Dentsu Aegis Network acquires digital agency Happy Marketer: Behind the deal

Dentsu Aegis Network has acquired independent digital agency Happy Marketer Group. Post-acquisition, it will be rebranded as Happy Marketer, a Merkle Company – the acquisition will provide a strategic foundation for Merkle’s data, analytics, and CRM solutions, further enabling the agency to deliver people-based marketing at scale across the region.

Established in 2009, Happy Marketer is headquartered in Singapore, with a digital marketing delivery center in Bangalore, India. Today the agency has 55 employees providing data, analytics, CRM, performance marketing, and marketing technology to power data-driven customer experience solutions for its clients, extending Merkle’s full breadth of services across Southeast Asia.  Happy Marketer is one of Google’s go-to provider in the region for Google Analytics training, and provides advanced analytics services to many of the top companies across Southeast Asia. The agency has strong marketing technology capability – with significant experience across leading marketing technology platforms, including Salesforce Marketing Cloud, HubSpot, Oracle Marketing Cloud, and Adobe Experience Cloud.

Phil Teeman, CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network Southeast Asia and Singapore, said: “Southeast Asia is a critical growth driver for Merkle’s expansion, and Singapore is a hub for that growth. With Singapore’s drive to become The Smart City, the delivery and management of data analytics and customer experience marketing, which are Happy Marketer’s key competencies, will take the front seat, helping Dentsu Aegis Network reinforce itself as a key player. Bringing Happy Marketer into the network also means greater opportunities to penetrate new and existing clients’ ecosystems with its full suite of offerings.”

Zhengda Shen, president, Merkle Asia Pacific added that bringing Happy Marketer into the Merkle family is critical to Merkle's Asia Pacific expansion strategy. "The acquisition will significantly accelerate Merkle’s ability to bring our full suite of services to Singapore and to the Southeast Asian market. It will also provide a strategic leadership and geographic link with our existing Asia Pacific footprint in China, India, and Australia. Happy Marketer has positive brand recognition and a strong reputation. More importantly, its data-driven and customer experience enablement approach, strong core service offerings, and dynamic culture align closely with Merkle,” Shen added.

Joining the leadership team from Happy Marketer is managing partner, Rachit Dayal, who will report to Ted Bray, managing director and chief growth officer of Merkle Asia Pacific. Rachit Dayal, founder and CEO at Happy Marketer, and Prantik Mazumdar, managing partner of Happy Marketer said in a joint statement to the press: “Our business has rapidly scaled in the last 10 years, and it’s been an absolute blast forming a #HappyTribe of clients and employees who look forward to mastering the next disruption."

Post the acquisition, Dayal will remain as founder & CEO and Mazumdar will retain his managing partner title. Whilst Dayal continues to focus on corporate strategy, finance, talent and culture, Mazumdar will continue to focus on developing channel partners, business development and marketing, the two told Marketing in an interview.

“Merkle’s incredible story of passion for technology, and Dentsu Aegis’s global presence with Asian values are a huge source of inspiration for us. We feel an instant cultural fit and look forward to be part of their transformation journey. This is one of the best gifts we could have imagined as part of our 10-year celebration,” they added.

Dayal said, "We’re pumped to share that we've signed a deal for a full and complete acquisition of Happy Marketer. Our entire team had considered multiple paths — acquisitions, investments, partnerships — and decided that this is the most exciting path in front of us today."

Mazumdar added that the team of Happy Marketers will be tasked with launching and massively growing Merkle across Southeast Asia and we're really excited about the huge challenges and opportunities ahead.

When asked how long the acquisition was in talks for, Mazumdar told Marketing, " It's been a long 'dating' period of nearly two years and during this phase, both parties have had a good chance to understand each other's ambitions, priorities, cultures and styles of operation. " He added that the Merkle and Dentsu Aegis teams have been incredibly warm and generous and inspired the towards new business models, new markets and new ambitions.

We believe we have laid a good foundation that we can capitalise on after the acquisition.

Read the rest of the interview below:

Marketing: How did you decide it was time to join the network?

Dayal: We actually started preparing for this moment several years ago when we started having investment and acquisition discussions. In order to free the two of us to think 10 years ahead, we promoted and recruited over 10 senior leaders in the last two years. Our long term colleagues, Sanchit and Awadesh have been promoted to Partners and they will be driving sales and client management and project delivery respectively.

