Indie agency group Meet The People to add True Independent Holdings to expand media offerings

Independent agency group Meet The People (MTP) intends to acquire marketing and advertising group True Independent Holdings, Digiday has learned.

MTP, parent of five different subsidiaries, will expand its media services through this deal with True Independent’s full-service media agencies, including True Media, True Media Canada, digital media and programmatic ad agency Coegi and performance data and analytics firm RADaR. Founded in 2005, True Independent agencies have offices in the U.S. and Canada and provide media planning and buying services, a programmatic trading desk and data and analytics unit.

The companies did not disclose terms of the completed deal.

This comes as more independent agencies continue their growth via acquisitions to build out their media, creative, digital and tech capabilities. It’s part of a larger consolidation trend happening across advertising for the last five to 10 years, said Jay Pattisall, VP principal analyst at Forrester. It makes sense given the consumer expectations changing in marketing, as well as clients asking for more integrated marketing solutions, he explained.

“Consumers are wired to experience things [and have] expectations that things are more digitally accessible and fluid,” Pattisall said. “Siloed marketing … becomes wasteful.”

MTP treats each of its companies as an owner, said Tim Ringel, group CEO and founder of Meet The People. Ringel views the addition of True Independent agencies as an expansion to their media offerings and scale for clients. The MTP group currently comprises VSA Partners, Public Label, Match Retail, Saltwater Collective and Swell Media.

“[With holding companies,] they’re financial institutions in themselves,” Ringel told Digiday. “They’re still separate profit and losses. In our case, the people who run the companies [are] owners of Meet The People — equity owners … who have an intrinsic motivation for the dollars, for the work to live across all our different trades.”

With their integrated approach under one umbrella, it’s also easier for clients trying to solve specific problems. Think of it like the Avengers assembling together, added Jack Miller, group CEO and founder of True Independent Holdings.

“Iron Man [is] a great franchise on its own, as is Hulk and Captain America — and they all are very successful whenever they put out their own movies, but sometimes they collaborate,” Miller said.

While joining the MTP family, its agencies continue to maintain its independence and book of business. MTP’s current media agency Swell will continue to focus on e-commerce and B2B under its new structure, with True Independent agencies taking over general media services for the agency group.

“We are always separate entities, separate leadership, very specialized and really expert in their field and what they [with] their own clientele, but they can come together and partner when there’s a bigger project at stake,” Miller said.

This deal adds True Independent Holding’s more than 200 employees, bringing the group’s headcount to more than 750 across the U.S. and Canada. MTP has grown its operations with its group model that allows it to also spin out new brands, such as creating another agency out of Match Retail to just focus on experiential. MTP is backed by New York portfolio management firm Innovatus Capital Partners. The companies did not mention any staffing changes as part of this deal.

“You can’t really be everything to everyone, right?” Ringel said. “Most agencies actually have creative capabilities and strategy capabilities, but you still have a superpower that really defines you as a brand – where clients go to you and you have a right to win. We felt that Match Marketing Group was a little bit too much of everything.”

True Independent’s agencies will continue growing with its current clients and working with the MTP’s other agencies, but its day-to-day business does not change, Miller added.

As analyst Brian Wieser raised recently, independent agencies’ growth accelerated in the first quarter, particularly with those in media and performance-based offerings driving the industry. Together, with some of the 30 largest independent agencies, such as The Plus Company and Horizon, they make up some 68,000 employees and generate around $10 billion in annual revenue — “an amount equivalent to one large Holdco,” according to Wieser.

“These companies took market share from the largest holding companies in the 2010s as they continued to invest in themselves and developed novel approaches to marketing and communications services,” he wrote.

Pattisall similarly mentioned that consolidation and expansion gives these independent companies more revenue opportunities across several “core capabilities as … one type of agency” – allowing them to compete among their peers of a similar size or with the holdcos. This is particularly true in the case of digital media agencies that have developed media and data businesses and content groups through creative optimization and development, he explained.

Many are growing by “becoming very specialized or are expanding into more full-service organizations,” with creative moving in a similar direction now, Pattisall added. With some 7,000 agencies in the U.S., he said consolidation will be a good thing for the market.

“Because it starts to create not scarcity, but fewer options with which to compete and cannibalize,” Pattisall said.

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