Scratch one more agency off the shrinking list of global digital independents. Ten-year-old Blast Radius, which has built a name creating campaigns for social nets and other digital channels, has been acquired by WPP-owned direct marketing powerhouse Wunderman.
Blast Radius, which employs 400 in London, Amsterdam, New York, San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver, is the latest in a series of interactive agencies to join the Wunderman network. Others have included U.S.-based ZAAZ and Bridge Worldwide, South Africa-based Aqua Online, and Belgium-based These Days. Blast Radius clients have included Nike, Whirlpool, Newell Rubbermaid and Starbucks. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
The accelerated migration of budgets has increased Wunderman’s sense of urgency about ramping up its digital services. “I’m surprised at the speed at which clients are moving real communication dollars into the [digital] channel,” said Wunderman Chairman and CEO Daniel Morel, adding he expects the history of advertising will one day be divided into “before search” and “after search.”
With the Blast Radius purchase, the agency network will mostly gain bulk and reach, rather than new capabilities, said Morel. Through ZAAZ, it already offers creative and Web analytics consulting. Through Bridge, acquired in 2005, it provides CRM services to the CPG and healthcare verticals, including client Procter & Gamble. Wunderman also has a controlling interest in U.S.-based data infrastructure firm DataCore Marketing.
An area of strength for Blast Radius Wunderman may not already possess, and one that may seem removed from the agency’s laser focus on direct marketing, is the incubation of communities around brands, including on social networking sites.
“We have some built-in tools to identify how best you can tap into social networks in a way that is sustainable and truly meaningful to the brand and its community,” said Gurval Caer, CEO and president of Blast Radius. “That is definitely something that’s core to our brand.”
Caer said community building online is a good fit with Wunderman’s foundations in relationship marketing, though it may require revising the processes somewhat.
“Here Wunderman has a modern operating system with data and results at the core — not storytelling,” he said. “It’s having to redeploy those core competencies from traditional direct marketing and direct mail to the new environment.” When that happens, he said it’s not a stretch for a direct marketing firm like Wunderman to help consumers tell the story of a brand through online social networks, as Blast Radius has helped clients like video game developer EA do with social networking initiatives.
The deal marks the first major acquisition for Wunderman since its purchase of ZAAZ in July 2006. Morel said the ZAAZ integration has proceeded smoothly. Wunderman has deployed the agency’s behavioral analysis in its work for Ford, 50 percent of which is digital, and Microsoft, of which all is digital.