Honestly, unlike many product startups, we had not started this venture with an objective to "exit".

Our role models were professional services firms such as McKinsey, where the founders ran businesses all their life. All we wanted to do was to make the most of our skill sets; recruit good talent and provide them with an atmosphere where they could thrive, learn, have fun and dish out innovative, results-oriented solutions that would make our clients 'Happy Marketers'.

Like many events in life, this acquisition too was serendipitous and opportunistic. A close friend of ours had connected us with Bray and we began talking about the industry, growth potential in the region and potential synergies. One thing led to the other and we realised that this may be a good time to get into a strategic partnership with one of the largest and best people-based marketing organisations in the world to realise our dreams of being one of the leading data-driven marketing services firms in the region.

Marketing: How do you feel about no longer being an independent?

Dayal: We have been a proud flag bearer of the independent agency movement in Singapore for more than a decade. We've trained hundreds of smaller agencies based on our growth lessons, and supported independents as the client world took notice of the little, scrappy guys.

It's a bittersweet feeling to leave that tag behind.

One thing is for sure — we will stay connected to and do our best to assist our fellow entrepreneur friends in their growth journey. That's a core part of our DNA and I am sure that's something that we will stay true to in the future as well. The strange thing is that now that we’re actually hanging out at Merkle, we realise that the scrappy, startup, hustler feel is alive and well there. Merkle's own acquisition by Dentsu Aegis was just three years ago, and they wore the independent banner in the US for 25 years prior to that. So even though we technically leave the "Singapore Independents Club", we think we'll be working alongside independent marketers across a much bigger geographic footprint.

Marketing: What’s your take on the independent agency scene in Singapore?

Mazumdar: Many of us independent agencies began our journeys around the same time period between 2007 to 2010 and it's been fascinating to see how we have all "grown up", scaled regionally and given the big boys a good run for their money.

It's a thriving scene and given how Singapore incentivises and nurtures entrepreneurs, the community is likely to get stronger, bigger and better although the flavour of their offerings will change or evolve to become more productive, automated and product-ised. The Dentsu Aegis team across APAC is also full of recent acquirees and internal startups. So we feel good about working with new colleagues who still carry the hunger of an independent firm!

Marketing: With many acquisitions, the culture of the company changes. How are you ensuring this doesn’t happen to Happy Marketer?

Mazumdar: Yes, this was indeed our biggest concern as we were contemplating the acquisition. Our culture is hard to describe but so so special. Most of us know our colleagues almost as well as our spouses.

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From our first discussion with Dentsu Aegis Network and Merkle, it was obvious they had such awe for our people, our careers and our culture in the #HappyTribe. Not only has everyone worked hard to protect our culture, but we've already been invited to share our approach to work & life with our new colleagues. We've heard wonderful things from other brands who've joined Merkle and Dentsu Aegis Network, and feel pretty special right now :)

Marketing: What are the changes we can expect after the acquisition?

Mazumdar: From our perspective, the changes that we are looking forward to the most include creating synergies across our businesses in terms of capabilities, offerings and costs so that we can pass those onto our clients. We are also looking forward to leveraging the scale of Dentsu Aegis’ operations in the region, to accelerate our growth and realise our dreams of being one of the best data-driven marketing services firms in the region.

Dayal: The first change is that we will re-brand as Happy Marketer, a Merkle Company. And then we're looking forward to moving into the Dentsu Aegis APAC headquarters at Guoco Towers in Tanjong Pagar — the sea views are pretty epic!

Marketing: What is the works for you this year post acquisition?

Dayal: This is our 10th year in business, and we can't believe how good life and business has been in the past decade. We've got an amazing #HappyTribe at the office and an incredibly generous set of clients who trust us with so much. So the #HMX year is full of gratitude — we're celebrating with employees, bringing in extended families, inviting alumni, taking time off with clients and giving back to Singapore with workshops and charitable activities.

Mazumdar: Irrespective of this acquisition, regionalisation was a key theme of #HMX, our 10-year celebrations. The strategic partnership with Merkle will only strengthen and accelerate that ambition. We are scaling up our presence in markets such as the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand to offer our digital transformation consulting and data-driven marketing solutions to large organizations in those markets, ranging from traditional businesses with a firm foothold in various industries to MNCs.