Challenger Groups Tracker – by Waypoint

There is a cohort of ambitious, fast-growing agencies increasingly making waves in the marketing services world, collectively described as “challenger” groups. It’s a rapidly developing space and it can be hard to keep up with the pace of change including M&A activity, investment, and financial results.

Waypoint has analysed this section of the agency world to provide the key headline stats at a glance. The challenger groups in the table below appear in order of size and with other key data to provide context. Waypoint has selected them as interesting businesses to watch based on a range of factors, including, but not limited to, the size and quality of investment received and the pace of acquisition to date or potential to acquire in the future. We will be updating this data regularly, so do check in to see how the picture changes throughout the year.

If you’d like to learn more, listen to a deep-dive edition of our Waypointers podcast telling you everything you need to know about the Challenger agencies, as well as in depth interviews with Michael Birkin, CEO of kyu, Luke Smith, CEO of Croud and Rocio Lama, Head of Strategy and Corporate Development at SAMY Alliance.

Company icon whiteHeadcount icon lightcalendar icon lightCountry icon lightCEO icon lightOwnership icon lightMilestones icon lightAcquisitions icon light
CompanyHeadcountYear FoundedHQ (Country)CEO / Exec Chair OwnershipInvestment MilestonesNotable Acquisitions
(2021 to date)
Known<5002020*New York, USKern SchiresonPE-backed:
*Formerly Schireson Associates, acquired Stun Creative & Blackbird in 2020 with funding from ICG to form Known0
Brainlabs500 – 1k2012London, UKDaniel GilbertPE-backed:
Falfurrias Capital Partners
Sep 23: Major investment from Falfurrias Capital Partners
Mar 19: Livingbridge acquired a minority stake
Croud500-1k2011London, UKLuke SmithPE-backed:
Nov 19: Secured £30m minority investment from LDC5
Sideshow500 – 1k2010London, UKStephen PavlovichPE-backed:
Mar 21: Waterland Private Equity acquired a stake7
MERGE500-1k2004Chicago, USPatrick VenetucciPE-backed:
Keystone Capital
Dec 18: Keystone Capital announced partnership with MERGE4
Power Digital500-1k2012San Diego, USJeff MasonPE-backed:
Court Square
Mar 22: Received investment from Court Square Capital Partners
Jan 21: Avante Capital Partners completed a unitranche debt investment in Power Digital
Apr 19: Received investment from Periscope Equity
SAMY Alliance500-1k2013Madrid, SpainJuan AndresPE backed: BridgepointMar 2024: Acquired Kurio, social-first creative agency
Aug 2023: Bridgepoint acquired 12.75% stake in SAMY
iO Group1k- 5k2005Herentals, BelgiumPieter JanssensPE-backed:
Dec 18: Received investment from Waterland Private Equity16
Dept1k-5k2016 Amsterdam, NetherlandsDimi AlbersPE-backed:
Dec 19: Carlyle Group acquired a majority stake in Dept from Waterland Private Equity12
Bounteous1k-5k2003Denver, USKeith SchwartzPE-backed:
New Mountain Capital
Aug 21: New Mountain Capital acquires a stake in Bounteous from Mountaingate Capital2
PMG Worldwide1k-5k2010Fort Worth, USGeorge PopstefanovPrivaten.a.2
Kyu1k-5k2014New York, USMichael BirkinHakuhodon.a.
kyu is the strategic operating unit of Hakuhodo DY Holdings created in 2014 to invest in all forms of creativity, innovation, and international growth
Brandtech Group5k-10k2015New York, USDavid JonesSeries B Funding:
Jun 23: Acquires Jellyfish, with Jellyfish investor Fimalac
rolling into the new structure
Sep 21: Reportedly entered talks with banks about $3bn US float
Jan 21: Raised $260m in Series B which valued the company at $1.36bn
S4 Capital5k-10k2018London, UKSir Martin SorrellPublicFeb 22: Considers New York Stock Exchange listing
Jan 22: Launched S4S Ventures, a venture capital fund with Stanhope Capital Group
Dec 16: Lists on the LSE
Stagwell11k2015New York, USMark PennPublicMay 23: $150m share repurchase scheme from Carlyle’s AlpInvest Partners. Upon completion, AlpInvest Partners will no longer be an investor in Stagwell.
Apr 23: Acquisition of Huskies
Aug 21: The merger of MDC and Stagwell formerly completed
Research by Waypoint

– Sources include S&P Capital IQ, PitchBook, LinkedIn and company websites
– This is a snapshot of the cohort, not an exhaustive list
– Last updated 17 July 2024