Chinese group BlueFocus takes majority stake in We Are Social

We Are SocialChinese marketing services group BlueFocus Communications is acquiring a majority stake in social media agency network We Are Social as it looks to expand its footprint outside of China, Mumbrella can reveal.

The investment, subject to Chinese regulatory approval, will see BlueFocus buy an 82.8 per cent interest in We Are Social for an initial consideration of $34 million, and will see We Are Social become the holding group’s primary digital agency brand.

BlueFocus owns public relations, media buying, experiential, digital, digital advertising and network gaming businesses in China, including Blue Digital (formerly BlueFocus PR), and has international interests in healthcare communications consultancy Huntsworth and Financial PR based in Singapore.

We Are Social co-founder and global managing partner Nathan McDonald told Mumbrella: “We will remain independent, of course there will be more liaison going on between mostly the global We Are Social team and the BlueFocus team but in terms of staffing it will remain the same at a leadership level.

“There’s no impact on staff really other than increased opportunity to work on bigger brands in an ever-expanding network with the backing of a bigger player in the market.”

We Are Social currently employs 400 people across its eight global offices in Sydney, New York, London, Paris, Milan, Munich, Singapore and ​Sao Paulo.

On opening an office in China, McDonald said: “We are considering that at this point, there are no firm plans but it is under consideration.

“There is no plan to operate under the BlueFocus brand. A big part of this was the brand remaining a strong part of who we are and we believe the brand is a crucial part of our success, so it’s a brand we’re continuing to invest in over time and a big part of what BlueFocus is requiring is the We Are Social brand which they want to keep and keep strong.”

BlueFocus and We Are Social have a number of mutual clients including Lenovo, Jaguar Land Rover and Cisco.

“It’s business as usual for We Are Social – only bigger, better and faster,” said McDonald.

“The key reason for us is the alignment and vision for the future and their desire to invest in our brand and support what we’re already doing. The fact that they’re in China and such an important player in China is a real bonus for us and for our clients, many of whom have big plans in China themselves.” he added.

We Are Social Australia managing director Julian Ward told Mumbrella: ”We really took a lot of time to seek out someone that believed in what we are doing as We Are Social and invest in that as a partner. BlueFocus really recognise us as a brand and why we exist. Being in a successful place we haven’t had to do this, we haven’t had to rush to find a partner.

“Importantly the leadership stays the same, we maintain direction of the company and are able to follow that strategy as we go forward. That was a really big factor in the selection process. We did have some choice and these guys were far and away the obvious choice in being really interested in fuelling what we’re trying to do and our vision for the future,” he said.

The We Are Social management group will retain around 17 per cent of the shares in the company once the investment is approved. Australian McDonald and co-founder Robin Grant are the majority shareholders.

We Are Social Australia opened its doors in April 2010 and boasts clients include Kia Australia, Open Universities Australia, Roadshow Films, eBay and Expedia. Global clients include Adidas, Heinz, Kimberly-Clark, Mondelēz, Heineken, Jaguar, Intel, Moët & Chandon and Expedia.

“We have big ambitions and a lot we want to do and this will hopefully enable us to invest in that infrastructure and the ability to really scale out and importantly add some understanding and better knowledge what China’s about,” said Ward.

BlueFocus CEO Oscar Zhao said in a statement: “We’re delighted to welcome Robin, Nathan and the rest of the We Are Social team to the BlueFocus group. As the world’s largest specialist social media agency network, We Are Social provides the perfect platform for us to expand our digital operations outside China.”

Regulatory approval is expected to be received within three months.

The acquisition comes just over a week after WPP acquired a majority stake in Asian social media marketing firm Vocanic.

Miranda Ward


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