When two big publicly traded companies announce a massive deal, all of the words they use to disclose what went down are carefully crafted, and are pored over by lawyers, finance and communications executives before being released to the public.
So when they include a sentence stating that the company buying an asset from the one selling it also is "participating" in the sale of another company that the seller also has stake in, it sticks out like a sore thumb and raises questions.
And for the past 48 hours I've been asking them -- on- and off-the-record -- and apparently not getting any straight answers.
When the spokespersons for both Ascential and Omnicom declined to explain what Omnicom's "participation" is in the sale of Hudson MX -- a once-promising agency tech startup that Ascential has invested millions in, but currently owns a minority stake in -- I turned to off-the-record sources who should have known. Apparently, they either did not, or misstated what that meant, so I published a correction late yesterday to an earlier report based on that information.
So back to square one, right?
Not so fast. While I cannot get any straight on-the-record facts about what Omnicom's participation in Hudson MX's sale actually means, I am free to speculate in this commentary.
So let's start with the simple meaning of the word.
I'm using Oxford's in the graphic above, because one of the parties in the deal is a British one -- Ascential plc, but Webster's and others basically describe it the same way. It's a noun meaning the action of taking part in something.
So we know Omnicom's participation in the sale of Hudson MX is a thing, and that Omnicom is taking part in it. Great.
But since the term was utilized in a press release, as well as a financial update to Ascential's shareholders, I turned to another source -- Investopedia -- to see what the meaning of "participation" is from an investor's point of view.
"Participation refers to the ownership of shares in a company or property," in a company, according to Investopedia's definition.
And while I now know, based on denials from both Ascential's and Omnicom's spokespersons that is not what Omnicom's participation in the sale of Hudson MX actually means, I am still free to speculate that it ultimately could end up meaning that.
And while I don't think Omnicom is a potential suitor to acquire Hudson MX from Ascential, MT II Holdings, and a group of common shareholders including high-profile industry figures like Michael Kassan, his son Alexander Kassan and JT Batson, I do think it could end up being a part owner, or something like that.
Hear me out.
The major agency holding companies have long hated the industry's near-monopoly supplier of agency media-buying technology, Mediaocean, and its precursor Donovan Data Systems before that.
And interestingly, in the not-too-distant past, Omnicom and another biggie, WPP, floated a plan to start their own joint-venture enterprise to provide state-of-the-art media-buying technology to the ad industry. Remember Mediaport?
And while that ultimately did not manifest, at least they were thinking about it.
And the truth is, all of the major agency holding companies still have an appetite for a better alternative -- or at least some competition -- to Mediaocean, and at least two (Interpublic and Horizon Media) have been hanging in there with Hudson MX in the hope it could get some legs.
So what if Omnicom's "participation" leads to some kind of holding company-owned consortium acquiring the assets of Hudson MX and invested the financial and intellectual capital necessary to fulfill what the startup originally promised to do?
That's one potential scenario I'm willing to speculate on.
Another is that Omnicom simply agreed to allow Ascential to stick that line in its update to its investors about its Hudson MX investment for reasons that have value for Ascential, and may or may not actually be a material thing for Omnicom.
I can speculate on many reasons why Ascential would ask for that, and why Omnicom would agree to that, but the truth is, neither company wants to explain what Omnicom's participation in the sale of Hudson MX actually means.
If you've got any speculation on it, I'd love to hear about it -- on- or off-the-record -- at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or feel free to comment here.