WPP Grabs Digital Agency Giant AKQA

If it wasn’t already clear that massive holding company WPP aims to own the digital marketing space, it should be now. The firm has purchased AKQA, reportedly the largest independent digital agency in the U.S. if not the world.

The announcement comes as throngs of ad industry elite are camped out in the seaside city of Cannes, France for the annual Cannes Lions awards extravaganza.

WPP is among the most acquisitive firms in the digital arena. In the past few years it has scooped up a handful of Brazil-based digital agencies, web analytics, and design agencies in Europe, and invested in several other digital services companies. It also owns Blue State Digital, the agency that handled web development, data services, and other digital work for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and continues that work for his current re-election campaign.

In August of last year WPP snagged Rockfish Interactive, an Arkansas-based digital shop. The company also offered to buy Brooklyn’s Big Spaceship for $12.5 million this March, according to a ClickZ source close to the situation.

With all that digital expertise under its belt, it comes as no surprise WPP’s digital revenue is growing. In January, the firm said digital revenues reached 30 percent of its overall $16 billion haul. That was up from 25 percent in 2009.

AKQA expects to rake in around $230 million this year, up from $189 million last year. The agency specializes in social media, mobile, interactive, and related digital work for clients such as Delta, Google, Nike, Target, and Unilever. The firm has 1,160 people on staff with offices in San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C., London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Shanghai.

Subject to regulatory approval, AKQA Holdings, once officially acquired, will operate as a standalone entity. Founder and CEO Ajaz Ahmed and chairman Tom Bedecarre will carry on in current leadership roles.

WPP appears to be planning more digital investments. Also as part of the deal, WPP named Bedecarre president of WPP Ventures, a division dedicated to sniffing out additional investment opportunities, based in Silicon Valley.