WPP sells 60% of market research giant Kantar to Bain, valuing Kantar at $4B

Some M&A is afoot in the world of market research and analysis, underscoring just how much of our media consumption and consumer habits revolve around digital platforms. WPP today announced that it would sell 60% of Kantar — the firm that provides stats and insights on how consumers buy and think of products in services in areas like technology, media, health and more (we’ve written many a story on TechCrunch citing Kantar figures) — to Bain Capital, the private equity firm. The all-cash transaction is expected to net Kantar $3.1 billion — minus tax and continuing investments that it will make in Kantar after the deal — and it values Kantar at $4 billion (or £3.2 billion), London-based WPP said.

The deal is a biggie that caps off months of speculation, after WPP announced in October 2018 that it planned to look for an outside investor to take a stake in Kantar, in part to raise some revenue from the transaction, and in part to have fresh investment in the operation. The plan had always been for WPP to keep a stake, as there are a lot of areas where Kantar works with other parts of WPP, one of the world’s biggest advertising agencies.

Others interested in buying the stake reportedly also included CVC, Apollo and Platinum. Kantar made £2.56 billion ($3.2 billion) in revenues in 2018 and is profitable, according to figures from WPP’s announcement of the sale:

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The partial divestment underscores how WPP has been reorganising and redefining itself in the wake of the departure of its longtime CEO and figurehead Martin Sorrell last year, who resigned under a cloud of controversy.

Mark Read, who took over as CEO, has taken a different approach when it comes to M&A, in part to offset sluggish growth, and this is one product of that.

“Kantar is a great business and we look forward to working with Bain Capital to unlock its full potential. As a strategic partner and shareholder in Kantar, WPP will continue to benefit from its future growth while our clients continue to benefit from its services and capabilities,” Read said in a statement. “I would like to thank [Kantar CEO] Eric Salama, his team and everyone at Kantar for their tremendous contribution to WPP – a contribution that will continue as we develop the business together. This transaction creates value for WPP shareholders and further simplifies our company. With a much stronger balance sheet and a return of approximately 8% of our current market value to shareholders planned, we are making good progress with our transformation.”

As ever more of our media consumption moves to digital platforms, companies like Kantar that have been built to track that activity have had an opportunity to grow their positioning and relevance to the bigger picture of how media is used.

Others that compete against it in this area include Nielsen and comScore. The latter has had a more challenging time of it, however, with a sizeable amount of corporate upheaval and a tumbling stock price: it recently announced that it would be raising up to $50 million to rebuild and recapitalise its business.

“Our new ownership structure presents a great opportunity for Kantar, our employees and our clients. In Bain Capital we have a partner who shares our ambition, brings relevant expertise and – with WPP – can help us accelerate our growth and impact for clients,” said Salama. “We are focused on delivering ‘human understanding at scale and speed’ and the ‘best of Kantar’ more consistently. We will do so by investing more in talent and by becoming a more technology-driven solutions provider.”

It’s not clear whether Bain was chosen as the highest bidder, or because it looked like the best partner for the deal in terms of common strategic goals, or a combination of both.

In any case, the plan will be to expand the business through more investments and acquisitions.

“Kantar is a market leader in many areas and we are excited to be partnering with its management team and WPP to build on this remarkable platform for growth,” said Luca Bassi, an MD at Bain Capital Private Equity, in a statement. “We see many opportunities for expansion and will invest in technology to expand the company’s capabilities and reinforce its global leading position.”

“We believe that we are well-positioned to support Kantar, alongside WPP, in driving forward the business in a rapidly changing industry,” added Christophe Jacobs van Merlen, another MD. “Our deep sector knowledge, operational expertise and strong track record of partnering with management teams to accelerate growth gives us confidence that we can help Kantar grow both organically and by acquisition.”

Other tech/media holdings in the Bain Capital portfolio include I Heart Media and ADK, an Asian ad agency.