Who Will Buy 3Q Digital From Harte Hanks?

With 3Q Digital going up on the auction block, there's been some speculation as to which digital agency will swoop up the successful San Francisco-based firm, but David Rodnitzky, 3Q founder, told Search Marketing Daily that the company has done so well in the past two years that for the right price he'd consider talking to the executive team to buy back the company and take it private.

Earlier this week, marketing agency Harte Hanks said it would trim $10 million in annual costs by putting its digital agency subsidiary 3Q Digital on the auction block nearly two years after buying it for $30.2 million in cash from Rodnitzky, who founded the company in 2008.

Janel Laravie, founder of Chacka Marketing, sees three options -- but the most important factor will require any suitor to maintain the culture 3Q built and its relationship with clients, something that Rodnitzky has emphasized for years. He attributes 3Q's growth to the company's culture and people who support brands.

Laravie thinks a holding company like Dentsu might want to fold in 3Q to support agencies like iProspect, in a similar way to the path it took with Merkle, Covario and, most recently, Leapfrog. Or a large independent agency in a strong financial position could use 3Q to catapult their own growth, she said.

"For example, it was announced in February that Mountaingate Capital completed an investment in Elite SEM," Laravie said, adding that she wouldn't rule out 3Q becoming an independent agency once again.

Rodnitzky declined to comment specifically on possible suitors, but he said "I know the founder, Ben Kirshner, of Elite SEM and the agency does have a culture similar to ours."

Rodnitzky calls 3Q digital the largest independent agency with a strong search engine marketing focus. The company has grown in the past two years from about 100 employees at five offices to 225 at nine offices.

"We spend more than $500 million annually on media and about $300 million is on Google," he said, noting that the amount spent in online marketing grew from about $250 million prior to joining Harte Hanks.

When asked whether employees buying back the company to take it private again is an option, Rodnitzky said nothing will prevent that from happening, but Harte Hanks has an obligation as a public company to accept offers from anyone wanting to make an offer.

"If the executive teams got together to make an offer, we wouldn't get any special treatment," he said. "We certainly would consider it. We feel very strongly about the future of the company and made a ton of investments that differentiate us in the market."

"If given the opportunity at the right price, I would be happy to buy back the company," Rodnitzky said.



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