WPP Snaps Up Interactive Firm

London-based ad group WPP Group said Friday that it has purchased U.S. interactive agency Imaginet, for an undisclosed sum.

Imaginet, headquartered in Minneapolis, will operate as a division of WPP agency J. Walter Thompson.

Nine-year-old Imaginet said the acquisition will allow to it “immediately” begin working with its new parent to service JWT’s advertising clients. The two organizations have worked together previously on JWT accounts, including Goodyear.

In addition to being able to offer its services to JWT clients, the companies said Imaginet would also see synergies with other WPP Group’s member companies, which include Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide, Y&R Advertising, and others.

“We can keep the brand independent and our management team, but now we have this new partner … to allow us to expand the business,” said Imaginet’s chief executive, Scott Litman. “It’s the best of both worlds in terms of independence and … to help us scale and grow.”

The company will be integrated into a structure that already has a digital unit, Digital@JWT. JTW also owns Tonic 360, a highly regarded San Francisco-based digital branding agency that it purchased in October.

But Litman said his company’s core competency fills a niche in JWT’s and the WPP Group’s digital offerings.

“They’ve got some great groups as far as interactive, but Imaginet’s focus is in building large scale e-business applications,” he said. The company “will really be covering some new territory for WPP.”

The acquisition follows a trend of established advertising groups’ efforts to beef up their interactive offerings through acquisitions.

On Tuesday, rival ad group CCG snapped up an interactive shop — Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based MicroArts — in an all-stock deal worth about $47.4 million dollars. CGG said it aimed to boost the capabilities of its own i-agency, CCG.XM, through the purchase.

It’s a buyer’s market, too — with interactive services companies no longer the darlings of the investing public, and companies like Razorfish, Sapient, Scient and Viant trading at fractions of their 52-week highs — many shops are desperate to land capital. And the big agency groups have the capital: WPP reported $594.2 million in cash and marketable securities at the end of its last quarter.

WPP also already holds an impressive portfolio of interactive agencies. WPP and its agencies’ investments include ad network Advertising.com, i-shop Luminant, and other online marketing firms.

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