Big Fuel's Bond: Publicis Deal Could Spark Run On Social Shops

Social pure-play Big Fuel apparently has a big appetite and its decision to sell a controlling stake to Publics is part of its plan to become the dominant global social agency brand. That was the primary motivation behind the deal, Big Fuel CEO Jon Bond tells Online Media Daily.

"There isn't a Digitas of social media, or an AKQA, or an R/GA. And that's what we want to be. We're the closest thing to that now. We've got pretty good name recognition, I think, and this is going to make it even bigger," says Bond, who took the helm of Big Fuel six months ago after leaving MDC Partners' Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners.

Bond also predicted that Publicis' acquisition of Big Fuel will presage a Madison Avenue run on social media pure-plays, as the big agency holding companies seek to scale their enterprises around the rapidly growing field.

"Everyone is going to want to do this," he said, adding that Big Fuel's logic for selling to Publicis was all about scaling rapidly.

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"If you look historically at this sort of thing, there's a window of time to become a global brand," he said, adding, "If you look at the digital agencies in the last round, there isn't one that didn't' come a global brand without help. That was our thesis, and we looked for the right partner to help us. It isn't that complicated."

While terms of the deal were not disclosed, Publicis said it acquired 51% of Big Fuel with an option to acquire 100%. It said that Big Fuel currently has more than 170 employees, nearly six times the 30 people it began 2010 with. Publicis also disclosed that Big Fuel's revenue would reach "nearly $30 million" in 2011, representing a "500% increase year-on-year."

Some of the logic of the acquisition no doubt had to do with the common roster of clients represented by Big Fuel and other Publicis agencies. Big Fuel's roster includes social agency or record accounts for General Motors and T-Mobile, and assignments with Colgate-Palmolive, Microsoft, Clorox, Children's Place, Gore-Tex and Philips.

Publicis said Big Fuel would be "aligned under" VivaKi, and would serve as a "strategic social media center" for Digitas, Razorfish, Starcom MediaVest Group and Zenith Optimedia. Zenith Optimedia's Moxie unit also has a considerable social media practice and expertise.

Publicis said Big Fuel will continue to be headed by Bond in partnership with Founding Partner and Chief Creative Officer Avi Savar and Managing Partner and COO Mike McGraw, who will report to Laura Lang, global CEO of Digitas and a member of the VivaKi board.

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