Online of South Africa and These Days of Belgium in May 2007, ZAAZ in July 2007, Blast Radius in October 2007 and Agenda of Asia in January.

Landers will keep his job at the helm of Designkitchen but he will now report to Rick Schreuder, Wunderman’s Chicago president. Landers said he’s not at all melancholy about selling the company he created back in the infancy of the digital age.

“I’ve worked all my life,” he said. “I came to work yesterday like any other day and did the same thing today.”

Designkitchen has about 85 fulltime employees. Landers said he expects the staff to reach at least 90 to handle the agency’s projected 2008 growth.

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